Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on July 24, 2012

SS Eastland capsizes

July 24, 1915: The SS Eastland capsizes and kills 848 of those aboard. The ship was commissioned by the Michigan Steamship Company and built by the Jenks Ship Building Company. She was completed in 1903. It was immediately apparently there were some design flaws. The ship was top heavy and listed, especially if too many passengers were congregating on one side of the craft. By offsetting weights, the problem could be fixed temporarily. The ship was used for touring Lake Michigan off the shores of Chicago, Illinois.

In 1915, in response to the terrible loss of life after the RMS Titanic sunk, the Seaman’s Act was passed by the federal government. This demanded all ships be retrofitted with enough lifeboats to rescue all passengers aboard. Ironically, this may have helped cause the horrible disaster that befell the ship on this date. The extra lifeboats added to the already top heavy ship’s listing problems.

Three ships were chartered to take employees from Western Electric’s Hawthorne Works plant (in Cicero, Illinois) to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Many of these workers were not able to take private holidays or vacations, due to their impoverished condition. A large number of the passengers were immigrants. Although there were restrictions to how many passengers the SS Eastland could carry, the people crowded aboard to have their special holiday picnic. It was docked between Clark and LaSalle Streets on the Chicago River.

Boarding began at 6:30 and by 7:10 there were 2,752 passengers aboard, the maximum allowed. The ship was packed. The ship was beginning to list and the crew attempted to rebalance the craft by allowing water in to create ballast. The crowd was gathering on the side of the ship opposite the docks. There was a canoe race passing by the port side. At 7:28 the ship lurched and then completely rolled over on its side.

The ship was close to land and the water was only 20 feet deep. It was a hot, muggy day and many people had already moved below decks into the relative coolness. As a result, hundreds were trapped inside the ship during the sudden rollover. Many of the interior decorations shifted and trapped passengers. Although there was an instant attempt at rescue, 844 passengers and four crew members perished.

And then movement caught my eye. I looked across the river. As I watched in disoriented stupefaction a steamer large as an ocean liner slowly turned over on its side as though it were a whale going to take a nap. I didn’t believe a huge steamer had done this before my eyes, lashed to a dock, in perfectly calm water, in excellent weather, with no explosion, no fire, nothing. I thought I had gone crazy. – Jack Woodford

The only aspect of our travels that is interesting to others is disaster. – Martha Gellman

Meet success like a gentleman and disaster like a man. – Frederick Edwin Smith

The minute you think you’ve got it made, disaster is just around the corner. – Joe Paterno

Also on this day:

The Manly Peak – In 1911, Machu Picchu was found – again.
Tennessee – In 1866, the first seceded state is admitted back to the Union.
Oh, Henry – In 1901, William Porter was released from prison.

Tagged with: ,

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: