BOOK REVIEW: “The Sinking of the Eastland ” By Jay Bonansinga

BOOK REVIEW: “The Sinking of the Eastland ” By Jay Bonansinga
Review by Susan Marie Molloy

On July 24, 1915, Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois chartered the SS Eastland, along with two other tour ships, the SS Theodore Roosevelt and the SS Petoskey, to take its employees to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. As over two thousand five hundred employees and crewmembers boarded the Eastland, the ship began to list and eventually flipped over on its side in the Chicago River. What followed over the next several days and weeks was a horror not seen since the sinking of the PS Lady Elgin in 1860.

We learn about the excitement within the families planning this picnic across just barely across Lake Michigan into Indiana. We also discover that more than twenty entire families were wiped out on that day. We find that the old adage “women and children first” wasn’t par for the course that day, either. The Illinois National Guard Amory and the Coliseum were used as temporary morgues. There was a “poster boy” of sorts that the newspapers promoted to further catch the heartstrings of the nation. We catch a glimpse of morticians doing their nearly unspeakable execrable job of preparing corpses and part of corpses for funerals. We have opportunities within the chapters to cheer for the heroes and to scorn the villains.

Indeed, the author well-researched in preparing to write this book. Although he occasionally writes with clichés, the reader can overlook that and, instead, ruminate in the facts and drama within the pages. The legal outcome of the disaster, including the fate of the Eastland in the following years, help make this a well-rounded book.

Most people outside of Chicago never heard of the story of this tragedy, let alone the fact that fewer and fewer numbers of people around Chicagoland aren’t exposed to the facts of this catastrophe as the years pass. This is a book worth picking up and reading. I would have liked a few contemporary photographs included within the book, but there is plethora of documentation available (if one is inclined to research) to fulfill the interested and curious.

“Sinking of the Eastland” is a must-read for anyone who is interested in Chicago’s history, maritime history, et cetera.

The SS Eastland on its side.  Photo from the Chicago Tribune archives.
The SS Eastland on its side. Photo from the Chicago Tribune archives.

© Susan Marie Molloy and all works within.

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