Families honor memories of Sea Wing victims
By Ruth Nerhaugen, contributor
She died decades before they were even born, but “Mina” Larson’s great-great-grandchildren have not forgotten their ancestor, who died in the Sea Wing Disaster of July 13, 1890.
On Sunday, the 124th anniversary of her death, three of them went on a boat cruise to the place on Lake Pepin where the paddlewheel steamer Sea Wing flipped over in a storm, killing her and 97 others.
Becca Knudsen and Mary Brunner of Red Wing carried a piece of tatting done by their great-great-grandmother, plus her hat pin. Cousin Steve Danielson, who drove down from Minneapolis, tossed orange and yellow lilies into the waters above the spot where the tragedy occurred.
They all knew her sad story, but wanted to see the site and learn more details by participating in the Goodhue County Historical Society’s Sea Wing weekend, a memorial to the victims.
The cruise offered that and more, because it featured historian, author and former Red Wing resident Fred Johnson. Also on the afternoon cruise was Ben Threinen, Lake City videographer, who just completed a 40-minute documentary on the disaster.
“Mina is on page 86,” Knudsen said, pointing to a copy of the coroner’s report in Johnson’s “Sea Wing Disaster: Tragedy on Lake Pepin.” It concludes that “Mrs. Edd Larson,” 35, was thrown in the water when the boat capsized in a violent storm and drowned.
The sad story continues as the coroner relates that, after her body was recovered and taken to Red Wing, her husband told officials he was without money to pay for a coffin. Wilhelmina “Mina” Larson was taken care of by the county.
“We’re going out (on Lake Pepin) in her honor,” Brunner noted. “She’ll be with us,” said Knudsen, gently holding out the tatted square.
“It’s always been a mystery” why she was on board the boat without her husband or 12-year-old daughter Edwina, Knudsen said. But the great-great-grandchildren are well aware that the tragedy didn’t end that day. Soon afterward, Edd Larson took off, abandoning the little girl.
“I knew Edwina very well,” Danielson said. “She used to talk about her Mom all the time,” and bore resentment toward her father all her life.
Mina Larson was not the only long-ago victim honored by descendants during the cruise.
Dick and Kathy Herron of Lake City remembered Katie Burkard, sister to Kathy’s great-great-grandfather. The Burkard family had a store and was associated with Hay Creek campground, she said.
“I am interested in family history,” Herron said, and finding out what happened to previous generations. The book pictures her ancestor on page 79, but it spells her name with an “h” — Burkhard. Herron plans to visit the cemetery in hopes of finding out if the name spelling changed over the generations.
For Mary Yates, a Red Wing native now living in Cottage Grove, the trip was in memory of Mattie Flynn, cousin of her maternal grandmother. Mattie was on board with her fiancé, Frank Way, and his two sisters, Adda and Ednah. All three women died and were buried in the cemetery at Trenton where the Way family lived.
Duane Windhorst of Mazeppa had a happier story about his great-great-grandmother, Mary Albers. “She missed the boat,” he said. The 18-year-old was supposed to go on the Sea Wing excursion, but was late. Her two friends were aboard, though, and drowned.
Afterward, he said, “She always said her time wasn’t up, and that’s why she missed the boat.”
Johnson’s book, which expands on his original 1986 version of the story, is available at the Goodhue County Historical Society in Red Wing.