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The Fall of the Eastland

Article #263 • Written by Alan Bellows

▼ Scroll to Continue ▼

At a pier on the Chicago River on 24 July 1915, as the passenger steamer SS Eastland prepared to embark across lake Michigan, chief engineer Joseph Erickson grew increasingly concerned about his ship's demeanor. While the long line of passengers strolled up the gangplank, the engine room crew pumped water into the ballast tanks to keep the ship and its shifting load on an even keel. But the Eastland was being more persnickety than usual on that particular morning, seemingly intent on leaning a bit to one side or the other.

The hundreds of Western Electric employees on board the passenger liner were bound for the company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana, just across the lake. The annual event was typically filled with frolicking and festivity, so the ship was brimming with excited families and plentiful picnic baskets. When the vessel reached its capacity of 2,500, the gangplank was brought in and the ship's orchestra sprang into action in the ballroom. Many passengers began dancing in spite of the crowded conditions, unconcerned with the slowly increasing slope of the dance floor.

Joseph Erickson had only been employed as the chief engineer for a few months, but he was familiar with the vessel's history of similar incidents. The prior episodes of listing had always been resolved by shuffling ballast, so he saw little cause for concern; however the Eastland's crew did not fully anticipate the effects of some recent modifications to their ship. The vessel's owners had recently added some weight to the upper decks, including several additional life boats and a few dozen tons of deck-reinforcing concrete. Together these factors raised the steamer's center of gravity considerably.

In the engine room, Erickson organized the effort to set the stubborn vessel upright. Fearing that the ship had somehow become entangled, he sent someone outside to check the hull for contact with the pier. But over the next few minutes the mighty steamer finally sat up straight as two of the starboard ballast tanks filled. With the situation seemingly resolved, Captain Harry Pedersen gave the order to begin preparations for departure. A baggage handler cast off one of the stern lines while a mass of passengers stood at the starboard rail waving goodbye to the people on the pier.

A painting of the Eastland (circa 1907)
A painting of the Eastland (circa 1907)

As the engines began to nudge the steamer forward, it once again slouched perceptibly towards its port side. The passengers traded humorous remarks regarding the dance floor's gradually increasing slope while chairs slowly slid across the deck. However the mood became apprehensive when the engines were stopped, and the sound of beer bottles crashing from the counter tops echoed through the compartments. A troubled murmur erupted, but it was cut short by the whooping of the ship's warning whistle. Apparently the struggling ship was starting to sip water from the river through her port gangways.

On the pier, the harbormaster instructed the ship's second mate not to cast off any more lines until the seriously listing ship could be righted. The stern of the Eastland began to slowly swing away from the wharf, and the uneasy men and women aboard the vessel dug in their heels as the tilt increased to about thirty degrees.

The orchestra was belting out an upbeat ragtime tune as the engine room's workers emerged on the deck and headed for the exits. Dishes spilled from the shelves and tables begin to slide across the deck. As the tilt reached an alarming degree, Captain Pederson on the top deck was heard to shout "For God's sake, open up your gangway!" at a crew member below. Panicked passengers began to boil up from the lower decks carrying their children, and desperate men and women leaped from the sides of the ship into the river and onto the pier.

The orchestra's merry music stalled suddenly, replaced by shouts of "Every man for himself!" and the sharp cracks of snapping mooring lines. As the water ingressed on the port side and the humans egressed on the starboard side, the redistribution of weight rapidly pushed the vessel to its tipping point, and at 7:28am the world inside the massive steamship Eastland suddenly went sideways.

Writer Jack Woodford watched the scene unfold from the shore:

"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."

Passengers on the top deck were thrown into the river, many of them pinned under the hull or swamped by the wake of the capsized ship. Inside, the passengers in the crowded compartments were tossed into heaps on the port bulkheads as furniture rained down on them. Some were crushed by rogue refrigerators, pianos, and equipment, and many others were pinned under piles of panicked people as the water came rushing in.

As the Eastland settled on its side in the mud of the shallow Chicago River, witnesses stood stunned for several moments. But within seconds, the bystanders on the docks began to throwing anything that would float into the water for the floundering victims. Some dove into the river and ferried people to safety while others stood at the water's edge and lifted the disoriented, waterlogged victims onto the pier. A nearby tugboat immediately pulled alongside the Eastland, allowing the crowd of passengers standing on her overturned hull to leap on board.

Inside the skewed engine room, chief engineer Erickson found the controls to turn on the injectors before making his escape, bringing cold water into the boilers to reduce the likelihood of a boiler explosion. He then clambered his way up through an air duct and out a porthole, where the men standing outside pulled him to the safety of the ship's exposed side.

An anonymous passenger gave her account to a news reporter after she was rescued:

"When boarding the boat we all remarked jestingly: 'The boat is listing!' Reaching the big dancing hall on the lower deck where many hundreds of excursionists were enjoying the music, we noticed that the floor was strongly tilted. Then a man cried: 'All hurry to the other side, lest the boat tip!' Even now we enjoyed rushing up the sharply inclined dance floor, when suddenly the mighty boat rolled to the opposite side, and all occupants were hurled into a helpless heap. In the dance hall the furniture, the tables and chairs, the heavy piano, the large icebox and counter of the tavern, crashed upon the poor victims, so that many were killed outright. Those who had been on deck were trapped deep down in the river, under twenty-three feet of water."

"I was one of the few who came out of the water although I was imprisoned inside the dance hall. I could swim well and tried to rescue a little girl, but a man took hold of my arm and pleaded, 'Lady, please save me!' I screamed: 'Let me go! I have all I can do to save myself and this child!' Then the fellow pulled me and the child down to the bottom. I fought him off, and in the scuffle I lost hold of the poor child. Only five other girls and men were swimming within the dance hall. Luckily they found a ledge to which they now clung, and they called me to come and hold on. For half an hour we took this rest, but the suspense became unbearable. We screamed for help. Finally we were noticed and strong arms drew us through a porthole."

"Tenderly removing from the hold a body in which a spark of life still lingers", a photo of the rescue later used as a postcard. The printers obscured the victim's face.
"Tenderly removing from the hold a body in which a spark of life still lingers", a photo of the rescue later used as a postcard. The printers obscured the victim's face.

Another anonymous eyewitness described the astonishing misery of the scene:

"I shall never be able to forget what I saw. People were struggling in the water, clustered so thickly that they literally covered the surface of the river. A few were swimming; the rest were floundering about, some clinging to a life raft that had floated free, others clutching at anything that they could reach--at bits of wood, at each other, grabbing each other, pulling each other down, and screaming! The screaming was the most horrible of all."

William Raphael was in a nearby building when the Eastland fell:

"I heard her flop over with a crash and a splash. I jumped out to the door and saw what had happened. I saw two women come bobbing up to the surface not far from the shore piling. I jumped in to grab them."

"Some fat man, his face green with terror, was making for them, too. I got hold of the women and started to pull them out. The fat man held onto the women's dresses, and I couldn't swim with the whole load. I yelled at him, treading water as I fought. He wouldn't let go."

"I kicked him in the face and made him let go. I lost one of the women in the struggle, but I got the other woman to shore safely. All three of them might have been saved if that fellow hadn't been scared into a frenzy. I am glad that I saved one, anyway."

Clark R. Greene was a Western Electric employee who arrived during the pandemonium that followed:

"Although I do not know the exact time of arrival downtown I think that we arrived about five to ten minutes after the disaster. We could not get near the docks but stood in the street while people passed us who had been rescued and could walk. Most were in tears, some hysterical and one girl that I saw was actually crazed, she was soaking wet, hair hanging down, actually tearing her hair, and screaming at the top of her voice something about her sister. Others were being carried up town by ambulances, cars, patrols, etc. To add to the dismalness it started to drizzle. All the time people were arriving for the other boats and when someone with a megaphone announced 'Western Electric picnic called off' there was an audible murmur of disappointment since the awfulness of the disaster was not yet realized. Of course the narrowness of my escape was not very narrow but as narrow as I care to have it."

Soon the capsized vessel was straddled by rescue workers who labored to carve holes in the Eastland's hull while muffled screams could be heard from inside. By the time the torches chewed through the thick plating, however, most of the screams had quieted. Few of those inside the ship were found alive, but men entered the compartments nonetheless, searching desperately for signs of life.

Makeshift morgues were established in several of the surrounding buildings. It took days for the city divers to extract all of the bodies from all of the Eastland, and the corpses were laid out in rows for identification by family members. Many of the Western Electric employees had brought along their entire families to attend the company picnic festivities, resulting in a few instances where no family members survived to claim their remains. In all, 844 souls perished in the Eastland disaster, including 472 women, 290 children, and 82 men. Only four members of the ship's crew were killed.

Churches and cemeteries in Chicago were quickly overwhelmed by the scale of the disaster, so some mourners were compelled to hold combined funerals and to use freight trucks as improvised hearses. Many of the survivors endured a seemingly endless chain of their coworkers' funerals in the weeks that followed. Each of them also required a series of typhoid fever inoculations due to the time they spent in the Chicago River.

Shortly thereafter, many of the Eastland crew were arrested and questioned in response to a public outcry for an explanation. As Captain Pedersen and his first mate were escorted to headquarters at the city hall, an angry mob tried to attack the two men. One of the crowd members managed to punch the Captain in the face before the police were able to intervene. During the investigation that followed, it was determined that the crew of the Eastland did nothing criminal before or during the disaster, nor was the accident a result of their actions. The US District Court of Appeals also found that the Eastland's owners-- the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company-- were not liable for any of the deaths resulting from the Eastland disaster. While a flurry of civil actions continued afterward, no further criminal suits were filed.

Funeral of the Sindelar family, entirely wiped out by the Eastland disaster.  Parents and six children.
Funeral of the Sindelar family, entirely wiped out by the Eastland disaster. Parents and six children.

The Eastland's slow-reacting ballast tanks certainly contributed to its demise, but capsizing was ultimately blamed on the Eastland's poor weight distribution. In the wake of the Titanic disaster of 1912, the US federal government had enacted the LaFollette's Seaman's Act which stipulated that seagoing vessels must have an adequate number lifeboats on the deck. Ironically, by complying with this regulation the Eastland's owners had piled an additional 10-14 tons onto their already top-heavy ship, contributing to a higher center of gravity and reduced stability.

In October 1915-- three months after its tragic spill into the river-- the remains of the Eastland were raised and sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve. The Navy restored the vessel to seaworthiness, and recommissioned it as the USS Wilmette. It served as a training gunship on the Great Lakes for another thirty-two years until it was sold for scrap in 1947.

The Eastland disaster was the single most deadly accident one of the deadliest accidents to occur in the US in the entire twentieth century, yet its story remains mired in obscurity. Some blame this oversight on the brilliant whitewashing campaign undertaken by the ship's owners in the months after the accident, whereas others suspect that history makes little room for working-class tragedies. Indeed, a week after the disaster a millionaire heiress in Michigan was married, and the press coverage of her wedding garnered more attention than the Eastland did. At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious. Perhaps a few lifeboats would help.

Article written by Alan Bellows, published on 29 March 2007. Alan is the founder/designer/head writer/managing editor of Damn Interesting.

Article design and artwork by Alan Bellows.
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70 Comments
errna
Posted 30 March 2007 at 06:30 am

happened before, it will happen again.
the thing is, things are taken for granted


Radiatidon
Posted 30 March 2007 at 06:50 am

Reminds me of the story about a Civil War Era steamship that had been overloaded with the war weary trying to get home. Ship exploded.

Having dove in the Pacific in WWII era wrecks that still contained the sailors who when down with the ships, you get a better feel how one can become lost in a lisping or overturned ship.


CanInternet
Posted 30 March 2007 at 07:19 am

As errna said and btw to show how little has changed in the centuries: in old Rome everyone was moaning about the traffic, it stank, you never could get in or out of the city in the morning or in the evening and the ever increasing taxes which never gave more parking space.

Nevertheless a nice story. Ironic how new safety laws doomed this ship. However again nothing new under the sun. One solution is often the cause of another problem.
*sits back and waits to see the first 800 seater Airbus falls out of the sky*


lostindustrial
Posted 30 March 2007 at 07:19 am

I think one of the most interesting things is that a majority of the stories found on DI are mired in obscurity. One of the things I think when reading most DI articles is "why didn't I already know about this?" I love trivia, factoids and history in general...strange that most of the stuff on here is not really "public knowledge".


davida
Posted 30 March 2007 at 08:08 am

DI does it again....love the last sentence. So true.

"At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious. Perhaps a few lifeboats would help."


Radiatidon
Posted 30 March 2007 at 08:34 am

Ah, found it. The steamship was the Sultana. On board that fateful day were Union POWs from Andersonville and other wretched Confederate camps heading home. The US Government was paying shipping companies a tidy sum, $5 per man, to transport soldiers north on the Mississippi. Greed on the part of the crew and owners had them overloading the ships.

On that fateful day of April 27, 1865 one of the Sultana’s four boilers sprung a leak. Rather than take the necessary two to three days to do the job right, the captain ordered a patch. The Sultana was only two years old and contained state-of-the-art designs and safety equipment. Plus they would lose all that lucrative cash to other steamboat captains hauling soldiers.

In order to make-up for most of a lost day, the Captain bribed Army Officers a $1.15 for each man they put on the Sultana. This resulted in the normally 350 passenger craft to be overloaded with 2,500 souls, 2,300 of them POWs. Stanchion supports were added to support the upper Hurricane deck as it started to sag due to the weight of the men. The ship was so overcrowded that most of the sick and wounded brought aboard by stretcher were forced to stand.

The Captain reassured the officers that he had hauled this many men before and finally cast off at around 9:00 PM that night. With a brief stop in Memphis for coal, the Sultana continued her trip at Midnight. Trying to makeup time, the captain ordered more steam, the patch had held fine since leaving Vicksburg at 9:00 PM and all boilers were operating without problems.

At 2:00 AM the overtaxed patch gave and the repaired boiled exploded. This also caused a second nearby boiler to also explode. The mid-ship was engulfed in flames as the now weakened structure gave way allowing the dual smokestacks to fall upon the hurricane deck crushing many of the men standing there.

Due to the time, confusion reigned supreme. Men started to panic and in the confusion many jumped overboard rather than fight the fire. The Mississippi was swollen with spring runoff and flowing faster than usual. By sunup the death toll was 1,700, but another 200 died over the next week due to injuries from the accident.
The Sultana still resides at the bottom of the Mississippi to this day, covered in mud.

Some interesting facts:

Titanic – 882 feet long, sank in the frigid Atlantic with a life loss of 1,517
Sultana – 260 feet long, sank in the swollen waters of the Mississippi with a life loss of 1,900.

The Titanic was 340% larger than the Sultana and yet the Sultana suffered more than 25% greater loss of life. Yet how many people have ever heard of her?


Maciple1
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:01 am

First time commenting on the site but I've read every article. I had to comment on this one because of the amount of life lost and yet, I have never heard about this. What I found most interesting about this article was not how many died, but who died. Look at the numbers: 472 women, 290 children, and 82 men. The claims by the survivors all say that men thwarted their attempts to save children and women, in attempts to save themselves. You would have thought in those days, when men were supposed to be emboldend by war, it would have been 472 men dying instead. I mean, unless they were mormons and each man had three wives, how do you explain a ship full of families allowing more dads than moms to survive? I'm sure there is an answer but I don't see it.


sulkykid
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:43 am

Maciple1: In defense of men: we have no info on the ratio of men to women to children on the Easland that day. Moreover, in those times, men would have been much more likely to be good swimmers. Also, the women in the water were no doubt dragged down by their heavy clothes.

Being a good Chicago boy, I was always fascinated by the Eastland saga. The ship was known as a top-heavy roller, even before the additional concrete and lifeboats. There is a photograph of a fireman carrying a dead child that is just heart-wrenching. The river was VERY polluted in those days, I wonder how many survivors died of cholera, etc. afterward.

DI should do a story on the "Foolkiller". This was a very early submarine that was found at the bottom of the river during the Eastland cleanup. Inside were the skeletal remains of a man and a dog. These were put on commercial exhibit! For 10 cents, you could view the sub, and the remains - man and dog. Here are some pics: http://www.rc-submarines.com/Lodner_Phillips/

The U.S.S. Wilmette did see some action, after the war. There was a war-prize German submarine that the Wilmett shelled and sank in Lake Michigan. (This was a different sub from the U-505 that is on display in the Museum of Science and Industry.)


nihil
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:51 am

This incident is better known to citizens in and around Chicago as it is featured in the local PBS station's program "Chicago Stories" which they run regularly during pledge drives. I know I have seen the story behind this on the station more than once. I must say that it was not covered in such detail, but a more general story about the ship listing and the many people who lost their lives.

-From the Chicago Public Library:
'The excursion steamer Eastland slowly rolled over at 7:28 a.m. Saturday, July 24, 1915. She was still moored to her dock between LaSalle and Clark Streets on the south bank of the Chicago River. "

-From Google maps images:
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&q=LaSalle+and+Clark+Streets+chicago+il&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=49.089956,74.707031&layer=&ie=UTF8&t=h&om=1&z=17&ll=41.886584,-87.632318&spn=0.005679,0.012639&iwloc=addr
I am guessing (very confidently) that this is the location at which the ship listed as it is on the river and a few blocks from Lake Michigan.


HellSquirt
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:52 am

Damn Interesting article, Alan. Always a pleasure.

...but I do have a question:

Did something happen to the other DI writers? All of the articles on the front page... even the classics... have you in the byline.


Radiatidon
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:54 am

Maciple1 said: "What I found most interesting about this article was not how many died, but who died. Look at the numbers: 472 women, 290 children, and 82 men. dying instead... how do you explain a ship full of families allowing more dads than moms to survive? I'm sure there is an answer but I don't see it."

There were various reasons the death toll was higher for women and children.

1. This was a picnic so the women were all gussied up in long, white dresses. Those that escaped the ship were pulled under by the weight of the dress.
2. The day was slightly overcast and there was a fine misty rain. Many of the women and children were inside the cabins trying to avoid the rain. When the ship rolled, iceboxes, pianos, and various other articles within those cabins crushed them. Then there were those in the portside cabins, which ended underwater. Those that survived the onslaught of furniture drowned.
3. Many of the workers were single women in their late teens to early twenties.

So you see, it was not because many of the men were cowardly jerks, just bad circumstances that accounted for the high percentage of women and children deaths.


robo
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:59 am

Does anyone know if there's a memorial at the site?


sulkykid
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:59 am

lostindustrial said: "I think one of the most interesting things is that a majority of the stories found on DI are mired in obscurity. One of the things I think when reading most DI articles is "why didn't I already know about this?" I love trivia, factoids and history in general…strange that most of the stuff on here is not really "public knowledge"."

It's funny you should say that. I considered suggesting the Eastland as a DI article, but decided against it because I thought it would be "too common" and too well known. Kind of like doing a story on Lucky Lindy. I guess I am too steeped in local history.

Also, the word "factoid" actually means a lie. People misuse this word all of the time.


sulkykid
Posted 30 March 2007 at 10:20 am

robo said: "Does anyone know if there's a memorial at the site?"

There is a small plaque by the river. I believe that there are a couple of mass graves in local cemetaries.


kip
Posted 30 March 2007 at 10:35 am

"All three of them might have been saved if that fellow hadn't been scared into a frenzy."

I have heard that when saving someone from drowning, you have to get them to stop panicking or there is a good chance you will both drown. The most common suggestion is to slap them or punch them in the face if possible.


dylanfan
Posted 30 March 2007 at 10:39 am

This reminds me of the song "Talkin' Bear Mountain Picnic Massacre Blues" by Bob Dylan. Is that a coincidence, or did he write the song about this? However, Dylan's song was funny, and this tragedy certainly was not.
I also find that many articles here are things that I have never heard about, but probably should have. Thanks guys.


Radiatidon
Posted 30 March 2007 at 10:48 am

sulkykid said: "Also, the word "factoid" actually means a lie. People misuse this word all of the time."

sulkykid is right on the money. You see Norman Mailer supposedly contrived the term “Factoid” in his book on Marilyn Monroe. He coined the word as “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper”. He created the word by taking “fact” and adding “-oid” to simulate a word meaning “like a fact”. His definition otherwise was snippets proposed as factual material but with no supporting evidence, otherwise a false bit-of-information to help validate an article or story.

During the latter part of the Twenty Century, CNN used the word to describe small bits of true and valid, but insignificant information. This gave the word a different meaning than what Mailer intended. Steve Wright uses the word quite extensively in his BBC radio show with the CNN version of the definition. Accordingly this change in the meaning can be referred to as a factlet.

A trivial notation, but educational as well. ;)


fvngvs
Posted 30 March 2007 at 10:58 am

Fine story on the Sultana, Radiatidon. You write nearly as well as Alan.

Have you ever considered submiting an article or two?


Tiercel
Posted 30 March 2007 at 11:03 am

"The Eastland disaster was the single most deadly accident to occur in the continental US in the entire twentieth century..."

I have to ask because it's bugging me... is there a reason the General Slocum disaster doesn't count? That was in 1904 and over a thousand people died.


dubyamd
Posted 30 March 2007 at 11:41 am

davida said: "DI does it again….love the last sentence. So true."

"Suggested by Brittany"??


Shenanigan
Posted 30 March 2007 at 12:00 pm

I was going to say that very thing, Tiercel! I read a book about the General Slocum, and while I don't have it right here in front of me to consult, I do remember the death toll being over a thousand.


Alan Bellows
Posted 30 March 2007 at 12:25 pm

Tiercel said: "I have to ask because it's bugging me… is there a reason the General Slocum disaster doesn't count? That was in 1904 and over a thousand people died."

You are indeed correct... I was misinformed. The text has been adjusted accordingly. Thanks for helping to keep us on even keel!


edhsinc
Posted 30 March 2007 at 02:02 pm

Very nicely researched and written article. Kudos to Alan and DI. How does anyone who visits DI not spend the entire afternoon reading the various articles?

There are several permanent exhibitions in Chicago and the near suburbs dedicated to the Eastland Disaster.

The historical marker commemorating the site of the tragedy was re-dedicated in 2003. It is now located at the corner of LaSalle and Wacker.

There is a permanent photo essay directly across the river from the historical marker. It is located in the beautiful lobby of the equally beautiful Reid Murdoch Center.

The Chicago History Museum recently underwent a $27 million renovation. Their museum now includes a permanent exhibit on the Eastland Disaster.

Morton College in Cicero recently opened The Hawthorne Works Museum, which includes a photo essay on the Eastland Disaster.

Regarding the high number of fatalities among women, note that the men as well as the women were dressed in their Sunday best including wingtips, suits, ties, and skimmers (hats).

One of the 844 victims was neither passenger or Eastland crew member. Peter Boyle, a 23-year-old sailor on the Petoskey, lost his life while attempting to rescue one or more who were thrown into the Chicago River when the Eastland turned on its side.

One closing comment. Have you heard of the person who was awarded a settlement in the low to mid six-figures for spilling hot coffee on his/her lap? Unfortunately for the families of the victims of the Eastland Disaster, the judicial system at the turn of last century wasn't quite as generous. The payout from the Civil Court (which, incidentally, did not hand down its verdict until 20 years after the Eastland Disaster) resulted in nothing (yes, $0.00) being paid to the victims' families. Karl Marx once said: “History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce.” No truer words could have been spoken with respect to the civil actions of the Eastland Disaster.


GMBurns
Posted 30 March 2007 at 02:14 pm

I was born and raised in Chicago and as others have said, the disaster is far from forgotten there.

Two small corrections:
One is that the article says the "the struggling ship was starting to sip water from the river through her port gangways." The expression is that a ship "ships" water in such circumstances.
Second is that what Kip has heard about drowning people is only partly accurate. It is _absolutely_true that a drowning person is always in such a state of panic that they will try to grab you in a way that will usually prevent you from even swimming yourself, much less saving anyone; but the best solution is to:
1) Approach a drowning person from behind, grabbing them with one hand at their chin exactly as you start to swim away from them -that starts to pull them into a "backfloating" position, and people usually become instantly calm as soon as they realize that someone has gotten control of them and is saving them.
2) If the drowning person does get hold of you and makes it hard or impossible for you to swim - Dive. They instantly loose all interest in you because you are headed where they do not want to go. Then come around behind them and try again.

Most of all, don't go near them at all if there is anyway they can be reached with an extended object or be thrown something that floats. An astonishing number of very good swimmers are drowned trying to save others. You probably won't get your picture in the paper if all you did was throw a plastic cooler to a person in trouble, but if you do, at least it won't be in the obituaries.


another viewpoint
Posted 30 March 2007 at 02:22 pm

kip said: "I have heard that when saving someone from drowning, you have to get them to stop panicking or there is a good chance you will both drown. The most common suggestion is to slap them or punch them in the face if possible."

...funny...I feel like that doing that everyday with some of the corporate American executives to keep from "drowing their companies" or running businesses into the ground...while all the time claiming their actions are for the better. Better for who? Themselves? Stockholders? Employees? Customers?

On the count of three...let's everyone slap the nearest executive. Ready...one...two...


CptPicard
Posted 30 March 2007 at 03:58 pm

Being inside a capsizing ship must certainly be one of the nastiest imaginable experiences. I still remember vividly waking up to the news of the sinking of the Estonia in 1994 (I'm Finnish)... those who survived that one said that it was next to impossible to get out of a modern ro-ro ship that had its center of gravity lifted up by water on the car deck... they aren't designed for you to climb out of them when they are lying down on their side in the sea.

Interesting that this would bring the Estonia to my mind... the events are quite similar. The Estonia's sinking is another of the less well known shipping disasters, despite it happening just a bit over a ten years ago in a region of the world where this wasn't supposed to be possible. Yet almost 900 people lost their lives.


JunieB
Posted 30 March 2007 at 04:16 pm

Morton College in Cicero recently opened The Hawthorne Works Museum, which includes a photo essay on the Eastland Disaster.

Native Ciceronian - I grew up a half block from Morton College. Many relatives and neighbors worked at the Hawthorne Works at one time or another over the years. It was certainly one of the main employers in town for generations.

Two distant cousins (both young single women) were killed on the Eastland. Family lore always said that the ship tipped over due to the passengers all rushing to one side to wave and pose for photographs from shore. Thanks for illuminating the apparent true facts.


advocate_of_chaos
Posted 30 March 2007 at 06:38 pm

I must confess, for all the tragedy and loss in that article (excellent as it was, too) I just keep coming back to 'rogue refrigerators'.

Love that term.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 30 March 2007 at 06:49 pm

Regarding rescuing drowning people, there is one rule that is taught to all emergency workers (police, firemen, lifeguards [I was a lifeguard for over a decade]) regarding emergency and disaster response - rescuer safety comes first: You cannot save anyone else once you are dead, and the people you have already saved in a disaster situation will need you to continue caring for them. If you are not a trained lifeguard you should never under any circumstances get into the water with a concious, active drowning victim - they are many times stronger than you are due to all the adrenaline and panic in their system, and punching them doesn't really work that well. This is the reason the majority of drownings are double drownings - when the person in distress begins flailing about they will grab anything and anyone near them in an attempt to get air.

When the very first lifeguarding programs in this country were being organized it was believed that only trained boxers and wrestlers were suitable for the job, as no one else would have the strength to escape the drowning victims clutches. In modern times technique has replaced a good deal of the strength required, and lifeguards have floating rescue aids with them in most situations.

If you disregard that advice, be aware you are likely forfeiting your life by getting into the water and keep some object between yourself and the drowning person: when they grab onto that object you can tow them to safety with it - and if/when they attempt to grab you, you can let go of the object and retreat. You can use anything from a tree branch to an oar to a folding lawn chair to a beach towel rolled into a rat tail, but keep them from getting ahold of you because once they have drowned you, they will be in the same position they were in before you arrived: drowning and without help. The only difference would be two deaths instead of one.


LL
Posted 30 March 2007 at 07:19 pm

Were the 'rogue refrigerators' really refrigerators, or were they ice boxes? In the old days an ice box was really a box that held ice (like a modern picnic cooler). I didn't think refrigerators were common in 1915.


chudez
Posted 30 March 2007 at 09:32 pm

Damn Interesting.

On another favorite website of mine, this would have been given an [IRONIC] tag with a headline that goes "Ship capsizes due to additional safety features. Ironic tag asplodes."

Also, dear author, I appreciate the lovely social commentary: "...whereas others suspect that history makes little room for working-class tragedies... At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious." I couldn't agree more! In this day and age, with so many tragedies around the world, globe spanning 24 hour network news channels bombard us with relentless coverage of the Anna Nicole Smith drama. *sigh*


justjim1
Posted 30 March 2007 at 11:48 pm

lost in a lisping or overturned ship.

How about "listing"?


Cori
Posted 31 March 2007 at 12:05 am

That is so sad. Particularly the personal accounts where someone was unable to save another person because of someone's panic.


HarleyHetz
Posted 31 March 2007 at 02:59 am

Good job Gerry they taught us these same things in Marine Corps. I was a crew chief on a helicopter, and we had to be "water safety qualified" in case the bird went down at sea. A drowning woman might be "many times stronger than you are due to all the adrenaline and panic in their system", but a drowning U.S. Marine is likely several times stronger than that!! They taught us to approach them from underwater, grab their waist, spin them so their back is to us, and grab their chin, exactly as Mr. Burns pointed out, lean their head back and swim with them. They also taught us that if this wasn't possible, or if you had something that floated nearby, hand them that!!

I think it's cool how "sometimes" you can learn some usefull stuff as well as all of the DI stuff on this site! Good read Alan, thanks.


Collision
Posted 31 March 2007 at 08:52 am

Isn't there a problem in the last line?

"At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious. Perhaps a few lifeboats would help."

Lifeboats would make it _more_ top heavy. Or was this intended sarcastically?


frenchsnake
Posted 31 March 2007 at 09:14 am

Sarcasm. Definitely.

DI article, and the information in the comments about how to save a drowning person is very useful as well.


Radon
Posted 31 March 2007 at 12:47 pm

DI indeed, as are the comments. The idea that so many people died while the ship was still in the harbor, and still attached to the mooring lines.

Just found this:
"In an attempt to give those who were in the water something to hold onto, people along the wharf threw wooden crates into the water. Anna and her cousin's boyfriend were struck in the head by the crates - they both drowned." http://www.eastlanddisaster.org/papagebrenneranna.htm

Very sad, the chaos must have been huge.

"and a few dozen tons of deck-reinforcing concrete"
Why concrete? Doesn't seem to logical to me...


sulkykid
Posted 31 March 2007 at 01:20 pm

Radon said: "... "and a few dozen tons of deck-reinforcing concrete"

Why concrete? Doesn't seem to logical to me… "

Dunno for sure, but concrete is quick, durable, and cheap, compared to wood decking.


Gerry Matlack
Posted 31 March 2007 at 02:20 pm

edhsinc said: " Have you heard of the person who was awarded a settlement in the low to mid six-figures for spilling hot coffee on his/her lap? "

I believe that would be Stella Liebeck. In 1992, Stella, then 79, spilled a cup of McDonald's coffee onto her lap and burned herself. A New Mexico jury awarded her $2.9 million in damages. There is an award given each year (kinda like the Darwin Awards... no actual presentation, just symbolic and with an amount of notoriety), bearing her name, for the most ridiculous, wild, or outrageous lawsuit - the Stella Award. You can read about it at: http://www.stellaawards.com


1c3d0g
Posted 31 March 2007 at 04:39 pm

Kip: true.

Sigh...I still feel that the architect(s) of the steamer should've been held responsible for designing such a flawed ship. If it wasn't top-heavy it would NOT have tipped over, it's as simple as that. Sadly this mistake cost the lives of many innocent people. May they rest in peace. :-(


AntEconomist
Posted 31 March 2007 at 04:52 pm

Maciple1 said: "...Look at the numbers: 472 women, 290 children, and 82 men..."

The numbers mean nothing without reference to the number of women, children, and men aboard. If, for example, there were 944 woman and 82 men aboard, then the men would have lost their lives at a rate of 2:1 relative to the women (100% versus 50%).


Fat_Steve
Posted 01 April 2007 at 01:47 pm

Interestingly a similar disaster occured on a smaller scale in Bahrain last year
Link to earliest item on BBC website

The boat had had additional superstructure, and was known to be unstable:

Another link to the BBC website

About the Famous Brand Coffee lawsuit: My understanding is that they deliberatly kept their coffee above the point where not only was it too hot to drink, it would also take mere seconds to cause burns in contact with human skin. The company had been warned about this many times, and had ignored them. Full details here: Link to the full details on the Lectric Law Website


sulkykid
Posted 01 April 2007 at 02:34 pm

Fat_Steve said: " ... About the Famous Brand Coffee lawsuit: My understanding is that they deliberatly kept their coffee above the point where not only was it too hot to drink, it would also take mere seconds to cause burns in contact with human skin. The company had been warned about this many times, and had ignored them. ... "

It seems like there is always more to the story.


Abu Ibrahim
Posted 01 April 2007 at 08:04 pm

Chicago had a history of disasters, such as the great chicago fire that left 90,000 people homeless:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Chicago_Fire


Dr. Evil
Posted 01 April 2007 at 10:44 pm

well...its just common sense to make sure the boat wont flip over when u stand on it...

very sad tho...i blame the government


ironcross
Posted 02 April 2007 at 03:48 am

As usual, I've never heard of this. Probably because of my public edumacation I received. I'm thinking I should learn a lesson from this and if I arrive to board a Carnival cruise ship and it is listing I should not board. Having had some experience at the port of Balitmore in my work, it is NOT normal for a ship to list at all while docked (nor I am sure at sea) as I have seen thousands of autos offloaded in hours. Perhaps common sense would gain the edge and I wouldn't board. I know now that I would think twice about it. For some reason, this reminds me of the Edmund Fitzgerald - don't know why.


edhsinc
Posted 03 April 2007 at 09:13 am

Re: "i blame the government" (Dr. Evil on April 1)

There were plenty of opportunities for "someone" to intervene.

(1) The S.S. Eastland had several near misses in the years prior to the tragedy including listing so badly that water came onto its decks. The responses to these near misses generally were that the licensed passenger capacity was reduced (usually only temporarily).

(2) A naval architect in August 1913 - less than two years prior to the tragedy - wrote to the government/inspectors: "You are aware of the condition of the SS Eastland, and unless structural defects are remedied to prevent listing, there may be a serious accident."

(3) Years prior to this, as a result of such a horrible reputation for being unsafe, the owners of the Eastland placed an ad in the newspaper offering a $5,000 reward (which was a TON of money in the early 1900s) to anyone who could prove that the Eastland was not seaworthy.

(4) A letter was written to the government reporting that the priority of the owners of chartered ships was apparently revenue rather than safety. The letter, while it did not specifically name the Eastland, did highlight the cause for concern -- chartered special events, where women and children were at risk (more so than the men, who worked).

Indeed, the Eastland was unstable and overcrowded the morning of July 24, 1915. Hindsight seems to indicate, however, that the tragedy possibly could have been avoided had someone followed through on the red flags that appeared months and years before.


treview1
Posted 03 April 2007 at 04:59 pm

sulkykid said: "Dunno for sure, but concrete is quick, durable, and cheap, compared to wood decking."

It might be due to WWI and the lack of metal available for anything other than war products...they eventually made some ships entirely out of concrete during the second World War.


Charlene
Posted 03 April 2007 at 06:50 pm

sulkykid said: "It seems like there is always more to the story."

The "more" includes the fact that Stella was forbidden in the final settlement from telling her side of the story to anyone, but "Famous Brand" was not forbidden. Interesting how all these rumours got started claiming that she was driving at the time, that she was holding the coffee cup between her legs, that she was in a moving car, etc. etc.


justapeon
Posted 03 April 2007 at 11:44 pm

treview1 said: "It might be due to WWI and the lack of metal available for anything other than war products…they eventually made some ships entirely out of concrete during the second World War."

There were 12 concrete vessels ordered during WWI one was completed before the end of the war. Ferrocement construction was in its infancy at that time, but when done correctly results in a very strong hull. Since we were not in the war yet I don't believe there was a shortage of materials, it was probably a lot cheaper and faster for concrete decking than wood. I doubt the owners wanted to put much money in a vessel that has a bad rep and could be shutdown by the gov't at any time.


Radiatidon
Posted 04 April 2007 at 08:20 am

justapeon said: "There were 12 concrete vessels ordered during WWI one was completed before the end of the war. it was probably a lot cheaper and faster for concrete decking than wood. I doubt the owners wanted to put much money in a vessel that has a bad rep and could be shutdown by the gov't at any time."

Actually metal and wood were scarce. Twenty-four ships were commissioned thought only twelve were built.

During the latter part of the Nineteenth Century, various companies were experimenting with a novel idea called the Concrete Ship. The idea being that a concrete ship could be completed and ready to sail in less than half the time it takes to build a conventional ship of either wood or steel. Small concrete boats had been built as early as 1848 in France.

It wasn’t until WWI when metal and wood had became scarce due to the war effort. It was at this time that twelve experimental ships were constructed to test the theory. President Woodrow Wilson approved the construction of twenty-four concrete ships. Because the first ships were really impractical being slow, and costly to operate due to weight. Only twelve were constructed at a total cost of $50 million.

S.S. Peralta – Oil Tanker built and launched in February 1921. Three years later she was converted into a sardine cannery in Alaska. Twenty-four years later she was mothballed off Antioch, CA until purchased by Pacifica Papers in 1958. She was moved to the Powell River in Canada, as is part of a concrete fleet of ships used as a floating breakwater to a log storage pond. At 128.02 meters x 16.46 m x 10,67 m she is the largest concrete ship afloat.

S.S. Palo Alto - Oil Tanker built and launched in May 1919. Ten years later she was purchased by the Seacliff Amusement Company, which unfortunately went bankrupt two years later due to the Great Depression. Shortly after she split amidships during a bad winter storm and was stripped of all salvageable metal. Today she resides off Aptos, CA as a fishing pier.

S.S. Atlantus built and launched in December 1918. Constructed as a cargo/transport ship, she ferried American troops home from Europe. The she was used to transport coal around New England. But finally retired in 1920. Six years later she was purchased to be use with two other concrete ships for a ferry dock. Destined to be placed in a “Y” formation at Cape May, New Jersey. On June 8th a storm hit and the Atlantus broke her moorings and ran aground 150 feet off the coast of Sunset Beach in Cape May where she resides today. The sea is a harsh mistress as can be testified by the condition of Atlantus. The hull has broken apart in various places and soon there will be nothing left of this great ship.

S.S. Selma - Oil Tanker built and launched in June 1919. Struck a jetty in Tampico, Florida and severely damaged. Sent to Galveston for repair but no one there had experience let alone an idea on how to repair a concrete ship. Unsure what to do with her, she was grounded near Pelican Island, Texas on March 1922. Today she is listed on the National Register of Historic Places due to the diligence of A. Daniels, retired editor of the Houston Chronicle & Galveston Daily News.

S.S. Cape Fear – Cargo ship built and launched in 1919. Struck the City of Atlanta (standard steel construction) and shattered like a porcelain plate. She pull 19 of her crew to the bottom of the ocean as she slipped beneath the waves in under three minutes. She now resides under 170 feet of water at the bottom of the Narragansett Bay off of Rhode Island.
S.S. Polias cargo ship built and launched in January1919. Though the first of the concrete ships commissioned, she was launched a month after the Atlantus. Used to transport coal in New England, she was wrecked during a storm in 1920. Having struck an underground ledge during the storm she became “grounded”. All attempts to free her failed and in 1924 she rolled over and broke apart during a hurricane. She sleeps beneath 30 feet of water off of Port Clyde Maine.

S.S. Cuyamaca - Oil Tanker built and launched in 1920. Used for several years to transport oil until sold for scrap in March 1926. No known location.

S.S. Latham - Oil Tanker built and launched in May 1920. Struck a jetty on her Maiden voyage, but was repaired. Converted into an oil storage tank in New Orleans on March 1926. No known final location.

S.S. Sapona – Cargo ship built and launched in January 1920. Stripped of her engine and used for Oil storage until 1924. Purchased by Bethel and used as a floating warehouse for rum and whiskey during the Prohibition. Blown aground a reef during a hurricane in 1926 destroying all liquor stocks. Used during WWII for target practice until the Squadron of Flight 19 vanished in the Bermuda Triangle after using her for practiced bombing runs. Resides 4 miles south of Bimini Island.

S.S. San Pasqual - Oil Tanker built and launched in 1920. During a storm ran aground off Cuba and served for years as a depot and then a prison. Resurrected from a decrepit past, today she is now a ten-room hotel.

S.S. Moffitt - Oil Tanker built and launched in 1920. Turned into a floating oil barge in New Orleans.

S.S. Dinsmore – Oil Tanker built and launched in 1919. Last known location Texas. Unknown fate.

Once again in WWII metal was scarce and in 1943 construction of 24 concrete ships began with production of one finished ship per month vs. six to eight months for a metal ship. This also included the construction of around 78 barges. Don’t let the name fool you, the concrete barge was a ship but without an engine of its own.

Though the concrete ship was more prone to damage during collision, it was cheaper, easier, and quicker on the repair.

Unlike the sour fate of the WWI fleet, these ships were sounder and faster than their predecessors. Thirty years of improvement in concrete made it stronger and lighter than the material used in WWI. Also unlike the WWI fleet, many of these ships are still afloat today though not in service.

As a point of interest, there are still sea-faring vessels today made of concrete. http://www.ferroboats.com/


Radiatidon
Posted 04 April 2007 at 08:27 am

Oops, lost part of this...

"Once again in WWII metal was scarce and in 1943 construction of 24 concrete ships began with production of one finished ship per month vs. six to eight months for a metal ship. "

Should be...

Once again in WWII metal was scarce and in 1943 construction of 24 concrete ships began with production of one finished ship per month. The turn around was three months for construction of a concrete ship vs. six to eight months for a metal ship.

Sorry for the brain-fart.


Radiatidon
Posted 04 April 2007 at 09:20 am

Argh… Okay it was nagging me, so I looked it up again. Concrete ship construction during WWII was estimated at around three months but they got it down to around four to six weeks from start until the hull hit the water. A very extreme turn-around in terms of ship construction.

Oh, they also built one barge who's sole purpose was to produce ice cream for the Pacific soldiers. She was able to produced over 1,500 gallons every hour.


radish123
Posted 06 April 2007 at 09:00 am

They also had plans for a ship made of ice.


kenfo
Posted 08 April 2007 at 12:11 pm

Concrete is good at dealing with compressive force, not perpendicular, angular or stretching forces. I know because of the whole U.N. "scientist" thing.

Oddly enough, dropping concrete from a highrise onto a cat, even in the presence of scalar waves, has a disasterous effect on my appetite for 1/4 to 2 full hours.


MrMike
Posted 09 April 2007 at 07:35 am

Excellent article - anybody besides me think it odd that a week after this article comes out, the Sea Diamond runs aground in Greece?


sulkykid
Posted 09 April 2007 at 08:15 am

MrMike said: "Excellent article - anybody besides me think it odd that a week after this article comes out, the Sea Diamond runs aground in Greece?"

No, not odd at all. Why would it be odd?


kenfo
Posted 09 April 2007 at 09:32 am

(sigh) ok sulkykid, try to follow along:

Both Capts. were likely infected by Toxoplasma, increasing their risk-taking behavior. How did they get that way you ask? If you drilled a hole through the Earth between the two locations to make a Gravity Train, and dropped a cat down it, the cat would not only land on its feet, but also infect the other Capt. While it is clear that scalar waves could alter the movements of the ships- causing one to flip and the other to flap (into a reef)- I don't think that's the case here as I do not detect any fishingline in the areas of interest.

These facts lead to an interesting question: is there a Canadian or midget influence at work here? Obviously. The Eastland's proximity to the evil empire at the time of the accident is proof enough: we should start dropping leaflets ASAP. The midget influence is harder to detect here. Might they be the hole-drilling-cat-droppers? Perhaps, but with those tiny arms they'd be shovelin like mad. Perhaps their tinyness creates some space/time distortion, creating phantom time? Perhaps a combination of the two? Science is wearing me out, but I do it all for you guys.


sulkykid
Posted 09 April 2007 at 12:03 pm

OK, kenfo, but where's the odd part?


afteryou
Posted 09 April 2007 at 12:46 pm

Hey sulkykid,

It's kenfo, the odd part-icipant.


embryo
Posted 25 April 2007 at 10:11 pm

M/S Estonia's ramp door to the car park of the ship was flooded after the locks were broken. Interesting read for anyone who's interested:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MS_Estonia


Mez
Posted 01 May 2007 at 08:29 am

sulkykid said: "It's funny you should say that. I considered suggesting the Eastland as a DI article, but decided against it because I thought it would be "too common" and too well known. Kind of like doing a story on Lucky Lindy. I guess I am too steeped in local history. "

Who/what is Lucky Lindy? I'm from Australia if that excuses my ignorance.

Alan Bellows said: "You are indeed correct… I was misinformed. The text has been adjusted accordingly. Thanks for helping to keep us on even keel!"

Yay for puns!

Collision said: "Isn't there a problem in the last line?

"At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious. Perhaps a few lifeboats would help."

Lifeboats would make it _more_ top heavy. Or was this intended sarcastically?"

Or maybe Alan is being deadly serious, suggesting we should overload society until it collapses.


sulkykid
Posted 01 May 2007 at 08:51 am

Mez: Lucky Lindy-->Charles Lindbergh, flew solo, non-stop from New York to Paris in 1927 to great fame and acclaim.


Mez
Posted 01 May 2007 at 09:21 am

Ah, cheers sulkykid. I knew about Charles Lindbergh but didn't remember the name of his plane.


sulkykid
Posted 01 May 2007 at 11:13 am

"Lucky Lindy" was Lindberg's nickname, the plane was "The Spirit of St Louis". I think the plane is hanging from the ceiling in the Smithsonian museum in Washington D.C. Sorry 'bout the confusion.


Spinster
Posted 03 May 2007 at 02:34 pm

Just a few comments: Concrete was commonly used for patches on Great Lakes ships (please refer to salvage practices of the time) and was cheap and very readily available.

Canada, or the "Evil Empire" isn't really anywhere near Chicago, IL. Please refer to a map. There were in those days several days travel between them.

The Great Lakes have a long and ignoble history of poor survival of women and children during shipwrecks. Female cooks were commonly left behind during "abandon ship" maneuvers.


spoiled1981
Posted 25 May 2007 at 12:39 pm

Does anyone know if there is a list of those who died, I was informed that a greatgreat aunt was on the ship and died but I don't know the name all I have is a last name.


sulkykid
Posted 25 May 2007 at 03:30 pm

spoiled1981 said: "Does anyone know if there is a list of those who died, I was informed that a greatgreat aunt was on the ship and died but I don't know the name all I have is a last name."

I cannot find such a list online. I suspect that I may have a distant relative or two involved, but no one in the family ever mentioned it. You might inquire at http://www.eastlanddisaster.org or the Chicago Historical society. There is a very nice picture book from Arcadia Press called "The Eastland Disaster". 125 pages of photos with captions, lots of names, but no index. I could peruse my copy if you are willing to supply the last name.


edhsinc
Posted 26 May 2007 at 07:05 am

There is no official passenger list for the Eastland Disaster. Unlike the Titanic, there was no passenger manifest the morning that boarding took place. Over 7,000 tickets had been sold for the excursion and picnic, and boarding took place on a first-come, first-served basis. The Eastland Disaster Historical Society, however, has been working diligently over the past 8 years and we have compiled a passenger list of over 2,300 names. The Eastland Disaster Passenger List includes the names of the victims as well as the survivors (victims names are italicized). Please drop us an email - we would love to open a file folder for your family (or add to the one that we may already have in our archives).


Trykt
Posted 22 June 2007 at 06:58 am

Collision said: "Isn't there a problem in the last line?

"At times, society itself seems alarmingly top-heavy and precarious. Perhaps a few lifeboats would help."

Lifeboats would make it _more_ top heavy. Or was this intended sarcastically?"

I'm pretty late to the party here but if you truly missed the sarcasm in that last sentence then YOU are the one aboard the failboat.


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