Q. What is the background to the memorial for Edward Lorraine Walter in the U-M Grad Library? The inscription on the stained-glass window reads “Lost at Sea.”

A. Walter was a U-M professor of languages, born in Litchfield, Michigan in 1845. A Civil War veteran and a graduate of the U-M class of 1868, he obtained his PhD in Germany.

In 1898, Walter was crossing the Atlantic on the French ocean liner SS La Bourgogne when it collided with a sailing ship off Nova Scotia. According to the Kansas City Journal, “the crew of the steamer fought like demons for the few lifeboats and rafts, battering the helpless passengers away from their only means of salvation, with the result that the strong overcame the weak and the list of 162 saved contains the name of but one woman.” Nearly half the crew escaped, but not a single child.

Of the few passengers who survived, nearly all were traveling in steerage. In contrast to the sinking of the Titanic fourteen years later, when first-class passengers were far more likely to live, almost all of La Bourgogne’s first-class passengers perished—Prof. Walter among them.

One conjecture is that the initial collision was so mild that many passengers slept through it. If so, the first-class passengers, with their more private accommodations, may have been the last to wake and join the rush for the boats.

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