YEARS AGO TODAY - HORROR OF EASTLAND DISASTER; BIG DEATH TOLL
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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
"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."
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.
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
"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."
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.
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,
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
TELL OF SCENE WHEN EASTLAND SANK
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.
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."
"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
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
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
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
"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 the
BERWYN RESIDENTS WHO DIED IN EASTLAND DISASTER