There, but for the grace of God...

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AnotherFairportfan
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There, but for the grace of God...

Post by AnotherFairportfan »

This is one of those things that i wish i had thought to ask my dad about before he died - in July, 1915, the S S Eastland, a 265-foot lake steamer was tied up in the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle streets, loading passengers for an excursion trip for employees of Western Electric's plant in Cicero.  Her full load of 2,572 passengers was aboard, and many had gone below, when she rolled over to port (away from the wharf) and sank in twenty feet of water.
 
Wikipedia says:
 
Wikipedia wrote: In 1915, the new federal Seamen's Act had been passed because of the RMS Titanic disaster. This required retrofitting of a complete set of lifeboats on the Eastland as on many other passenger vessels.[6] This additional weight, ironically, probably made the Eastland more dangerous and it worsened the already severe problem of being top-heavy. Some argued that other Great Lakes ships would suffer from the same problem.[6] Nonetheless, it was signed into law by President Woodrow Wilson. The Eastland was already so top-heavy that it had special restrictions concerning the number of passengers that could be carried. Prior to that, in June 1914, the Eastland had again changed hands, this time bought by the St. Joseph and Chicago Steamship Company, with Captain Harry Pedersen appointed the ship's master.
 
 
On the fateful morning, passengers began boarding the Eastland on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets around 6:30, and by 7:10 a.m., the ship had reached its capacity of 2,572 passengers. The ship was packed, with many passengers standing on the open upper decks, and began to list slightly to the port side (away from the wharf). The crew attempted to stabilize the ship by admitting water to its ballast tanks, but to little avail. Sometime in the next 15 minutes, a number of passengers rushed to the port side, and at 7:28, the Eastland lurched sharply to port and then rolled completely onto its side, coming to rest on the river bottom, which was only 20 feet below the surface. Many other passengers had already moved below decks on this relatively cool and damp morning to warm up before the departure. Consequently, hundreds were trapped inside by the water and the sudden rollover; others were crushed by heavy furniture, including pianos, bookcases, and tables. Although the ship was only 20 feet from the wharf, and in spite of the quick response by the crew of a nearby vessel, the Kenosha, which came alongside the hull to allow those stranded on the capsized vessel to leap to safety, a total of 844 passengers and four crew members died in the disaster.
The reason that i wish i'd thought to ask Dad is that very possibly, there were relatives aboard her - two hundred and twenty of the dead were Czech immigrants, and my Dad's family were Bohemian (Czech) immigrants.  Both of his grandfathers were from the Old Country, and one owned a saloon in Cicero; my grandfather, who would have been about nineteen at the time, later worked as a Master Electrician for Commonwealth Edison; at nineteen, he would likely have been an apprentice, and, with family in Cicero, might have been at Western Electric.  He wasn't aboard the Eastland.- but relatives may well have been.
 
Someone who was supposed to be aboard her, but was late and missed boarding, was George Halas.
 
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The thing that started me thinking about it today was hearing a short interview on All Things Considered today - with the grad student who accidentally found digitised copies of Dutch newsreel footage, showing the ship lying capsized in the river (starts at about 1:06) and, later, the ship being righted (starts about 9:40)
 
Looking at it is one of those "If things had been just a bit different then, i wouldn't be here now" moments.
Proof Positive the world is not flat: If it were, cats would have pushed everything off the edge by now.
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