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158 years later: The PS Lady Elgin -- the deadliest Great Lakes shipwreck

New Great Lakes regulations were created after more than 300 people died

The PS Lady Elgin docked in Milwaukee before its final trip.
The PS Lady Elgin docked in Milwaukee before its final trip.

DETROIT – On Sept. 8, 1860, the PS Lady Elgin collided with the schooner Augusta, resulting in the deaths of more than 300 people

The Lady Elgin was built in New York in 1851 for $95,000, which would be about $3 million in 2018.

The Lady Elgin proved popular, regularly selling out trips across all five Great Lakes. 

On Sept. 7, 1860, Lady Elgin left Chicago for Milwaukee, returning members of Milwaukee's Union Guard who went to Chicago for a campaign rally.

At approximately 2:30 a.m. on Sept. 8, the Augusta of Oswego collided with the Lady Elgin, creating a hole below the waterline. The captain ordered cattle and cargo to be thrown overboard to lighten the ship in an attempt to raise the hole above the waterline.

Within 20 minutes, the Lady Elgin broke apart and sank. A lifeboat was lowered into the water unsecured, and it floated away before anyone could board it.

The Augusta sailed back to Chicago, its captain assuming his smaller boat sustained more damage than the Lady Elgin.

More than 300 people died in the wreck and 98 survived. They were 10 miles from shore.

Captain Wilson died attempting to save two women when the waters pulled him into rocks. Survivors reported Wilson was directly responsible for 98 that survived. 

The captain of the Augusta was arrested and tried, but found not guilty of negligence. 

The Augusta was reported to be using a single white light mounted on the bow during the collision. 

The sinking of the Lady Elgin resulted in new regulations requiring all ships on the Great Lakes to have navigation lights. 

The wreck of the Lady Elgin was discovered in 1989