In 1909, Thousands Watched a Fiery Funeral for Lake Minnetonka’s Largest Boat

by | Aug 2019

An advertisement for the Big Boat Burning, when the ship Excelsior was lit on fire on Lake Minnetonka.

Photo: Deanna Bunkelman

Onlookers watched as a decommissioned vessel was set ablaze.

In 1901, Dr. George LaPaul had a stern-wheel steamboat built bearing his name at a cost of $10,000.

The George launched from the Excelsior docks with a large crowd of over 1,000 spectators. The boat held 800 passengers and was the largest boat on Lake Minnetonka at the time.

In 1908, after various owners and re-namings, the Excelsior was considered antiquated, was decommissioned, and shortly afterward had her engines, boilers and other valuable equipment removed.

In August 1909, after being covered with oil, tar and pitch, the Excelsior was towed and anchored north of Big Island. The boat was set ablaze on the lake with a prelude of fireworks.

Five thousand onlookers came from Minneapolis and St. Paul to watch the boat burn to the waterline and sink.

The remains of the boat were intended to be raised and removed so there would be no interference with navigation, but there are no records indicating that this occurred.

Deanna Bunkelman is the president of the Excelsior-Lake Minnetonka Historical Society and writes about local history in her monthly column.


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