WHC Lecture: Lost on the Lady Elgin
Lost on the Lady Elgin
—Valerie van Heest, Underwater Explorer, Historian, and Author
When she touched a musket lying in a field of debris among the wreckage of the once palatial sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin, it ignited a passion for the study of the tragic circumstances of her sinking in Lake Michigan in September 1860, which resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, most from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Valerie van Heest brings the audience back in time: To the golden age of Great Lakes passenger travel; to the eve of a presidential election; to the brink of Civil War; and to a dark, stormy night when 400 excursionists on board the Lady Elgin were awakened in the middle of the night by a terrible crash when the vessel was off Highland Park, Illinois. Within just a few hours, most of them would perish in the deadliest disaster on the open waters of the Great Lakes. One hundred sixty years after this tragic accident, Valerie shares her exploration of the wreckage, her involvement in a lengthy court battle, some fascinating artifacts from the wreck and the lessons she learned.
About the Speaker
Wilmette native, Valerie Olson van Heest is an underwater explorer and historian who has been involved in the discovery and archaeological documentation of numerous historic Great Lakes shipwrecks. Combining her passion for maritime history with her professional writing and design experience, Valerie shares her adventures through award-winning books, films, lectures, and museum exhibits in ways to educate, entertain and inspire. She is an inductee in the Women Divers Hall of fame and the recipient of a Michigan State History Award for her work preserving and promoting the state’s submerged maritime history.