THE SINKING OF THE EASTLANDAMERICA’S FORGOTTEN TRAGEDY By Jay Bonansinga Presentation by B.L. Griffin
ONLY THREE YEARS AFTER THE SINKING OF THE TITANIC….
WESTERN ELECTRIC COMPANY BASED IN ILLINOIS WAS THEFOREMOST SUPPLIER FOR THE TELEPHONE, A NEW LUXURY IN 1915 The employees, their spouses, children, extended family and friends were invited to the companies annual picnic on a shoreline garden on the other side of Lake Michigan, starting with a cruise across to the other side.
SATURDAY, JULY 24, 1915Over 2,000 employees of Western Electric arrived at the Chicago riverfront.The capacity of the Eastland, including 70 crew members was 2,570 people. There were 2,501 on board that morning.
That morning over 2,000 Western Electric employees and their families boarded the Eastland for Michigan city. While sitting in port the boat begins to list, and water fills the boat.With nearly 10,000 bystanders watching the boat rolls over on its side and suddenly capsizes.
A DEADLY COMBINATION 1) Concrete flooring2) Lifeboats, rafts, and life preservers 3) Everything securely locked 4) Women’s fashion of the day
CONCRETE FLOORINGIn 1914 renovations, that eventually proved to be dangerous, took place in the dining room. The floorboards under the linoleum were ripped out and replaced with two inches of concrete. The ship took on an additional 15-20 tons of weight.
LIFEBOATS, RAFTS, AND LIFE PRESERVERSAfter the Titanic there was a trend to load, and even over load boats with liferafts. On the Eastland 37 rafts, 2,500 life preservers (each weighing around 6 pounds) and 11 lifeboats were stored on the boats upper level.
EVERYTHING SECURELY LOCKEDThe life preservers were kept in large wooden storage containers that were kept both sealed, and locked.
THE WOMEN’S FASHION OF THE DAY A combination of: petticoats, girdles, chemisettes, overskirts, corsets, stockings, bodices, tuckers, slips, blouses, flounces, heirloom jewelry,pinafores, smocks, and leather calf-high, high healed boots added a great dealof weight to women, once wet, even of they were good swimmers, the weight of all the wet fabric drug them down and they drowned. 56% of the victims were women
844 people died.More people lost their lives on the Eastland than in the Chicago fire. The event completely wiped out 22 entire families. 262 couples lost 290 children.19 families lost both parents leaving children orphaned.
THE AUTHOR’S PERSPECTIVE OF THE DISASTER EVENT Bonansinga wrote this book out of concern that it was a forgotten part ofAmerican history. Using a variety of resources the author decided to create onpaper what that day was like. He believed that a work written prior to his own book explained the why’s and what’s of the event. His goal was to recreate it and make it personal so that for the readers it will no longer be, “America’s forgotten tragedy”
HOW THE EASTLAND DISASTER SHAPED EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PLANNING AND POLICY TODAY. The sinking did not have an impact on emergency managementaccording to the author the event was “swept under the rug”. Families with “old-money” ( Armour, Field, McCormick, and Reynolds)provided funds to have the Eastland converted into a training boat for the Navy. The Eastland became the USS Wilmette
HOW THE EASTLAND DISASTER SHAPED EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT PLANNING AND POLICY TODAY. This event was not only a great tragedy for the tremendous loss of life butalso for the fact that it was not used as an opportunity to examine and reshape government regulations for lake steamers, specified requirements in order to prevent vessels from turning over, boat ballast regulations, a weight adjustment requirement when lifeboats, rafts, life vests and other weight is added, and laws passed that life vests not be locked up but freely accessible throughout a boat.
LAWS A marine engineer stated to the newspaper the Tribune that, “The trouble is, we have no laws properly directed. A boat like the Eastlandshould not be used for excursion purposes. It should carry freight in its hold.”
LAWS After the accident the Tribune reported“The government regulations for lake steamers covers 102 pages. 53 pages minutely prescribe the construction of boilers down to the smallest bolt. There is not a single reference to stability. There is not a single specifiedrequirement to prevent a vessel from turning over. Even the ballast is not mentioned.”
THE CITY OF CHICAGO AND EMERGENCY MANAGEMENTThe river was severely polluted with a mix of street runoff that included large amountsof horse manure and industrial waste. The Chicago River was so polluted that it would self-ignite at least once a year.One step that Chicago did do was to announce that anyone who fell off the boat into the water had to have swallowed some of the river water putting them in danger oftyphoid fever. The health commission ordered a house by house canvass by the health department.In addition doctors from other areas arrived to work at stations around the city where victims could get vaccinations free of charge.
There was never again an annual picnic cruise.On June 4, 1989 the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy, Loyola University, the Illinois State Historical Society and the Chicago Maritime Society unveiled a riverfront plaque to commemorate the tragedy. The sinking of the Eastland occurred 97 years ago this month.