Saturday, January 28, 2012

Merely Dee—an Eastland Disaster Novel

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.


Eastland Disaster site 2

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.

Eastland Disaster plaque

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.

SS Eastland docked

The S.S. Eastland was built in 1902. It cruised the Chicago area and the Great Lakes as a tourist ship.

1904 image of Eastland where disaster occured

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.

Eastland Disaster panorama

Chicago police and firefighters quickly rushed to the scene and began rescue efforts.

This is how the site looks today...

Disaster site, looking east

... and how the same view looked on that tragic day.

Eastland on its side

Holes were quickly cut into the hull of the ship to pull people out:

Rescuers on overturned hull

Divers were sent into the waters when the rescue effort became a recovery effort.

Diving to recover the bodies

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.

Across the River

The Reid Murdoch building as the the disaster was unfolding:

The Eastland & Reid, Murdoch & Co. building

Temporary morgues were set up in several nearby buildings. People waited in long lines to come to identify the bodies:

Waiting to identify the victims

Looking west along the river today...

Disaster site, looking west

... and the same view a few weeks after the disaster. Here you can see the efforts being made to raise the ship upright.

The Eastland being righted

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.

Reid, Murdoch & Co. building

In all, approximately 845 people lost their lives that day, making it the 3rd worst ship disaster in U.S. history and the largest loss of life in the United States from a single event during the 20th century. 22 entire families were completely wiped out.

Eastland Disaster site

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:


Blogger Deanna said...

found your post to be very interesting. I've not heard of this before. Watched the video and am saddened about the lives lost at that time and so close to when the Titanic went down.

Thank you for sharing,

January 28, 2012 at 9:52 PM  
Blogger Historical Ken said...

I remember reading this last when you first posted this.
I could have sworn I was a follower of your blog but for some reason I had to re-sign to follow again...

January 28, 2012 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Deanna-

It's still shocking to me how many people died in this accident. It's very scary, especially with the recent accident in Italy of the Costa Concordia.


January 28, 2012 at 10:42 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Ken-

I know you were a follower, too. I've noticed some weird things happening with Google lately. Glad you re-followed!


January 28, 2012 at 10:44 PM  
Blogger victorian parlor II said...

This is a tragic story. I never heard aboiut it before and I thank you for sharing it as it keeps alive the memories of those who lost their lives. Your friend's book sounds fascinating-I look forward to reading it:)!



January 29, 2012 at 10:05 AM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Kim-

Thank you, and I agree. This is something we never learned about growing up right here in Chicago, and it's a shame. So many people died, and they should be remembered.


January 29, 2012 at 2:23 PM  
Blogger Richard Cottrell said...

Very interesting. I had never heard this. Thanks, Richard from My Old Historic House.

January 29, 2012 at 4:47 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Thanks for stopping by, Richard!


January 29, 2012 at 6:31 PM  
Blogger Mrs. D said...

Hi Pam,

I agree with you, the book will be a wonderful read. I especially love reading history.

You bring great topics to your blogs--that stir my thoughts and touch my heart. I always enjoy your posts about Chicago history.

I never heard the Eastland story before, but while reading your article, it reminded me of another Chicago tragedy, a fire that took the lives of school children. When was that? I can't remember but I think it was the late 50s??? That story haunts me still.

January 30, 2012 at 5:33 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Mrs. D-

Thank you! I'm so glad you've enjoyed my historical Chicago posts.

The fire you are referring to happened December 1, 1958, 20 days before I was born, in a Catholic grammar school named Our Lady of Angels. 92 children and 3 nuns died tragically. My mom always talked about this fire while I was growing up, because she had attended this school as a child herself.

You can read more about it here.


January 30, 2012 at 9:06 PM  
Blogger The Dusty Victorian said...

Hello Pam,
We both know how writers put their heart and soul in their work-labour of love. I wish your friend much success, it sounds like a great read.

February 2, 2012 at 6:35 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Anyes-

Thank you, and I will pass your good wishes on to her!


February 2, 2012 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

Oh my Gosh! I remember reading this post several times. That
was such a nightmare. The book should be very intriguing.
Stay warm, Spring is not far off.

February 5, 2012 at 7:32 AM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Yvonne-

You are so right, it must have been a nighmare. Such devastation to entire families. I haven't begun reading the book yet, but it's next up after the current one I'm reading!


February 5, 2012 at 5:45 PM  
Blogger The Sweetbrier Cottage said...

I had never heard of the SS Eastland before your article. It's so sad that we still have these disasters today. I look forward to reading the book. Would you happen to know if your friend is going to have a Kindle version?

On another note, a belated, but happy welcome to your new kitty, Junie. I hope she and Phoebe are making friends. SC

February 7, 2012 at 4:48 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Sweetbrier-

My friend's book, "Merely Dee," is available as an ebook from the publisher's website (it says the Mobi version is fully compatible with Kindle):

Junie & Phoebe aren't friends yet, but we're working on it, lol! They are both older kitties and set in their ways, so it may take some time. :-)

Take care, and I also look forward to reading Kim's book!


February 7, 2012 at 6:40 PM  
Blogger Nic said...

Hi Pam,

Thanks for all the photos in this post. It was very interesting to see them in context. I am also a friend of 'Merely Dee's author and I have just finished reading the book and I can guarantee that you will love it. It's wonderfully written and really brings the story and characters alive.

Hope you enjoy the book as much as I did.

February 9, 2012 at 5:29 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Nic-

Thanks for visiting! I'm very excited to start the book, and I'm I'm glad I'm hearing that people are really loving it!


February 9, 2012 at 6:38 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Hi Pam, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris

February 17, 2012 at 9:02 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Chris-

Nice to meet you! Thanks for stopping by. I will check out your blog. :-)


February 18, 2012 at 8:22 AM  
Blogger Sea Witch said...

Hello Pam. Love Love Love this post. I adore history and so glad you shared this with us. Hope you are doing well. I'm slammed at hokme and at work but still trying to get a few posts in. Blessings to you and those you love.

February 21, 2012 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Sea Witch-

Thank you! Yes, I know how you feel. I'm very busy lately too, and am finding it difficult to keep up with everyone's posts, much less do some of my own! Hope you are a good-kind-of-busy! :-)


February 22, 2012 at 7:59 AM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

Pam, just checking in to see what you are up to.
I think you did a fantastic job on this history. I think spring is coming soon it was 57 today.

March 8, 2012 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

Pam, just checking in to see what you are up to.
I think you did a fantastic job on this history. I think spring is coming soon it was 57 today.

March 8, 2012 at 4:43 PM  
Blogger victorian parlor II said...

Just stopping by to say hello:). I hope all is well with you. Have a lovely rest of the weekend!



March 18, 2012 at 10:03 AM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi all!

I know this post is getting old, and I really need to do a new one soon! Oh, if there were only more hours in the day to get everything done, lol! I'm only starting to get caught up with all your blog posts, and hopefully will get back into the blogging mode soon. :-)


March 18, 2012 at 7:19 PM  
Blogger La Petite Gallery said...

Pam, Just dropped in to see if all is well. Hope you and Junie are OK yvonne

March 29, 2012 at 7:17 PM  
Blogger Rose ~Victorian Rose ~ said...

I can't believe I did not respond to this post when you posted it. My grandfather was one of the many policemen that responded to this tragedy. I only remember him talking about it a few must have been hard for him to recall all the young children's lives that were lost that day too. He was a softy when it came to kids.
I believe there is some sort of small museum near there now..because my sister asked for a picture of my Grandfather in uniform to send to them, as they were asking for any images of that day or people involved. I am the keep of the VINTAGE images in our family.
That was an extremely sad day for so many Chicago famlies.

April 15, 2012 at 6:26 PM  
Blogger Pam of Eastlake Victorian said...

Hi Rose-

How fascinating that your grandfather was part of the emergency responders to the Eastland tragedy. There is a small museum in Wheaton, Illinois, a western suburb not far from the Western Electric plant in Cicero where most of the employees worked. No wonder they would love to have a photo of your grandfather in uniform.

My friend Marian's book really embraced the tragedy of the day, and the shock and unbelievable reality that the survivors needed to face in the days that followed. It was a sad read, but for me, worth it. Anything that keeps this story alive is good, because then, the history won't be lost.


April 15, 2012 at 8:28 PM  

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