Eastland Disaster
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Eastland Disaster

It was a terrible day in the history of Western Electric and Chicago.
Most everyone has heard of the Titanic Disaster, but few
people have heard of this ship disaster that took the lives
of 840 people. It was the third-worst ship disaster, exceeded
only by the Titanic and the Sultana (worst).

Set of Ten Eastland Steamer Disaster Postcards
A big thanks to Katie Levon for taking the time to scan these postcards.

"This a set of ten postcards depicting the 1915 Eastland Steamship disaster which claimed over 800 lives. On July 24, 1915 a group of 2500 employees of the Western Electric Company and their family members boarded the Eastland steamer on the Chicago River for a Lake Michigan cruise. While still in port the Eastland rolled onto it's side, trapping the passengers and resulting in the loss of more than 800 lives. This was the largest loss of life in the United States from a lone event during the 20th century.

[One] card does say '...the death of over 1200 persons...'. I found several different numbers from different sources. The higher numbers seemed to be taken from the first newspaper reports and the lower numbers are from later and more accurate sources. I could not pinpoint the publication date of this postcard series but guess that the details were copied from early reports of the disaster.

The photographs shown in the postcards illustrate the rescue efforts by the Chicago Police & Fire Departments, bodies being removed, the temporary morgue, members of the diving team, funerals of the victims and the ship being righted. The 4th & 5th postcards are a bit odd in that the victim's image appears to have been sketched into the picture or her image blurred. Perhaps this was done out of respect to her or her family members. The Eastland was built in 1903 and sailed under both the Michigan Steamship Company and the St. Joseph-Chicago Steamship Company. Advertisements for pleasure cruises can be seen in one of the postcards.

The postcards were all published by Max Rigot Selling Co., 37 So. Wabash Ave., Chicago. Each card has a brief description of the scene on the reverse." - Katie Levon

Click on thumbnail images below for larger view.

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More postcard scans were sent to me - the following scans are from Richard J. Heldmann of  Hartford, CT.




Recent book released on the Eastland:

Author: Jay Bonansinga
Publisher: Citadel Press/Kensington Books

“For all the loss of life and the implications to public safety, this incident is little known today; Bonansinga's powerful book returns it to the record. ”
— Publishers Weekly

“one of the most imaginative writers of thrillers”
— Chicago Tribune

“A riveting true account of a tragic moment in American history that should never be forgotten.”
— Vincent Bugliosi, author of Helter Skelter, and the Sea Will Tell, and Outrage

“The sinking of the Eastland was an accident that changed thousands of lives in an instant. Jay Bonansinga has written a devastating, necessary testament, ensuring that this almost-forgotten history won't be overlooked.”
— Stewart O''Nan, author of The Circus Fire

“Jay Bonansinga's The Sinking of the Eastland ranks up there with The Perfect Storm as a riveting, bone-shaking portrait of what it is like to be trapped in the midst of unimaginable circumstances. When you finish reading, you have to walk around the room and shake it off.”
— James Dalessandro, author of 1906: A Novel and Citizen Jane

“Jay Bonansinga has written a first-rate, detailed and immensely interesting book on the capsizing of the S.S. Eastland, one of America's and Chicago's worst and largely forgotten tragedies. 844 men, women and children lost their lives. Drawing on oral records and remembrances of descendants and survivors, the author has created a powerful, haunting story that has the makings of this year's best sellers. Bravo Jay Bonansinga, and four stars.”
— Christopher G. Janus, author of Miss 4th of July; Goodbye; Angel on My Shoulder; and What they Always Wanted

“Even as we continue to research and learn about the history of the Eastland disaster, we know we will never truly comprehend the personal impact and devastation of this horrific event. Jay Bonansinga, however, opens a door and provides in vivid detail a very real sense of what it was like to experience one of this country's greatest tragedies.”
— Ted Wachholz, President and Director, Eastland Disaster Historical Society




The following is personal story via email from a website visitor:

Sun 12/14/2003 4:03 AM

My name is Cathy Mock. I was watching a show of Unexplained Mysteries tonight and the Eastland was mentioned. This jogged my memory of an experience my mother told me of her mother. I guess I feel the need to tell someone who might be interested.

My grandmother worked for Western Electric. (I have an arm band she wore...red, white, and blue.."Dept. 6324") She was planning to board the Eastland with some of her co-workers. One lady was talking of how much fun they were going to have as she looked over her shoulder. My grandmother ("Tiny Tony" Arboe they called her) was working with some parts (not sure what she did in that Dept.) when a piece fell in front of her. The lady exclaimed that she normally wasn't a superstitious type but that "cross" was an omen and they both vowed they wouldn't go aboard.

Grandma kept that part, along with her armband and a blurb out of a magazine that shows your postcard #2. Before my mother passed on she gave it to me with the story, saying that she wouldn't have been born and neither would I!

So there it is for what it's worth...
Cathy Mock
Olympia, WA


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