Relatives remember Eastland disaster victims for 102nd anniversary

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On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland was headed to Michigan City, Ind., from Chicago and was supposed to be a fun excursion for Chicago's working poor. (WLS)

Monday marks the 102nd anniversary of the Eastland disaster on the Chicago River, which killed 844 people when a boat flipped over.

A plaque near the river's edge and LaSalle Street marks the disaster. The victims' relatives gathered Sunday near the spot and said they want to ensure that people don't forget about Chicago's deadliest day.

"Within minutes that many people died," said Valerie Bower, who lost relatives in Eastland disaster.

The boat trip on July 24 1915 was headed to Michigan City, Ind., and was supposed to be a fun excursion for Chicago's working poor.

However, as hundreds of employees from the Western Electric Company boarded the SS Eastland, the top heavy vessel began to rock back and forth

"If you can imagine a ship shoulder to shoulder with people, turning 90 degrees on its side has no chance for survival," said historian Ted Wachholz.

The steamship had several heavy life boats on its top deck. The Titanic had sunk just three years earlier and, as a result, new rules required that ships have adequate safety vessels. However, the ship crew failed to stabilize the boat before loading the 2,500 passengers on board.

As the boat toppled over, hundreds of passengers were trapped below deck. Entire families perished.

Among the victims was Bower's Great grandmother and two great uncles drowned, but other relatives made it out alive.

"My great grandfather was trapped in an air space with another woman and they were waiting until they could hoist them out that way," Bower said.

Sunday's ceremony concluded with the tossing of white rose petals into the river. The last survivor of the Eastland disaster died three years ago, but families don't want their memory to be forgotten.

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historyChicagoRiver North
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