Michael Bezek

I once read in a general reference book on disasters (sorry, the name of the book and author don't readily spring to mind) that the sinking of the Eastland was captured on film from start to finish. Supposedly, the film was so disturbing that it was not released to the public. I'm a little skeptical about this since I've seen photographs and even postcards from 1915 showing corpses-mostly women-being pulled from the wreck. I really don't see how watching a newsreel of a ship capsizing could be more disturbing than getting a postcard with a photo of a drowned human being on it! Does anyone know if a film of the Eastland sinking ever did exist, and is it still around somewhere today?
Dec 2, 2000
Easley South Carolina
>>I really don't see how watching a newsreel of a ship capsizing could be more disturbing than getting a postcard with a photo of a drowned human being on it!<<

Matter of perspective I guess. It's one thing to see the end result after things calm down, and quite the eyes of watch the whole thing go down. This would come complete with panic, screaming, and burning bodies dropping into the river, and being helpless to do anything about it.

I don't know if any newsreel exists or even if it ever did. It would have been the wildest stroke of luck for a photographer with a motion picture camera to be Johnny-on-the-spot when all this was happening. If it did, it's very unlikely that the film has survived to this day. Those nitrate based films didn't hold up well and a number of historically valuable films have been lost because they disintigrated in the can.

Jim Kalafus

Dec 3, 2000
The newsreel footage is an urban legend. The disaster happenned before 8AM on an unpleasant rainy morning, and involved a rather mundane excursion boat taking a party of General Electric factory workers on a picnic. The story, as it was told in 1915 and is still told, was that a "launch" bearing a camera crew sailed past and the passengers crowded to the rail, commencing the capsize. The capsizing, in fact, took place over a time frame of at least a half hour, with at least three "near misses" as she rolled and recovered, before she finally overturned.

I've attached a ca 1914 snapshot of the Eastland's sister ship City of South Haven, to illustrate another weak point of the "newsreel stampede starts capsize" tale. On the Eastland, there was no lower promenade deck- for whatever reason the hull plating carried upward one more level and so there was VERY little open outdoor space for passengers to accumulate, particularly after they were barred from the Hurricane Deck for reasons related to the ships's instability. Given the early hour, the horrible weather, the lack of glamor attached to the voyage AND the ship's physical layout confining most of the passengers to the public rooms, the tale of the newsreel crew instigating the disaster makes little sense.

Scott R. Andrews

"...and involved a rather mundane excursion boat taking a party of General Electric factory workers on a picnic...."

Hi Jim,

Oops! One small correction if I may: those workers were from the Western Electric Co., the manufacturing arm of the old Bell System, rather than from GE.

Scott Andrews

Jim Kalafus

Dec 3, 2000
PHOTO OF EASTLAND SINKING: This is pretty interesting- in the new Eastland Book (The Sinking of the Eastland by Jay Bonansinga) there is a photo which has to have been taken within the first minute or two of the capsize, which I have neither seen nor heard of before. The photo was taken from across the Chicago River,and shows the Eastland on her side. The water where the funnels were is turbulent, and a cloud of steam has risen from it and obscures a small section of the exposed part of the wreck. The passengers standing on the side do not have the calm and static look that they do in the later photos. One or two appear to be running, and many more are in the process of pulling themselves to safety over the boat deck rail. A man can be seen sitting on the bottom of the lifeboat which overturned in its davits, anhd others can se seen standing or sitting on other exposed pieces of the semi-submerged superstructure. THere are many heads visible in the river - a few appear to be swimming towards or hanging on to an unidenfiable large black floating object in teh section of water closest to the camera- behind them there is another group of people climbing onto something which looks like, but is not, a mostly-submerged boat. All in all a very rare and dramatic image, which leaves me wondering what became of the other photos in that (uncredited) photographer's series. It is not likely that only one shot was taken -where are the others and what do they show?

Adam Eickholt

Feb 16, 2005
Hi Jim, that's a great picture of the City of South Haven! One point of clarification though, the City of South Haven and Eastland were not actually sister ships. Here's their vitals:

Built 1903 for the Dunkley-Williams & Co.
Craig Shipbuilding Co., Toledo, Ohio

Length: 247.7'
Breadth: 40.3'
Depth: 21.7'

Built 1903 for the Michigan Steamship Co.
Jenks Shipbuilding Co., Port Huron, Michigan

Length: 267'
Breadth: 38.2'
Depth 19.5'

Also, the City of South Haven was always considered a good seaboat and actually ended up serving her post-WWI career on the Atlantic. The Eastland, by contrast, was always known as an unstable ship and that's why her owners had to run an ad in the Cleveland Plain Dealer in 1910 decrying the rumors of her instability and offering a $5000 reward to anyone who could prove their truth. Thankfully, Eastland was a one-of-a-kind design and build.


Doug Criner

Dec 2, 2009
The Eastland's excursion was for Western Electric employees, mainly working at the Hawthorne Works in Cicero, IL. Western Electic was either part of Bell Telephone or closely related.

I believe that after the accident, Eastland was salvaged and converted into a Navy training ship operating on the Great Lakes. The original stability problem involved a ballast/trim tank that had a free surface athwartship. They would flood one side of the tank to trim the ship, and the ship would list too much, causing the tank's contents to run to that side. Then the process was mistakenly repeated toward the other side. Plus, as the ship filled with passengers, they would run to one side to bid farewell to friends on the pier, etc. It was also customary to keep a lower deck hull doorway open until departing, which accelerated the ship's internal flooding.

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