Tuesday, June 14, 2016

SS Eastland

I have been skipping pictures of the SS Eastland because I wanted to avoid discussing the accident it was involved in. But I have been passing up interesting information because I did not have an Eastland post to update. So I'm going to write a posting.

The SS Eastland was known as the "Speed Queen of the Great Lakes." It was one of five ships Western Electric had hired to take its Hawthorn Works employees to a company picnic in Michigan City on Saturday, July 24, 1915. It was docked on the south side of the Chicago River between LaSalle and Clark Streets to load its 2,500 passengers and crew. (EDHSTribune)

John B Copleston posted
[In 1915, the bridge was still a Scherzer Rolling Bridge.]
John B Copleston posted
SS Eastland at Michigan City Docks Capt H Pederson
 Note that the above picture has fewer life rafts than the following two pictures. That is because on July 2, 1915, the owners added more lifeboats and rafts, weighing 14 to 15 tons, to the top deck to conform to a new law passed after the Titanic tragedy. "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." (Tribune)
Tribune
Tribune
Richard Pitchford posted
Passengers on deck of the SS Eastland, Chicago, 1915. Photograph by Jun Fujita.
The SS Eastland was a passenger ship based in Chicago and used for tours. On July 24, 1915 the ship rolled over while tied to a dock in the Chicago River. A total of 844 passengers and crew were killed in what was to become the largest loss of life from a single shipwreck on the Great Lakes.
Following the disaster, the Eastland was salvaged and sold to the United States Navy. After restorations and modifications the Eastland was designated as a gunboat and renamed the USS Wilmette. She was used primarily as a training vessel on the Great Lakes, and was scrapped following World War II.
[I love these old river scene pictures as insight into the industries that used to line the river.]

If you are a more sensitive reader, you may want to stop reading now.




I worked for Bell Labs, which was part of AT&T just as Western Electric was, so I have heard stories of the ship capsizing before it cleared the dock. The story I heard is that many of the passengers went to the dock side to wave bye-bye to friends or just to watch the ship leave for the excursion. But I have learned it actually rolled away from the dock, not towards it. The animation below is from this timeline, and it indicates the staff had plenty of evidence that something was wrong and that they should have probably aborted the trip. (And people wonder why I have never taken a cruise ship trip.)


EDHS

Court decisions blamed improperly weighted ballast tanks for the disaster. But adding 14-15 tons on top of the boat raised the center of gravity and reduced the effect of ballast tanks. (Tribune) It was a slender steamer built for speed. And some of the wood decks had been replaced with concrete. (WTTW)
As the crowded ship began listing back and forth from port to starboard, many thought it was a joke. But when the boat listed over so far that the people began to slide across the floor, panic began. Not only did most passengers not recognize the impending disaster, the master of the Eastland, Captain Harry Pedersen, failed to evacuate the ship. He sounded the alarm, but only after it was too late.
Passengers on the main deck panicked and rushed to the staircases leading upstairs. Sadly, the staircases proved to be the worst single death trap for those passengers within the interior decks of the ship.
Because the Eastland capsized so suddenly, no life boats or life rafts were launched, nor were any life jackets handed out.
844 people perished that day. Some were killed instantly after suffering a blow to the head. Many drowned, and perhaps just as many were suffocated and crushed to death by the sliding people and falling debris. (EDHS)

Richard Pitchford posted
Survivors of the Eastland disaster are taken ashore by the tugboat Kenosha, July 24, 1915.
[
Actually, the captain of the tugboat simply parked it at an angle so that it was effectively a gangplank so that people could walk off the hull. As one of the Googled articles mentioned, that captain was more helpful than Eastland's management.]
John B Copleston posted

Patrick Shannon Reminds us how near to us horror always is. Some families were so entirely wiped out in this event that there was no one left to claim the bodies and bury them.
From Daily Mail
Photographic memory: Small boats attempt to rescue survivors gathered on the exposed side of the Eastland

Glen Miller posted
This building was at the forefront of the Eastland tragedy 100 years ago. The S.S. Eastland capsized in the Chicago River on the opposite shore, directly across from here. Because of its size and close proximity, the basement and first floor were used as a temporary hospital and morgue.
The Reid, Murdoch and Co. Building was designed by George C. Nimmons. It held the company offices and was used as a food processing center and a grocery warehouse for many years
.....

Reid and Murdoch started out as a provisions company called Monarch Foods that sold flour, bacon, sugar and other food staples to wagon trains heading west during the 1850s gold rush. Monarch survives today as part of US Foods.
The building is now owned by Friedman Properties (Preserving the Past. Building the Future) and the firm’s corporate offices are located there. Principal tenants include the Britannica Corporation and the World of Whirlpool, with a 30,000 square foot product experience center.
Richard Pitchford posted
The SS Eastland being righted after it capsized in the Chicago River, July 1915.
The Tribune recently found more pictures in their basement.

I can't find it again, but I remember a Facebook comment that indicated 844 deaths is more than the Titanic had.

As has been discovered in other major disaster investigations, it takes a perfect storm of several things being wrong to add up to cause the accident.

Update: a link about the disaster that I found on a WE site. Since it happened on July 24, there has been another round of posting on it in Facebook. I tried to filter out the redundant pictures.

Robert Bultman posted
Greg Siewert posted
Remembering the Eastland Disaster 
Memorial Plaque along the Chicago River front at the site where the Eastland capsized - between Clark and LaSalle.
Greg Siewert posted
[This is a different view of people using a tug than the one above.]

Chet Lunsford posted
Another haunting image taken by Chicago photojournalist, Jun Fujita, at the scene of the SS Eastland disaster.
Greg Siewert posted
SS Eastland Disaster 
July 24, 1915
Diver entering the Chicago River to investigate the capsized Eastland. There was no chance to rescue the passengers trapped inside lower decks.


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