Today’s Capsized Yet Truly Morbid Fact!
For an hour, while passengers were boarding the steamship Eastland on this rainy but otherwise calm Saturday (July 24, 1915), the ship slowly rocked back and forth from starboard to port. The motion of the boat, which was scheduled to take employees of the Western Electric Co. on an excursion to Michigan City, Ind., did not alarm the crew.
At 7:25 a.m., the list to port became more severe. A refrigerator behind the bar toppled over with a crash, and the 2,573 passengers and crew suddenly realized that disaster was upon them. As it was being cast loose from its moorings on the south bank of the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark Streets, the Eastland slowly settled on its side. The ship was only a few feet from the wharf, where a large crowd of horrified spectators watched, and it was in only 20 feet of water. That, however, was deep enough to drown 844 people who were trapped or trampled below decks. Although most were young factory workers from Berwyn and Cicero, 21 entire families were wiped out.
“The screaming was terrible,” one man told the Tribune, which devoted 11 pages of coverage to the disaster. “I watched one woman who seemed to be thrown from the top deck. . . . I saw her white hat float down the river, and that was all.”
Of the many Great Lakes shipping accidents, the Eastland disaster was by far the worst; the sinking of the Lady Elgin in 1860, in which 279 people perished, is a distant second.
Court decisions blamed improperly weighted ballast tanks for the disaster. But transportation historian George W. Hilton argued in a 1995 book that the international reaction to the sinking of the Titanic three years earlier ultimately doomed the Eastland, which had almost capsized in 1904 with 2,370 people aboard.
Because there were lifeboats and rafts for less than half the Titanic’s licensed passenger capacity, an international furor arose. Sen. Robert M. La Follette of Wisconsin introduced a bill that required ships to have enough lifeboats for 75 percent of their passengers.
On July 2, 1915, the owners of the Eastland added three lifeboats and six rafts, weighing 14 to 15 tons, to its top deck. A boat that had already exhibited stability problems became top-heavy. Three weeks later, the next time it was loaded to capacity, the Eastland capsized.
Culled from: Chicago Tribune
And I revisited the Eastland disaster because news came in today that the first known motion picture footage of the Eastland disaster has been discovered!
The latest book in the Library Eclectica is Murder Has a Public Face by Larry Millett. It is a collection of crime and punishment photos in the Speed Graphic era taken in the St. Paul, Minnesota area. I thought I’d share some of the images with you. Here’s the first excerpt:
Photographers of the Speed Graphic era seldom tried to soften the visceral impact of violent death. The woman here, her hair tangled in a thick pool of blood, is 50-year old Mable Person of Shafer, Minnesota . She and her husband, Emory, along with their 23-year old daughter, Lois were bludgeoned to death with a claw hammer at their family farm home in March 1957. The couple’s son Douglas, 22, was later arrested and charged with the murders. Reporter-photographer Don Spavin’s picture, which also shows a blood-smeared door behind Mrs. Person, is among the most gruesome images in the Pioneer Press and Dispatch archives. Dispatch, Don Spavin, March 1, 1957.