New documentary brings to life Chicago's deadliest day 104 years later

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Wednesday marks the anniversary of the deadliest day in Chicago's history.

More than 800 people drowned when the steamship Eastland capsized in the Chicago River 104 years ago.

Descendants of survivors and victims of the Eastland Disaster gathered below the Clark Street Bridge Wednesday to honor where this sad history was written.

The 104th anniversary of the disaster brings with it a new television documentary that makes clear the ship's owners knew beforehand that the Eastland had serious problems, and that justice was never served for those who died.

"Of all the stories that take place in Chicago, this is the one that we need to make sure the people know," said Harvey Moschman, co-executive producer of documentary "Eastland - Chicago's Deadliest Day."

Apart from a computerized recreation of what happened, the documentary also digs into the tragedy's before and after. It shows the owners of the ship were nearly bankrupt. They knew the Eastland was unsafe, did nothing, and afterward, they fled to Michigan where a trial was held before a pro-business judge. No one was held accountable. The victims' families got nothing.

"This was a terrible, terrible miscalculation by inexperienced ship owners who gambled with 2,500 lives and took greed over public safety," said Chuck Coppola, the documentary's co-executive producer.

But many also remember fearless acts. Young Reggie Bowles, later dubbed the "Human Frog," kept jumping in the water - roughly 40 times - to recover bodies.

"He was traumatized by it. He would talk about the mother with her arms wrapped around the infant that he brought up together from the hull," said David Bowles, Reggie Bowles' grandson.

David Bowles said so many people don't know the story.

But those who do are determined to make sure the "full story" lives on.
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