The Eastland Disaster

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EastlandThis year saw the 98th anniversary of the Eastland disaster. On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland sank in the Chicago River, taking with it 848 lives.

The tragedy owes something to the sinking of the Titanic. After the RMS Titanic went down in the North Atlantic Ocean on April 15, 1912, the 1915 federal Seaman’s Act required ships to be outfitted with lifeboats. Due to design flaws, the Eastland already had issues with listing, or tilting to starboard or port.  The addition of the mandated lifeboats increased the top-heaviness of the vessel.

The Western Electric Company chartered the ship for a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Passengers boarded that morning between Clark and LaSalle Streets. It filled its 2,572-person capacity.

The Eastland listed to port, away from the wharf, and at 7:28 am the ship lurched, rolled over and sank. The bottom of the Chicago River was only 20 feet from the surface. 844 passengers and 4 of the crew perished.

Bodies were taken to temporary morgues (one of which was located at the Excalibur nightclub). Remaining bodies were taken to the 2nd Regiment Amory at the site of Harpo studios.

The Eastland was raised and recommissioned as the USS Wilmette. It was used as a training gunboat.

The Eastland Disaster Historical Society is looking to add a permanent outdoor exhibit along the Chicago Riverwalk.

Eastland Plaque

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