Chicago River (South Shore)

Riverwalk off of West Wacker Drive Between North LaSalle and Clark

Status: High Fatality Disaster Site


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By Max Rigot Selling Company, Chicago - Set of 6 Penny postcard supplied by Kathe Kaul Estate Sales of Kansas City, MO, Public Domain, Link


The Eastland was commissioned in 1902 and built in the Port Huron Shipyards. She was named in May of 1903 immediately after completing her first voyage.

In July of 1903 while still in her inaugural season the Eastland struck and sank – at her dock – the tugboat George W Gardner.

Also, still in the inaugural season the Eastland had a mutiny of her firemen who refused to shove the coal into her boilers claiming they were not fed. The men were jailed and the Captain was replaced due to this incident.

At the end of the 1903 season the ship was returned to shipyards as she could not reach her advertised speed of 22 miles/hour and her keel was too deep for the Black River where she was supposed to dock and load passengers. An air conditioning system was also added.

In 1904 she had her first listing incident almost flipping with 3,000 passengers aboard in South Haven. In response her maximum load was lowered to 2,800 passengers; some cabins were removed and life boats were added.

In August of 1906 yet another listing incident led to a number of complaints to the owning ship company. In a typical move of capitalists, the issues weren’t fixed the ship was merely sold again for the 1907 season.

From 1907 to 1914 the ship was run between Cleveland and Cedar Point on Lake Erie. Despite some problems being fixed – most notably the removal of all remaining cabins and a shortening of her smoke stacks in 1909 – in 1912 the Eastland listed 25 degrees suddenly while loading passengers in Cleveland.

On July 24, 1915 the Eastland and 4 of her sister ships were hired to take the employees of Western Electric and their famalies from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana – a major event for the employees as most of them would never be able to afford a vacation in their lifetime.

The Eastland was dangerously top heavy; ironically because of added lifeboats due to new laws put through after the Titanic disaster in 1912.

By 7:10am the ship had already loaded her limit of 2,572 passengers – many believe the number was closer to 3,000+ and many passengers were on the port - away from the dock – side. The ship began to list slightly and the crew attempted to fix it by emptying some of it’s ballast tanks.

At 7:28 many passengers rushed to the port side – for an unknown reason – creating a list that was unrecoverable from. The ship went over on the port side and sunk to the bottom of the river; only 20 feet deep so half the ship remained above water.

Many passengers had gone beneath decks to escape the rising heat and to get ready for the voyage. Many were crushed as furniture and things like pianos suddenly slid with the list; the rest drowned being unable to escape the rushing water.

844 passengers – including 22 entire families - and 4 crewmen perished despite the ship being at dock and the rapid response of another ship – Kenosha – to come to the rescue.

The Western Electric Company paid about $100,000 ($2,933,000 today) in recovery efforts and relief to the families affected by the disaster. The President and 3 other officers of the Steamship Company as well as the Eastland’s Captain and Engineer were charged with manslaughter. Of course, they were never convicted of such crime.

Many of the nearby buildings were used as temporary morgues as so many bodies were retrieved from the river.


Paranormal Activity

Since the disaster many people have reported the faces – sometimes reaching for the surface with arms outstretched – under the surface of the river. Most of these reports come from the Clark Street Bridge but also from the Riverwalk and a restaurant on the riverbank. The police have been called many times to rescue the drowning victims only to find no one in the river at all.

The Reid-Murdock Building was one of the temporary morgues set up to house the victims after the disaster. Since then, unexplained noises are heard in empty rooms; doors open and close on their own; sometimes slamming, sometimes creaking slowly shut; lights flickering and going on and off on their own and, usually after hours and shadow figures moving through the building.

A tour guide for ghost tours in Chicago has stated people would see lights flickers in formerly dark rooms in the building immediately after this story was mentioned on the tour. The flickering lights were seen from the street.

The majority of the bodies went to the Second Regiment Armory and this building would eventually become Harpo Studios were Oprah Winfrey would tape her famous talk show for many years. Oprah had no idea of the history of the building until some of her staff told her.

The sound of ghost children was frequently heard in the hallways especially in the quiet after hours. In the one of the women’s washrooms the sound of a woman violently sobbing could be heard from an empty stall. The apparition of a woman in a grey out of date dress was often seen; seen so often Oprah herself nicknamed the ghost the Grey Lady.

Harpo Studios has since been completely demolished and replaced with a McDonald’s corporate headquarters – McDonald’s has not made any statements of the paranormal activity or lack thereof.

On the 100th anniversary of the disaster many attempts at communication were made with the ghosts of the Eastland. There were many successful recordings of the ghosts answering such questions as “were you on the Eastland?” but interestingly enough many sounded like gibberish until they were run through a translation software program which revealed the sounds as Czechoslovakian language.

The majority of the victims who died in the disaster were Czechoslovakian immigrants.

The Eastland was sold to the US Navy who used her as a training ship in the Great Lakes. There are no records – the Navy would have quashed them instantly – of ghosts on the ship but just imagine how many there must have been and what those sailors stationed aboard her must have seen.