The Eastland On Disaster

Categories: A PicnicDisaster

Excitement filled the air as thousands of people gathered along the Chicago River for Western Electric’s fifth annual picnic. Workers could not wait to reach Michigan City, Indiana because it is their only day off of their six-day workweeks. Music is playing as families dance together, individuals are on edge to get to the excursion. Much to their dismay, moments later their screams will leave a terrifying memory as the boat turns to its side causing hundreds of people to drown.

The measure of losses from The Eastland Disaster could have been limited if the safety methods were followed effectively.

The S.S. Eastland was built in 1903, set for Michigan City, Indiana, the place for Western Electric’s fifth annual picnic excursion. The night before workers were more than eager to get to the picnic because it was practically their only day off and children and mothers were preparing their best dresses and hats, some even embellished their hats with flowers.

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When morning came thousands of people gathered by the Chicago in the heat and light rain to board the boats. According to, a ticket was around one dollar for an adult. Over seven thousand tickets were sold. At around 6:30 A.M. people began to board the Eastland for the 7:30 departure.

The boarding rate was fifty people per minute, as more weight was being put on to the boat it started to list. By 7:25 the list got so bad that objects inside of the boat began to tumble and it only got worse from there.

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“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 little raft that floated free, others clutching at anything they could reach – at bits of wood, at each other, grabbing each other, pulling each other down, and screaming! The screaming was the worst of all.” Helen Repa, a Western Electric nurse exclaims. Tragically the listing never stopped until the point it rolled onto its side.

The thick ropes that held that connected the steamer to the dock snapped as it tipped. Many of the passengers jumped or managed to climb to the side of the boat that wasn’t in the water. Hundreds of people that had planned on having a fun time ended up either drowning, being crushed, and/or suffocated before the Eastland even left the river. As said in a Fitchburg Daily Sentinel article, by ten o’clock three-hundred bodies were recovered and by eleven o’clock police reported five hundred. By the end of the day eight-hundred forty-four were reported dead or missing.

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The Eastland On Disaster. (2022, Jan 02). Retrieved from

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