Eastland Memorial Society

BERWYN LIFE - July 24, 1935


Local Residents Are Trapped on Picnic
Cicero and Berwyn were plunged into mourning 20 years ago today when scores of residents were drowned or crushed as the lake steamer, the Eastland, toppled over on its side in the Chicago river off Clark street.

Twenty years ago tonight anxious families ran frantically through the streets of Cicero waiting for news of their loved ones who had gone out for the day on a Western Electric company employees' excursion to Michigan City.

Men toppled over and women here sobbed quietly all through the night as additional names were added to the total of dead. Great crowds surged through the street near the scene of the fateful accident in which 812 people lost their loves, many from Cicero and Berwyn.

The capsizing of the Eastland was an especially tragic accident in Cicero and Berwyn as the trip on the boat was being made by employees of the Hawthorne plant of the Western Electric Company. The company then, as it does now, drew a large number of its employees from Cicero and Berwyn and a large proportion of those killed were residents here.

Hawthorne Bore Brunt
Hawthorne probably received the worst blow and the almost solid Polish settlement was plunged into deep mourning. On the day of the funeral, there was a crepe hanging from at least one home in each block and hearses and carriages went scurrying through the streets all day carrying their ghastly loads. In several instances complete families were wiped out in the greatest casualty in the history of Chicago.

Early in the morning 20 years ago today, over 7,000 employees of the Western Electric Company were bound for Michigan City and a gay excursion. Families, sweethearts and fun lovers were hastening to the docks to find places on the four boats, which were to convey the joyous crowd to Michigan City.

Soon 2,400 people were packed on the Eastland and crowds on the dock were cheering and waving merry goodbyes. The cheers changed to screams as the boat, with only one rope cast off, listed once, righted itself, and then slowly capsized.

Hundreds Trapped Inside
Hordes of people were trapped inside the boat, while others were carried down under the weight of the ship as it listed. Men, women and children were dangling from the superstructure of the boat and then dropped into the water, either to be saved or to drown while aid was on the way. Indescribable scenes of horror were enacted before the throngs on the dock, some of whom were waiting to take their places on the three other boats.

Survivors all told weird tales of how they had managed to save themselves. Frank Terdina of 3727 South Wesley Avenue, same address as at the time of the accident, who was recently re-appointed president of the Berwyn Recreation and Playground commission, had the following to say:

"I was on the second deck of the Eastland when the boat lurched and fell over on its side. I was under the deck for a moment, but as I was young and a fairly good swimmer, I managed to extricate myself. When I came to the surface of the river, I thought I could swim to the bank, but I was so exhausted after a few strokes that I grabbed for a chair and held on until I was picked up and pulled aboard a small boat."

Lisle Goyette, Survivor
Another Berwyn survivor, Lisle Goyette, 1835 South Grove Avenue, well known director of amateur stage productions, said that he had a great fear of boats after escaping from the Eastland. Strangely enough, he was picked to watch guard on deck one night on one of the transports carrying American troops to France. He saw another ship in the convoy veer off its course and head directly at his boat. He yelled at the top of his voice and the boat veered away, missing collision by inches. His father and two brothers were with him on the Eastland and his youngest brother perished in the calamity. Goyette was in the baggage room below decks when the Eastland overturned and managed to crawl up to the side of the boat that was on top of the water and was rescued.

Walter H. Flinn, 3332 South Home Avenue, said that he and his wife kept away from boats for 19 years after escaping the Eastland disaster. Both were on the forward boat deck near the captain's cabin. As the ship started to go over, they both scrambled to the dock side railing and hung on with water below them. Flinn tried to swing himself over the railing, but on his first try lost his hold and fell onto the captain's cabin. On another try he pulled himself over the rail and then tried to pull his wife to safety, but she had such a strong hold on the rail that he couldn't break it Finally another man came to his assistance and they broke her grip on the rail.

Girl Unaware of Danger
Showing how some of the passengers were unaware of what was happening, Jennie Turbov, 1939 South Grove Avenue, said that she was annoyed because a man seemed to be pushing his chair against the back of her chair.

"I was on the boat with three other girls and we had found seats on the river side. I first noticed this man's chair pushing against mine and I was annoyed. Then without warning, we were all thrown against the rail and knew that the boat was going over. Without thinking I stood up and jumped in the water. When I recovered consciousness, I was under the surface of the water and holding on to a man's foot. Everything went blank again and I came to on the shore, where a blanket was wrapped around me. One of the other girls was saved, but two were lost."

In Cicero, where many of the drowned lived, there was a terrific tension as families waited for news. A bureau was hastily organized at the Western Electric Company to give out information regarding those identified in the morgues and those who were still missing. More than a hundred volunteer workers were on the job day and night dispensing information. The undertaking parlors at 3947 South 49th Avenue were jammed by great crowds of Hawthorne Poles, all in the throes of their grief. Soon 39 bodies were brought there from the armories, where they had been taken for identification.

Rejoicing Turns to Grief
In some homes there was a moment of rejoicing when news came that a loved one had been saved, but a few minutes later there was sorrow when it was learned that another of the family had perished. The catastrophe took the wife of Trustee James Ryland, while another Cicero trustee, John Novak, lost a son, Florian, and a daughter, Frances.

One of the particularly tragic things about the disaster was the fact that the country was then emerging from the throes of a depression and families were almost drained of their last money. Many of the workers at the Hawthorne plant had been working one and two days a week and had just started on a regular schedule.

Relief headquarters were taxed with the flood of requests. The Cicero town board, holding a special meeting after the disaster, voted $2,000 for relief purposes where emergencies existed. The Western Electric Company immediately set up a $100,000 relief fund for stricken families of employees who perished, while citizens all over contributed to a $300,000 fund which was used to aid the distressed.

Fraternal and benevolent associations opened their coffers to aid families, and among these were the National Polish Alliance, Polish Women's National alliance, and the Polish Social Workers. Their work was confined to the Hawthorne section, which lost the greater proportion of residents.

July 28 Funeral Day
By a decree of the town aboard, July 28th was set aside as the day for a town-wide funeral, and all stores and plants were ordered to close at nine o'clock in the morning. Then started the scene, which will live forever in the memories of old residents. With almost 200 dead in Cicero, black hearses were stopping in each block to pick up bodies of dead men, women and children who had laid silently in coffins as candle lights played about their still features. Carriages carrying mourners proceeded through the streets. Everyone was out on the streets and people mourned not only for their families but for neighbors and friends whose lives had been taken.

Almost immediately after the immense total of dead had been announced, public indignation stirred up a series of federal investigations. Six officials of the steamship line, including the captain of the Eastland, Harry Pederson, were indicted by a federal grand jury. The case was dropped, however, following a hearing in Grand Rapids before Federal Judge Sessions, who ruled that because the Eastland was tied to a dock in the Chicago River at the time of the accident, the government had no jurisdiction. At this hearing, the defense produced evidence purporting to show that wooden pilings left in the river following the construction of a street tunnel had caused the capsizing.

Captain Finally Absolved
The one man who bore the brunt of unfavorable comment and publicity was Captain Pederson, who was at his post on the bridge when the boat turned over. He remained aboard the overturned ship directing and assisting in rescue work until members of the hysterical crowd on the dock attempted to mob him. It was necessary to spirit him away under a heavy police escort.

Time has changed this attitude, however, and today he lives in Chicago in semi-retirement. He is employed from time to time by the steamboat inspection service of the government in adjusting compasses and does other odd jobs of a maritime nature.

Damage suits totaling $8,000,000 were filed against the steamship owners, the city, and various other defendants, but none of the plaintiffs collected anything. The hull of the Eastland was sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve for $42,000 and $38,000 of this amount went to the company which salvaged the capsized ship. A special federal master in admiralty ruled that the owners were not responsible beyond the value of the hull, which left nothing for those who had filed damage suits. The hull was used in building the naval training ship Wilmette, which is now anchored at the foot of Randolph Street in Chicago. This picture of the Eastland was taken exactly one year before the boat capsized, and aboard at the time of the picture were Western Electric Company employees, many of whom were victims when the boat turned on its side a year later. An investigation disclosed the fact that pilings left in the Chicago River caused the boat to sink slowly and take a total of 812 lives.


What would you do if you had on a brand new suit and someone told you to jump in the water? Just like Frank Terdina, a survivor of the Eastland disaster, you'd probably hem and haw until the last moment.

"Thinking over the day," said Terdina yesterday to a Life reported, "I laugh now at my refusing to jump in the water because I had on a suit. Charles Borovansky, 2529 South Kenilworth Avenue, and myself were aboard the boat for a grand spree. Out wives were at home and we figured on a gala day. As soon as we boarded the Eastland, we went to the second deck near the masts.

"The very first thing we noticed was the boat lurching slightly and Charley laughingly commented that if the boat was going to rock in the river, it certainly would bounce around once we were out in the lake. I replied in a kidding manner and said we could get life preservers. Then we heard screams and saw that the boat was slowly toppling over towards the river side. Both Charley and I went to the rail there and Charley yelled for me to jump. While I was demurring because of my new suit, he already had jumped in."

Forgets About Suit
"I realized that I had better get going, so I forgot all about the new suit and jumped in. The boat came down after me and while under water I was tangled up with some of the ropes around the mast. I struggled around for a moment and finally came clear. I caught on to some debris and was picked up by the tug Stewart."

"One of the most vivid impressions I have of the whole affair was when I was under water. I recall saying to myself, 'Frank, you're in a hell of a place. How are you going to get out?'"

"While on the tug, I looked down and saw Charley on some pilings. I yelled at him and he answered in between retchings of his stomach. I then turned my attention to the scene of horror and I assure you that I had nightmares for a long time afterward seeing those people trapped like rats inside the boat. They were burning holes in the steel plate with acetylene torches and were carrying out the people. The dead were lining the river in windows so that they could be identified."

Wife Gave Him Up
The reporter stopped Terdina long enough to ask him about his homecoming. "Did your wife know about the disaster?" Terdina was asked, and he chuckled and said:

"My wife had given me up for gone because I was a long time in coming home to Berwyn. After leaving the scene of the catastrophe, I boarded a street car. I got off in my bedraggled clothes, rather what was left of them, and was taken into Berghoff's old place, where somebody set me up to some drinks. I was penniless, as I had lost my coat and money. I then went to the C. B. & Q. station, where they took one look at me and put me on a train. Needless to say, my wife and family were overjoyed when they saw that I was alive and in one piece."

The reporter then sought out Borovansky to hear his side of the story, and he told another tale of horror:

"As soon as I heard the screaming and saw that the boat was listing, I jumped. I yelled at Frank, but he was still on deck when I hit the water. I think one of the cabins was about a foot above me while I was swimming in the water, but I didn't get tangled up in anything. Thinking I could swim the distance to the dock, I set out, but my clothes and rubber soled shoes were too heavy for me, so I grabbed a raft. I pulled myself on and then caught hold of a girl and pulled her on the raft. She was sobbing and I tried to quiet her, telling her that everything was all right and the she was safe. I looked up to see Frank on a tug pulling people up from the water and then he yelled at me. Meanwhile, the reaction had set in on me and I became sick."

Noise Was Terrific
"While on the raft the screaming and noise was terrific. There was a great noise as water was rushing in the funnels and the suction was drawing the raft near the boat. Someone shouted that the boilers would blow up and I remember preparing to duck into the water in case it did blow so that I couldn't be hit by fragments.

"You want to know how I was received when I got home? Well, I left the scene and after someone bought me a few drinks, I started home on the street car. When I arrived home, my wife looked at me dripping water and wondered what had happened. She hadn't heard a thing about the capsizing of the boat and neither had anyone else in the neighborhood. I changed my clothes and went back to the scene. My wife didn't go originally because she is afraid of the water."

"When I got back to the river, a great mob had collected. I saw the rescue work going on and bodies of fellow employees at the Western Electric Company waiting to be identified. In my department, the woodworking department, we lost 30 people."

Afraid of Typhoid
"Of course I had some nightmares, but one of my biggest scares was that I had typhoid fever. All those who were in the disaster were warned to get injections to prevent typhoid and after I had them I came down with the chills and fever for several hours, but fortunately nothing happened. Some of those who didn't take the injections did get typhoid."

"It's all over now, but if you want the sensation of your life, get on a boat, feel it rock, and then watch it settle on one side. It's an experience that you'll not want again in your lifetime."


Seven survivors of the Eastland disaster looking at newspapers depicting the story of the Eastland disaster which took place 20 years ago today. Those in the picture, from left to right, are: Lisle Goyette of Berwyn, Ethel Stevenson, Jennie Turbov of Berwyn, Frank Terdina of Berwyn, William Cawnt, Walter Flinn of Berwyn, and Rose Smoller. These people escaped with their lives 20 years ago today when the giant lake steamer, the Eastland, capsized in the Chicago river off the Clark Street dock. All are employees of the Western Electric Company and were about to make an excursion to Michigan City on the ill-fated steamer. Employees of the Hawthorne plant had chartered four steamers to convey 7,000 people to Michigan City and the Eastland was the first scheduled to leave th
e dock.


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