Chicago, IL Eastland Disaster, Jul 1915 - Survivor Stories

Passengers Waiting to Be Rescued, photo from Rescuing the Survivors, photo from

Wife Torn From Him.

Among the passengers who put the death list at a high figure was Theodore Soderstrom, who was pulled out unconscious. He declared he held his wife up for what seemed hours and then she was torn from his grasp by two women who struggled to hold themselves up on his shoulders. She was drowned.

Soderstrom said he didn’t believe it was a broken “air shoot” that caused the big boat to tip over.

“The passengers were crowded on the outer rail from ten to thirty deep in places. I noticed the boat beginning to careen slightly, but at first it gave me no uneasiness. Then, just before we pulled out, several hundred passengers who had been waving to persons on the dock came over to the outer rail. Almost instantly the boat lurched, righted itself, and then pitched once more.

“By this time passengers knew there was something wrong. It all happened so quickly. For a third time the boat lurched, this time slowly, and there were screams as everyone tried at once to get to the side next to the dock.

“Many were beaten down to the deck unconscious in this mad rush. Probably a dozen persons—it may have been more—jumped into the water. Several were women. They were crushed under by the side of the boat before they had a chance to swim away, for after the boat got part way over it seemed to drop on its side like a stone.”

Men Frantic.

“The men were more frantic than the women.” Said Anna Goldnick. Eleanor Doneske, her chum, Miss Goldnick said, was drowned before her eyes.

“I personally saw men fight and tear the clothing as well as life belts and chairs from women.”

Little Jim Crawley, “candy boy” on the boat, was dragged senseless from the water. Although small, he held two women up until he lost consciousness. Both were drowned.

“I tried so hard to save ‘em,” were the first words Jim uttered when the pulmotor brought the color back to his cheeks and the life into his weakened little body.

Swam Among the Dead.

Miss Ina Roseland, of East Forty-second street, told a thrilling story of being taken from amidst a score of corpses under one of the big plates that was cut out by an electro-magnetic drill.

"My brother Karl and I were standing near the rail on a lower deck when the Eastland tipped over," said the girl. "I lost Karl as the boat carried me down, until I felt the muddy bottom. I can swim and knew enough to hold my breath. Then I began to rise. At last I felt something against my face but could see nothing. Then I felt things all about me. As I touched the slippery wall that was about me, my hand struck something soft. I had not recovered fully my senses and held to it. Then suddenly the horrible realization of what it was came over me. I screamed and felt myself fainting, but when I caught hold of a projection I screamed again and heard an answering about. I could not believe my ears. It was my brother's voice. He told me to be brave; that he had come up in the state room next to me. I was brave for a time and then I think I thought I would lose my mind. Several bodies, all of them women or little girls, would keep knocking against me, however much I tried to climb higher.

"Then I heard the hammering and cluttering as the men worked to cut away the plates. As a piece came away a little light filtered through and as I started a prayer of thankfulness, it was choked in my throat, for it fell on the upturned staring faces about me. Then I lost partial consciousness.

"I fell back into the water with just sufficient consciousness and strength to remember to float on my back. I could see the men finally break through the plate. Then they began taking out bodies. I tried to call then, for as each was lifted out, someone would say, 'Yes, I'm afraid they're all dead.' Then they at last saw me and pulled me out. Brother Karl was there urging them on as I was pulled outside. Karl had been taken out a few minutes before."

Fort Wayne News, Fort Wayne, In 24 Jul 1915



Mrs. William Peterson Says She Was Separated From Husband and Child.

Chicago--Among those rescued was Mrs. William Peterson.

Mrs. Peterson was on the second deck with her husband, a foreman at the Western Electric company; her daughter, Ruth, eight years old, and her sister-in-law, Mrs. Emily Chellberg of 4129 Sheffield avenue, when the steamer upset.

In describing her experience and rescue she said:

"We were on the side of the boat nearest the dock and as the steamer suddenly listed I threw out my hands in an effort to catch hold of something, but failed and fell into the water. I went under and as I came to the surface I saw two hands reaching out through a port-hole. They pulled me through. I do not know whether my husband, daughter and sister-in-law were saved."

The Daily Herald, Chicago, IL. 30 Jul 1915