Day The Eastland Sank
Land ~ Sea Discovery Group Staff
July 24, 1915 was
a warm sunny day. There was gay chattering and singing among the through
of 2500 men, women and children about to set off for a gay outing.
But in a few minutes, their outing turned in to the greatest disaster
in the history of Chicago – with 812 lives lost.
Eastland Disaster – Chicago, July
24, - 8 A.M.
From the Land ~ Sea Discovery Group archives
The excursion steamer Eastland overturned in the Chicago River with
on a few yards of the dock just west of Clark Street.
The huge mass of passengers, employees of the Western Electric Co.,
with their wives and children, was crowding onto the vessel as early
as 7 AM for the trip to Michigan City, Indiana and a huge picnic in
the Indiana Dunes.
The First hint of disaster; there was no room for
dancing on the crowded boat, but a tiny band sparked by a mandolin
player and a fiddler, tinkled ragtime tunes. The bulk of the passengers
had crowded to the port side of the vessel to get a better view
as they began the voyage.
Captain Harry Pederson gave orders to cast off and the first wobbly
hint of disaster came. The Eastland listed to port, leaned toward
the north side of the river, then righted itself.
But in the next second, the listing came again. The engineer opened
the valve to the No. 2 tank on the starboard side in an effort to
steady the vessel. The listing became even greater, and Capt Pederson
was shouting; “All passengers to starboard.”
A scene of chaos; Deck chairs began to slide. An
icebox in the bar fell over. The Eastland hung at about 25 to 30
degrees, the suddenly went completely over on her side. Water poured
into a low open port, and then the ship sank.
on the starboard side managed to leap back to the dock. Even among
those thrown into the water, many below deck were penned in and drowned,
or crushed to death in the rush to escape. The stairway collapsed
under the weight of so many feet.
S.S. Eastland – Wells St. Bridge
– Chicago River. Recovering bodies after disaster.
Some of the imprisoned held on until holes were cut in the side of
the boat that was still above the water. Joining the rescue work were
tugs assembled for the sailing of the Western Electric flotilla, which
included four vessels in addition to the Eastland.
They were joined by Coast Guard cutters, bridge-tender boats, launches,
a fire department boat, and skiffs.
the dead; The Red Cross established a mass mortuary in the 2nd Regiment
Armory at Washington and Curtis Streets, where at least 30,000 people
came to view the recovered bodies for possible identification.
Recovering bodies from the hull of the
ill-fated Eastland. Shows three persons recovered from the
After the tragedy, charges were made that the Eastland was not seaworthy,
and indictments were returned against members of her crew and officers
of the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Co., owners of the ship. There
were no convictions.
The Eastland continued here career when the US Navy raised her, reconditioned
her, and changed her to the U.S.S. Wilmette for naval training service
on the Great Lakes.
did come to an end in 1946 when she was sold for $2500 to a scrap
iron firm and dismantled forever.
Divers, whose untiring efforts aided
greatly in the recovery of the bodies from the hull of the
The above article is as reported in the Chicago
American newspaper, “Way Back When” column. There are
many interesting sites on the Internet that explain this terrible
disaster in far more detail and you are encouraged to check them
Disaster Historical Society
Disaster of 1915