A Hundred Years Ago: HUNDREDS OF CHICAGOANS DIE WHEN STEAMER EASTLAND SINKS IN RIVER


Mark Baber

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The Day Book, Chicago, 24 July 1915
Original article digitized by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Retrieved from the Library of Congress' Chronicling America web site,
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/search/pages/


HUNDREDS OF CHICAGOANS DIE WHEN STEAMER EASTLAND SINKS IN RIVER
---
U.S. GOV'T INSPECTION BLAMED FOR HORROR OF THE EASTLAND
---
Steamer Once Condemned by Gov't---Between 1,000 and 2,000 Drowned in Chicago
River---Complaint Had Been Made to U. S. Dep't of Commerce by Seamen's Union

---
Time of Disaster---7:45 a. m.
Name of Boat---Eastland.
Estimated Dead---1,800.
Estimated Number on Board---2,500.
Blame---Laid to U. .S. Steamship Inspection Service.
Investigations directed by State's Att'y Hoyne, Coroner Hoffman, Lieut. Gov.
Barratt O'Hara, U. S. government, police department.
Occasion---Annual picnic of Western Electric employes.
Rescue Work---Police boats, fire boats, privately owned tugs, divers and all
sorts of water craft.

Blame for the Eastland sinking is laid on the U. S. Steamship Inspection
Service by Sec'y Victor Olander of the Great Lakes Seamen's union.

Warning after warning was sent to Sec'y Redfield of the commerce dep't at
Washington, telling of open gangway and open hatches, rusty and unworkable;
and the department was asked to give it immediate attention.

The same defective gangway conditions which prevailed on the Eastland are
claimed by Olander to apply to other big excursion boats now running.

Wm. Nicholas, inspector of U. S. steamboat service, says his department does
not inspect "stability" of boats.

"Do you mean your department has no tests nor records as to whether an
excursion boat is safe or whether or not it will tip over?" he was asked.

"That is entirely in the hands of the American Bureau of Shipping," replied
Nicholas. "They determine tests and so make inspections." He said the bureau
is outside the government and is owned and run by shipping interests.

During the past year the government has been able to force the constructors
of new vessels to send us blue prints," he said. "We have no blue prints now
of the Eastland or any other vessels built before the past year."

"I have a copy of the Eastland's record in the Cleveland office of the U. S.
Steamboat Inspection service in 1913," said Olander. "I made this copy
personally in Cleveland and know it is correct."

"It states that the Eastland shall be permitted to carry 143 passengers in
all-the-year-around business. During the excursion season it can have 653
passengers if it keeps within five miles of land. If it stays in water not
deep enough to submerge it then it can carry 2,000 passengers."

The number of passengers the Eastland was allowed to carry when she started
on the terrible trip this morning was fixed by Inspectors Robert Reid and
Chas. C. Eckliff of Grand Haven.

"She was allowed to carry 2,500," said Nicholas at the Federal building.
"Custom house officers were on hand this morning counting to see that no
more than that went aboard."

"Why permit more people to ride on boats during excursion season than than
[sic] the rest of the year," Nicholas was asked.

"During the warm time of the year people who have life preservers on will
stay in water a long time, sometimes two or three days," said Nicholas. "The
water is warm from May 15 to Sept 15 and in that season more passengers are
allowed."

Victor Olander said the Eastland sinking backs up the charges made over and
over again in Washington the past year, when he asked stricter regulation of
boats. He took a Day Book reporter to the First National bank, unlocked a
safe deposit box and showed a mass of letters written to the commerce
department pointing to vicious conditions on lake boats running out of
Chicago.

The Eastland toppled over just as it moved away from its pier at Clark
street and the river, a little after 7:30 this morning. Cap't Harry Pederson
says the cause was the breaking of an "air shoot," which let water into the
hold. Few others hold this opinion. Most say the boat tipped from the weight
of the people along the deck rail.

Cap't Pederson says about an even 2,000 were on board. He and First Mate
Bell Fisher were at once placed under arrest. Commissioner of Public Works
Wm. Burkhardt wired to Chief Healey in Indiana to leave his vacation and
return at once.

The occasion for the excursion was the Western Electric Co.'s annual trip to
Michigan City. Six boats had been chartered by the company to carry 10,000
excursionists. The excursion was at once canceled.

The boat lurched drunkenly just after leaving the pier. It righted itself
and pitched once more. The third time it tipped and turned over.

Then was enacted a scene of horror indescribable. With a mad rush 2,000
people attempted to get off the boat. In a moment the river was so filled
that people were jumping right down on top of one another. In spots people
were two and three deep beneath the water, the bottom ones struggling vainly
to get up until they died, often dragging with them the more fortunate ones
on top.

There was not room to swim. Those who could not tread water simply had to
sink.

Because of the jam of people in the water rescue work was difficult. The
boats could only reach the outer fringe. Those in the center who were strong
enough to stick up took their turn in being saved.

At least 500 were caught inside the boat. Many of these were women with
babies who had retired to staterooms. Few of these were saved. Those not
drowned, it is claimed, were suffocated with steam.

Oliver Hamersley, 76 W. Monroe, rushed on [sic] Oxylene outfit to the side
of the ship to burn a hole through the steel in hopes of rescuing the
steam-cooking passengers. He says Capt. Pederson tried to order him off
because he didn't want holes burned in the ship.

Where the Eastland sank the water was so deep that but 15 feet of the side
of the boat appeared above water.

Ross H. Geeting and Anna Golnick, saved, said women and children were beaten
to death by the maddened crowd before they had a chance to leave the deck.

The tragedy struck Chicago with a blow like that of the Iroquois theater
disaster. It was the biggest of all lake disasters. The last big lake
catastrophe was in 1868, when the Seabird burned in Lake Michigan and 100
perished.

Business practically suspended near the accident this morning. Every
pulmotor, ambulance, diver, police and fire reserve in the city was rushed
to the scene. Loop stores sent their delivery wagons to be used as
ambulances.

Doctors came by hundreds They organized resuscitation crews to supplement
the pulmoters in reviving the unconscious. Within a short while 230 dead
bodies had been recovered.

Coroner Peter M. Hoffman arrived early on the scene. Told that Cap't
Pederson had tried to stop men from cutting holes in the side of the boat to
rescue imprisoned from staterooms, he emphatically announced that property
would not be considered in effecting rescues. Many died because the
pulmotors were over-burdened.

A net was stretched across the river at Adams st. to catch floating bodies.
At one time it was feared the Clark street bridge would go down, it was so
crowded. Police had difficulty in clearing it. People were also ordered off
the packed fire escape along the river.

W. J. Greenbaum, general manager of the Indiana Transportation Co., which
leased the Eastland, said the boat was permitted to carry 2,500 and that
number were on board. He said two deputy collector of customs counted the
persons who went up the gang plank.

Lieut.-Gov. Barratt O'Hara boarded the boat for a personal investigation.

"If we can prove criminal negligence," said O'Hara, "there will be
prosecutions. We will also see to it that In future boats do not leave the
harbor overcrowded. This seems to be a case of placing dollars and cents
above human lives."

All of the Eastland's crew were arrested and all papers in the captain's
office were taken in charge by the police after being brought out by divers.

Daniel Donovan, diver, brought up 25 bodies. One man was revived by a
pulmotor after being in the water two hours. Over 200 pulmotors were in use.

At noon the locks of the drainage canal at Lockport were closed in order to
stop current in the river.
-----
SECOND MATE TELLS OF MAN STUCK IN PORTHOLE
---
Henry McMullen, second mate of the Eastland, lays a great deal of blame for
deaths on the fact that the portholes were not large enough for people to
crawl through. McMullen was on the Muskegon when it burned, on the Arizona
when it sank, and has been on several government submarines and ocean
liners. He says he has made his last trip on the water.

McMullen told of one man who was stuck in a porthole and who all on shore
thought had gone insane. He was in a position where he could not be reached
for some time and just stuck there yelling frantically to be pulled out. His
head was just above water.

The seamen's union for 18 years fought to have a law passed making portholes
large enough for a person weighing 250 pounds to crawl through. Big owners
spent millions to kill the bill. It was passed, however. The bosses are now
trying to have it annulled, according to McMullen.
------
LITTLE TOT HEEDS OFFICER'S COMMAND AND IS SAVED
---
Of a number that might have been rescued had they heeded the advice of
Benjamin Rogers, baggage man on the steamship City of South Haven, who was
on the dock when the boat went over, just one little tot of 5 placed
confidence in Rogers' command. A number of people climbed on the side of the
ship. Rogers yelled to them not to jump, but to slide into the water and
they would be taken out. Scores jumped, striking their heads on the tilted
side of the boat. At the extreme top of the hull a girl of 5 years was
prepared to jump and she lisped out a question to Rogers.

"Stay where you are, kid, and I'll get you," he called.

"I trust you, mister man," she lisped back at him, and settled down again.
Rogers went out to the tug that had lined up to the boat, got on the hull
and picked the tot up and carried her ashore. She lisped a thanks and
disappeared apparently alone.

Just before 7 o'clock a woman with two children came down on the deck and
begged the officer who told her it was overcrowded to please let her on. He
had to push her back. As she was leaving the boat turned over and the
screams drew her attention. She dropped to the dock with her children. "My
God, my God, you saved me," she cried.
-----
SURVIVOR TELLS OF ACCIDENT
---
Mrs. Joseph Kostacki, 6108 S. Ashland, who was one of a party of four
rescued, told of how the disaster came about.

"We were all making our way to the upper deck and a great many went to the
side of the boat toward the dock. Still a greater number, however, went over
to the river side. All of a sudden, just as the boat seemed pulling out from
the dock, she began to list and slowly teetered over away from the dock.

Hundreds rushed toward the dock side and many jumped overboard. Women and
children became frantic. Nobody seemed to know what to do. Few thought of
life preservers. There was little time to think about anything.

"Shortly the air was filled with screams of horror. Hundreds slipped over
the side of the boat into the water. We were among those who were lucky
enough to be saved. We hung on until rescued."
-----
WOMEN FRANTIC
---
Women with their hair streaming down their backs ran about the shore yelling
for their little children. Men were demanding of policemen to know whether
their entire families had been wiped out by the disaster.

The cooler heads went about the work of saving as many as possible while the
big majority of the survivors just seemed to lose their heads.

The work of rescue, however, was wonderful. To physicians, policemen,
firemen and many people who work in the vicinity of the disaster too much
credit cannot be given.
-----
FAMILIES SEPARATED
---
Scenes around the dock shortly after the accident happened were terrible.
Women and children were yelling frantically for their relatives. Men were
crying like babies. Several families had been separated in the mad scramble
for safety when the boat first listed. Part of the family went down and the
other part was rescued.

Thousands of people soon lined the docks. Among the first rescued were
women, men and children who had hung onto the boat until a rescue tug
steamed to the scene.

All over the ground lay people who had been rendered unconscious in the
water. As they were rescued they were carried to the dock and left for
doctors to work over. The work of rescue of those still on board the boat
and those who were in the water hanging onto wreckage were sensational.

Tugs played around the scene and as victims were picked up they were taken
to shore and into the hands of doctors. First aid was given to all and many
were brought out of unconsciousness by fast work.
-----
DISASTER NEWS

---
Deputy Commissioner Henry Burkhardt ordered the Wells and Clark street
bridges cleared to prevent them going down under the weight of thousands who
rushed on them when the accident happened.

Peter Horwich took his violin with him when he jumped. Gave it to woman in
water. Both rescued.

Caspar Lalind, 3718 Odgen av., saved wife and daughter, Cecilia. Son,
Caspar, drowned.

Joe Conrad clambered through porthole with baby in arms. Didn't know whose.
Gave it to woman to hold. Baby disappeared.

Students from U. S. Naval Reserve school, Lake Bluff, came with apparatus to
drag for bodies.

Small fire started in hold. Soon extinguished.

Roy Kloeppin, 1716 Dayton, jumped from other excursion boat Roosevelt,
rescued 27 and pulled out 18 dead. Only 2 were men.

State's Att'y Hoyne got on the ground personally this morning to
investigate. Instead of waiting for the report of a coroner's jury he will
present the facts first hand to the grand jury and get quick action if there
is any criminal liability.

Dr. Thos. Carter, city ambulance surgeon, after conference with Drs.
Springer and Henry Rhinehart, coroner's physicians who were out on the boat
checking bodies as they came through, estimate that 1,800 lost their lives.

Wm. Doderlein, for 25 years first mate on an ocean liner, saw the boat
loading. "Experience taught me that it was overloaded," he said. "I rushed
to the captain and told him so. He laughed at me." Doderlein works at 112 S.
Water St.

Aid. Koman, in whose ward most of the unfortunates lived, said criminal
prosecutions against officials of the company were an immediate possibility.

Thirty bodies were taken to a morgue at 642 N. Clark. A thousand
grief-stricken relatives of excursionists crowded around the building. The
pavement caved in and many were injured.

Registration quarters were established at 215 N. Clark. The boat Roosevelt
and a commission house were used as temporary morgues. Here pitiful,
heartrending scenes were enacted as relatives came to look over the bodies.

The St. Joseph & Chicago Steamship Co. is said to be the real owner of the
Eastland.

Annie Pirapia, 2302 Kirkland St., and May Kates, 2332 W. Huron st., who got
on the Theodore Roosevelt instead of the Eastland by mistake, say they saw
at least 20 children under 3 years, floating in water after the boat went
over.

About 1,000 people got on roof of Cougel Bros., 150 S. Water, to watch.
Building began to shake. Rushed crowd off. Fifteen saved women in building
at the time rushed to street. Police rushed crowd back at La Salle and
Water, fearing building would fall in and drop people into river.

A policeman carried a 2-year-old baby off the boat. Thought she was dead.
Worked pulmotor and revived her. Unidentified.

There are 15 pulmotors in Chicago. Commonwealth Edison employes say if there
had been 90 they could have saved 200 more of the first rescued.

Member of crew of Str. Petoskey dived for a woman. He did not come up again.

-30-
 

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