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Tuscania memorial

Baraboo artist Homer Daehn tweaks the clay sculpture that will become a World War I memorial to be installed at Lower Ochsner Park.

A World War I memorial three years in the making is available for sneak peeks six months before its unveiling in Baraboo.

While boosters work to raise the roughly $75,000 it’ll cost to create a memorial to local survivors of the 1918 sinking of the SS Tuscania, artist Homer Daehn is putting the finishing touches on his clay sculpture before sending it to a foundry for bronzing.

Until he ships it in mid-June, Daehn is letting curious visitors — including potential donors — see it at his studio at the intersection of Neuman and Clingmans roads southeast of Baraboo. He’s opening his shop from noon to 3 p.m. daily.

“We’re coming to an end and people need to see it,” Daehn said. “This is so important. We all want to share it.”

The Tuscania was torpedoed by a German U-boat off the coast of Scotland during World War I. Thanks to courageous British soldiers and compassionate villagers, many Americans were rescued, including 21 Baraboo natives. Still, 213 people died.

Led by local high school history teacher Steve Argo, the Baraboo 21 Club has pushed for the creation and installation of a memorial to the sinking’s victims, survivors and heroes. A bronze relief depicting the sinking’s aftermath, as well as a narrative describing the sinking and lists of victims and major donors, will be dedicated at Lower Ochsner Park in November.

Boosters are limiting photography of Daehn’s sculpture, as Argo said they want to preserve the “wow factor” for the unveiling. Those who visit the studio will see the sinking dramatized in clay, with villagers — including children — comforting survivors in the foreground as the Tuscania sinks in the distance.

Argo said the sculpture’s celebration of civilians makes this a unique war memorial. “What Homer has done here quite successfully is civilianize World War I,” Argo said. “It brings in people usually forgotten in war memorials.”

“This is a story of compassion and offering comfort,” Daehn said.

So far, boosters have raised about $40,000. They hope to make a final push now that they can present prospective donors with a visual aid. “We’re halfway home,” Argo said. “I’m hopeful some bigger donors will step up, especially now that they have something to see.”

“We’re really lucky to have a community that will support something like this,” Daehn said. “This doesn’t happen with one person.

“This is a big group of people all putting their energy in the right place.”

His energy, which involved significant research, resulted in a detailed seascape. It features an injured soldier being taken to safety in a horse-drawn cart, three rescue ships steaming in the distance and a woman placing an overcoat over a survivor’s shoulders. “I keep tweaking it,” Daehn said with a grin. “It’s surprising how it changes overnight.”

Residents of hundreds of communities on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean were affected by the sinking, but Baraboo — whose survivors returned to become community leaders — has taken it upon itself to commemorate the Tuscania. “If we don’t do it, it’s not going to get done,” Argo said. “It’s our way of saying, ‘Thank you.”

Follow Ben Bromley on Twitter @ben_bromley

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Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter

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