- Historic Sites
The Eastland Disaster
December 1979 | Volume 31, Issue 1
The excursion steamer Eastland was known as “the crank ship of the Lakes” to the men who worked her. Built for speed—she had to make the 170-mile round trip between Chicago and Grand Harbor, Michigan, twice a day—she had a lean, graceful hull and tall, heavy superstructure. On July 24,1915, after twenty-five hundred people had crowded aboard, she capsized at her dock in the Chicago River. Eight hundred and thirty-five died.
Among those who witnessed the tragedy was Mrs. Eva L. Burchill of San Jose, California, who sent us this picture of the deadly ship on her port side, and this reminiscence:
“When I saw the boat it was lying on its side. The river was crowded with small boats and people were being plucked from the water. I saw this from an elevated train crossing the river bridge.
“People went from office to office gathering what wraps and clothing could be spared to cover bodies which were being taken from inside the boat. No work was done in our office, but much weeping and sorrow. Large department stores sent blankets.…
“A friend of mine was on the Eastland the night before when it was returning from a lake trip. He said the ship listed noticeably as it entered the river port, but this was considered as fun by the passengers.”