Documenting Social History: Chicago’s Elderly Speak–Eastland Tragedy

This video includes two oral history interviews with people related to the Eastland tragedy which occurred July 24, 1915: one a survivor and one the daughter of a survivor. The passenger ship sunk in the Chicago River, killing 844 people, making it the most deadly event in Chicago history. This video was recorded in June of 1976.

0:00Copy video clip URL Open on title screen “The Eastland Tragedy, July 24, 1915, Interviews with: Mrs. Robert Stilton, Mr. Frank Blaha, June 1976.” Switch to shot of some boats on the Chicago River.

0:17Copy video clip URL Switch to interview of Mr. Frank Blaha who recalls the day of the tragedy. The captain said, “we shouldn’t leave yet… we have to straighten out this boat,” and a few minutes later the ship capsized. There was a market on Wacker Drive which is on the river and the people there were throwing things into the river for people to hold onto. Mr. Blaha then talks about why he was on the boat.

8:42Copy video clip URL Switch to photo of the dead and several other black and white photographs relating to the Eastland tragedy. The interviewer then asks about the Washington Armory which is apparently where the bodies were identified. Blaha says people were shocked because so many people had died in the river while the ship was still tied to the dock; it was unexpected. Blaha then talks about how the tragedy affected his neighborhood. People couldn’t believe that so many people had died in the Chicago River.

14:17Copy video clip URL Interviewer begins talking to Mrs. Stilton, who “has an interesting perspective [on the tragedy].” Her father was a worker on the Eastland and her family was sure that he was on it; she talks about how everyone was affected by the tragedy. Apparently her father hadn’t actually gotten on the boat because he had gone to the washroom after getting a beer instead of getting on the Eastland. She goes on to talk about how every household was affected in one way or another and how in some cases whole families were killed. The interviewer then goes on to ask about premonitions and she talks about how a woman was saved through a type of premonition. The interviewer asks about the reaction of her small town Berwyn, a suburb of Chicago.

30:50Copy video clip URL Switch to shot of Chicago River and the sounds of a harbor. Fade to credits.

 

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