Waukegan, IL Steamer LADY ELGIN Wreck, Sept 1860

Lady Elgin In Port Lady Elgin historical marker.jpg Lady Elgin etching of disaster.jpg Lady Elgin wreckage site.jpg

It is stated in our despatch that MR. F. P. LUMSDEN, of the New Orleans Picayune, with his family, were among the lost by the accident to the Lady Elgin.
MR. LUMEDEN was a native of North Carolina, and at the time of his death was between fifty and fifty five years of age. He went to New Orleans about thirty years ago, where he followed his profession as a practical printer. He subsequently formed a business copartnership with G. W. KENDALL, and established the N. O. Picayune, which paper is recognized as one of the leading journals of the Southern States. MR. LUMSDEN'S connection with the Picayune continued uninterrupted from the day of its establishment until his decease; the exceptions being short pleasure trips into the interior of the country, and similar to that on which he met his untimely death. His partner, MR. KENDALL, on the contrary, was an extensive traveller, in the capacity of correspondent of the Picayune, and was in Texas during her border troubles which resulted in hostilities with Mexico. MR. KENDALL continued his travels to Mexico, and remained there from the opening to the close of the war. His contributions, giving the details of the war, under the nom de plume of "Mustang", were extensively read throughout the country, and were instrumental in obtaining a large circulation for the paper and a favorable notoriety for its proprietors. MR. LUMSDEN had an amiable wife, and a son fourteen years of age, both of whom, it is feared, were with him at the time of his death, and shared the fate of the husband and father. During the last few years MR. LUMSDEN'S participation in the direction of the Picayune has been somewhat limited, by a change in the title of the firm, the rearrangement of its executive department, and chief duty devolving upon MR. HOLBROOK, its managing partner.

The Philadelphia Press Pennsylvania 1860-09-10


The PS Lady Elgin was a wooden-hulled sidewheel steamship that sank in Lake Michigan off Highwood, Illinois after she was rammed in a gale by the schooner Augusta in the early hours of September 8, 1860. The passenger manifest was lost with the collision, but the sinking of the Lady Elgin resulted in the loss of about 300 lives in what was called "one of the greatest marine horrors on record." Four years after the disaster, a new rule required sailing vessels to carry running lights. The Lady Elgin disaster remains the greatest loss of life on open water in the history of the Great Lakes.

On the night of September 6, 1860 the Lady Elgin left Milwaukee, Wisconsin, from the Dooley, Martin, Dousman, and Company Dock, for Chicago, carrying members of Milwaukee's Union Guard to hear a campaign speech by Stephen A. Douglas, Abraham Lincoln's opponent, although there is no clear historical evidence that Douglas actually appeared. Three hundred men and women spent the day of September 7 listening to political speeches followed by an evening of entertainment by a German brass band on board the Lady Elgin.[5] On the return trip that night, the brightly lit Lady Elgin was steaming through Lake Michigan against gale force winds when she was rammed by the schooner Augusta of Oswego. The Augusta was sailing using only a single white light, mounted on a five-foot Samson on the bow, and did not attempt, or was unable, to turn to avoid the collision in the gale.[8] On the morning of the collision (September 8) at 2:30 am, the Augusta rammed the port side of the Lady Elgin, damaging her own bowsprit and headgear, while holing the latter ship below the waterline.

Concerned that she was damaged and believing the Lady Elgin had gotten safely away, the Augusta made for Chicago. Aboard the Lady Elgin, Captain Wilson ordered that cattle and cargo be thrown overboard to lighten the load and raise the gaping hole in the Lady Elgin's port side above water level while the steward was down in the coal bunker trying to stop the leak with mattresses. Captain Wilson ordered a lifeboat lowered on the starboard side to check the extent of the damage but it never regained the steamer. Within twenty minutes, the Lady Elgin broke apart, and all but the bow section rapidly sank. The night was lit up at intervals by flashes of lightning showing the scattered wreckage.

The life preservers, 2 in (5.1 cm) hardwood planks, 5 ft (1.5 m) long and 18 in (46 cm) wide, were never used. Two boats with a total of 18 persons reached shore. In addition, fourteen people were saved on a large raft and many others on parts of the wreckage. Over 300 lives were lost and 98 saved. The drummer of the German band, Charles Beverung, saved himself by using his large bass drum as a life preserver. Survivors reported the heroic efforts of Captain Wilson to save about 300 persons collected on a raft. When day broke, between 350 and 400 passengers and crew were drifting in stormy waters, holding on to anything they could, many only to be pulled under by breakers near shore.

Students from Northwestern University and Garrett Biblical Institute were watching the shore on the morning of September 8, looking for survivors. One of the students, Edward Spencer, is credited with rescuing 17 passengers over the course of six hours. He sustained injuries during his rescue efforts that left him an invalid for the rest of his life. A plaque in his honor was first placed in the Northwestern University Gymnasium, and is now housed in the Northwestern University Library.

About 300 people died in the sinking, including Captain Wilson, who was lost trying to save two women when he was caught by the surf and forced into the rocks. Most were from Milwaukee with the majority of those from the Irish communities, including nearly all of Milwaukee's Irish Union Guard. So many Irish-American political operatives died that day that the disaster has been credited with transferring the balance of political power in Milwaukee "from the Irish to the Germans". It is said that more than 1000 children were orphaned by the tragedy, however research shows that there were fewer than 40 children orphaned. The Lady Elgin disaster remains the greatest loss of life on open water in the history of the Great Lakes.