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Book, movie to document Minn. version of Titanic

  • Associated Press
  • April 12, 2014 - 4:50 PM

LAKE CITY, Minn. — A book and documentary due out this summer will recount the Sea Wing tragedy of 1890, a shipping accident in which 98 people died when their paddle-wheeler flipped over on Lake Pepin.

Fred Johnson, of Inver Grove Heights, and Ben Threinen, of Lake City, are producing the 30-minute documentary. Their goal is to raise awareness about the ill-fated ship that has come to be known as Minnesota's Titanic, the Rochester Post-Bulletin reported (http://bit.ly/1hJS8rA ).

Despite the number of deaths, few people in Minnesota seem to know about the Sea Wing. Johnson and Threinen, who describe themselves as history lovers, said they hope their efforts ensure the ship and its fate are not forgotten.

When Johnson tells people what happened, "they sit there and stare like I'm talking about something truly incredible and horrible," he said.

The documentary will feature a number of items from the Goodhue County Historical Society collection. Among them is an 1890 copy of Illustrated American Magazine, which shows dramatic photos of victims' bodies being recovered.

"There are more images than I thought," Threinen said.

The Sea Wing was mostly used to move log rafts on the Mississippi. But on July 13, 1890, it was used as an excursion boat to take people from Red Wing to Lake City to visit National Guard troops at their summer encampment at Camp Lakeview. The boat was a few miles into the return trip when it was smashed by a large wave, causing it to overturn.

Most of the 98 who died were teens and young adults.

Johnson's great-grandfather helped haul bodies to Red Wing morgues. Two of his wife's great-aunts drowned.

Threinen, a longtime television cameraman, said he was excited about using video to tell the story.

"I want to bring it to life," he said.

The book and movie are expected to come out a few weeks before July 13, the 124th anniversary of the disaster.

© 2014 Star Tribune