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)
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.)


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
Gerald Vilenski posted
Eastland disaster, Chicago, July 24, 1915. 844 passengers died, more than the Titanic...
Doug Hitt Over 1500 people died on titanic.
Gerald Vilenski Passengers. Not counting crew...
Ryan Chapman Correct. 832 passengers perished on Titanic.
Justin Gough So you don't count the crew?
Gerald Vilenski Not in this case. I only counted the passengers. 694 crew members died on the Titanic..
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.

Sometimes it pays to pursue a redundant photo because you find some fascinating comments.
Wisconsin Maritime Museum posted

July marked 105 years since the Eastland Disaster, the deadliest shipwreck in Great Lakes history.

Staff member Hannah Patten reflects on the tragedy and shares some images of the steamship from the collection in this Manitowoc Herald Times Reporter article.

David Sena It would be a fun contest for you to see how many people know how the Eastland helped the war effort.
Vincent Davis David Sena it did sink a ww1 German sub in the northern end of lake Michigan.
David Sena Vincent Davis I'm not sure about that but I know it was used by Great Lakes Naval 4 Aircraft Carrier Landing training.
David Sena Are you sure you're not thinking about the captured sub that was used for target practice by the Navy in Lake Michigan?
Vincent Davis David Sena https://usnhistory.navylive.dodlive.mil/.../uc-97.../
David Sena Vincent Davis I knew she was renamed and used for training I thought for aircraft carrier training. Somehow I missed or forgot that she was involved in Sinking the sub.
Daniel McNeil David Sena
Rebuilt as a gun ship and named the SS Wilmette. Conversion wasn’t completed until WWl had ended. Was used as a training ship during the 20s - and used the surrendered WWl sub, UC-97, as target practice in 1921.
Info has it Bears coach Halas was on board during this. Had also been slated to ride on the day of the capsize but missed the boat.
Was used to train gun crews for merchant marine ships during WWll.
Decommissioned and sold for scrap in 1946

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.

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.
Neil Gale shared a link with the comment:
The chronological history of the July 24, 1915 "SS Eastland" disaster in Chicago with over 75 photographs.The Eastland was one of five vessels chartered to carry Western Electric workers and their families on a day-long outing from downtown Chicago to a park 38 miles across Lake Michigan. The Eastland was the first boat scheduled to leave, and employees had been encouraged to get there early. By a few minutes after 7AM, men, women and children were boarding at the rate of 50 per minute, with two federal inspectors keeping careful count, per normal practice. The Eastland was licensed to carry 2,500 passengers plus crew but more than 7,000 tickets were sold.CLICK TO READ ─► http://drloihjournal.blogspot.com/…/the-ss-eastland-disaste… in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History Journal™
"As a steady drizzle began to fall, many of the women, especially those with young children, took refuge below decks....Within two minutes after it listed 45 degrees to port, it rolled over....all the bodies that came up seemed to be women and children." [The above link] The referenced article also pointed out that the Eastland was top heavy when designed and modifications over the years to increase passenger capacity made it worse. The straw on the camel's back was the addition on the upper decks of lifeboats, life rafts, and life preservers for everyone after the Titantic sunk.
"It was said of her that she behaved like a bicycle, being unstable when loading or unloading but stable when under way," wrote transportation historian and economist George W. Hilton, whose 1995 book, Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic, provides a meticulous investigation. Safety inspectors focused only on the Eastland's performance while underway, and the boat routinely was certified as safe. [The above link]
Just 10 weeks earlier, the Lusitania had been torpedoed and sunk, with a death toll of 785 passengers. In 1912, 829 passengers had died aboard the Titanic (plus 694 crew members). Both of those disasters took place on the high seas. After the Eastland rolled, 844 passengers died on a sluggish urban river, 20 feet from the dock. Seventy percent of them were under the age of 25. [The above link]
ABC News, has video of a recently discovered documentary film of the disaster.
The Eastland ship being righted after the Eastland Disaster on the Chicago River,

The Eastland Disaster Killed More Passengers Than the Titanic and the Lusitania. Why Has It Been Forgotten?

Eric Pieper shared pinterest

(new window)  Another post

1 comment:

  1. Another plaque referencing the Eastland disaster is on the south side of Cermak Rd. (21st St.) at 47th Ave. (across the road from Scatchell's Beef & Pizza) in Cicero - an approximation of where the Western Electric plant was located.