Three-and-a-half years after it was first proposed — and one day before the 100th anniversary of the war’s end — a memorial honoring Baraboo survivors of a World War I attack will be unveiled Saturday.
At 10 a.m. project boosters will dedicate a memorial honoring 21 local soldiers who survived the 1918 sinking of the SS Tuscania, as well as the British soldiers and villagers who rescued them.
Baraboo High School history teacher Steve Argo has worked since spring 2015 to raise $90,000 for the memorial. “It feels very, very good to be finished,” he said. “I’m looking forward to ‘normalcy’ again.”
The memorial features a bronzed sculpture created by local artist Homer Daehn. This week Daehn will apply a wooden backing and mount it on a stone wall already erected at the park.
The Tuscania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Scotland in February 1918. Thanks to courageous British soldiers and compassionate villagers, many Americans were rescued, including 21 Baraboo natives. Still, 213 people died. The local soldiers established a “survivors’ club” and became community leaders.
The sculpture dramatizes the attack’s aftermath, depicting villagers comforting survivors in the foreground as the Tuscania sinks in the distance. The memorial includes a narrative describing the sinking and lists of victims and major donors.
Argo said he knows of no other World War I memorials in the U.S. created in observance of the war’s centennial. Commander Spencer Hubschmid, head of strategic planning for the British Royal Navy, will attend Saturday’s ceremony to formally receive America’s thanks.
Argo asked those planning to attend to park at nearby Mary Rountree Evans Park, Haskins Park or the Sauk County History Center and either walk or take a golf cart ride to Lower Ochsner, which has limited parking. Lower Ochsner was chosen as the memorial site for its peaceful riverside location and ready access from Second Avenue.
A new BHS club formed to support the memorial project, the Baraboo 21 Club, has helped Argo raise $90,000. He said that leaves less than $5,000 to go, although he plans to continue fundraising to compensate landscaper Jerry Exterovich for his considerable work preparing the memorial site. “We would absolutely love for any last-minute donors to swoop in and get us across the finish line by Saturday,” Argo said. “We will continue fundraising until we have paid all obligations.”
With temperatures forecast in the high 20s and low 30s Saturday, organizers have arranged for a warming tent to be set up at the park, offering coffee and hot chocolate. After the ceremony, the Historical Society’s Van Orden mansion will host a reception at 541 Fourth Ave.