14.8.08

PATH DEPENDENCE. Although Milwaukee's Irish Fest is under way this weekend, and there is a St. Patrick's Day parade on Wisconsin Avenue, one doesn't often think "Milwaukee" and "Irish" in the same sentence. The Lady Elgin sinking took much of Milwaukee's early Irish community to the bottom of Lake Michigan.

Though it sank more than half a century before the Titanic, the Lady Elgin has been linked with the more famous ship because it, too, suffered a tremendous loss of life. There was no passenger manifest, so the exact number of victims is not known, though contemporary accounts estimate the number on board at 600 to 700. A mass grave in Winnetka became the resting place for 80 unclaimed victims.

Many on board were Milwaukeeans, mostly from the city’s Third Ward Irish community. They had chartered the vessel for the trip to Chicago on Sept. 7, 1860, to see presidential candidate Stephen Douglas just two months before he would lose to Abraham Lincoln.

The Lady Elgin will be featured in an exhibit of Titanic artifacts at the Milwaukee Public Museum. The Titanic show, one of six touring exhibits of artifacts retrieved from the doomed passenger liner, is scheduled to be on display at the Milwaukee museum Oct. 10 through May 25, 2009.

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