Chicago, IL Steamer EASTLAND Disaster, Jul 1915
On 24 July 1915, the Eastland and two other Great Lakes passenger steamers, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey, were chartered to take employees from Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. This was a major event in the lives of the workers, many of whom could not take holidays....
In 1915, the new federal Seaman's Act ... required retrofitting of a complete set of lifeboats on the Eastland as on many other passenger vessels. This, ironically, probably made the Eastland more dangerous and it worsened the already severe problem of being top heavy. Some argued that other Great Lakes ships would suffer from the same problem. ... The Eastland was already so top-heavy that it had special restrictions concerning the number of passengers that could be carried. The additional weight of the new lifeboats made the ship even more unstable than before.
On the fateful morning, passengers began boarding the Eastland on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets around 6.30 a.m., and by 7:10, the ship had reached its capacity of 2752 passengers. The ship was packed, with many passengers standing on the open upper decks, and began to list slightly to the port side (away from the wharf). The crew attempted to stabilize the ship by admitting water to its ballast tanks, but to little avail. Sometime in the next 15 minutes, perhaps owing to a passing canoe race on the river side of the ship, a number of passengers rushed to the port side, and at 7:28, the Eastland lurched sharply to port and then rolled completely onto its side, coming to rest on the river bottom, which was only 20 feet below the surface. Many other passengers had already moved below decks on this relatively cool and damp morning to warm up before the departure. Consequently, hundreds were trapped inside by the water and the sudden rollover; others were crushed by heavy furniture, including pianos, bookcases, and tables. Although the ship was only 20 feet from the wharf, and in spite of the quick response by the crew of a nearby vessel, the Kenosha, which came alongside the hull to allow those stranded on the capsized vessel to leap to safety, a total of 841 passengers and four crew members died in the disaster. Many were young women and children.
Many of the bodies were taken to a cold storage warehouse in the vicinity, which has since been transformed into Harpo Studios, the sound stage for The Oprah Winfrey Show.
Read articles about the Eastland Disaster (below)