Back in September of 2010, I did a post about the Eastland Disaster, a Chicago tragedy that unfolded in 1915. Now, a good friend has written a young adult novel based on this story! Marian Manseau Cheatham's book, Merely Dee, features a teenage girl named Dee Pageau who happens to be aboard the ship on that fateful day. Here is a brief overview of Marian's book:
The 1915 Western Electric Employee Picnic is the social highlight of the year in Cicero, Illinois. Five steamers wait to ferry seven thousand passengers to the picnic grounds in Michigan City, Indiana. As teenager Dee Pageau packs her picnic basket and prepares to board the SS Eastland, she anticipates this will be the best day of her life. Dee hopes to spend time with her best friend, Mae Koznecki—but she also wants to get to know Mae’s handsome brother, Karel, a little better. Dee has no idea that in a matter of hours, tragedy will strike.
Despite her mother’s dark premonition that death awaits her if she boards the SS Eastland, Dee decides the risk is worth a chance for more time with Karel. Dee’s excitement quickly turns to terror, though, when the ship capsizes at the dock, threatening the lives of everyone on board. Rescued from certain death—not once, but twice—by Karel and a mysterious stranger, Dee soon discovers that Mae is nowhere to be found. Dee can only sit back and wait to hear if she is trapped in the flooding bowels of the capsized ship or worse yet, dead.
In this captivating historical tale, Dee takes a coming-of-age journey like no other as she soon realizes that surviving the disaster is only the beginning.
I have been anticipating the release of this book, and have my copy ordered—I can't wait to read it! You can find links to Merely Dee below. It would be a great read for anyone who loves historical fiction.
I've decided to do a repost of my original
Eastland Disaster post from 2010. Enjoy.
While taking one of my lunch-time strolls in downtown Chicago a few weeks ago, I came across the plaque commemorating the Eastland Disaster. It sits along the Chicago River at Wacker Drive and the LaSalle Street bridge.
All my life, I heard stories of the Great Chicago Fire. But I never even heard about the tragic story of the sinking of the Eastland until I was an adult. I bet most Chicagoans still haven't heard about this tragedy.
The S.S. Eastland was built in 1902. It cruised the Chicago area and the Great Lakes as a tourist ship.
On July 24, 1915, the Eastland docked in its usual place between the LaSalle Street and Clark Street bridges on the south side of the Chicago River. There, over 2500 employees of theWestern Electric Company plant of Cicero, Illinois and their family members boarded the ship for a company-sponsored picnic cruise to Michigan City, Indiana. The ship had design flaws, making it top-heavy. Soon after boarding and before the ship could even leave the dock, it tipped over and sank into the 20-ft. waters.
Chicago police and firefighters quickly rushed to the scene and began rescue efforts.
This is how the site looks today...
... and how the same view looked on that tragic day.
Holes were quickly cut into the hull of the ship to pull people out:
Divers were sent into the waters when the rescue effort became a recovery effort.
The Reid Murdoch building on the north side of the river still stands today. This central food-processing plant became the staging area for emergency responders during the rescue.
The Reid Murdoch building as the the disaster was unfolding:
Temporary morgues were set up in several nearby buildings. People waited in long lines to come to identify the bodies:
Looking west along the river today...
... and the same view a few weeks after the disaster. Here you can see the efforts being made to raise the ship upright.
After being righted and towed away from the scene, The Eastland was sold to the US Navy, repaired and retooled as a gunboat, renamed The USS Wilmette, and finally dismantled after WWII.
Why was this incident all but forgotten? Was the event just too tragic and painful to remember? The first plaque was erected in 1989. After being vandalized and finally stolen in 2000, a new plaque was commissioned and erected in 2003.
To learn more about the Eastland Disaster, visit these informative links:
The Eastland Disaster, a wonderful YouTube video. Very well done.
The Sinking of The Eastland by Jay Bonansinga
Marian Manseau Cheatham's novel "Merely Dee" is available at: