The Historical Society of Forest Park is planning for the 100th anniversary of Chicago’s Eastland Ship Disaster in 2015. Members of the historical society met with Eastland historian and expert Ted Wachholz of Arlington Heights last week.
Wachholz is director of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society. Married to Barbara Decker Wachholz, granddaughter of Borghild Amelia Aanstad, a teenage survivor of the Eastland disaster, he is the author of The Eastland Disaster (Arcadia, 2005).
The Eastland excursion steamboat rolled over in the Chicago River on the morning of July 24, 1915. On board were hundreds of employees of the Western Electric Hawthorn Works plant in Cicero, preparing for a two-hour cruise to a picnic in Michigan City, Ind. The boat pitched onto its side in the river, throwing hundreds of passengers into the water. A total of 844 people died in the disaster, three times as many fatalities as the Great Chicago Fire.
Many of the victims were buried in Forest Park cemeteries in the days following the disaster. The tragedy hit home locally 100 years ago because many local residents were employees of the Hawthorne Works. Thirty-four Eastland victims were buried in Forest Home Cemetery and many more in Concordia and Jewish Waldheim.
The Eastland Historical Society is dedicated to remembering every victim, as well as others connected with the event, such as firemen and divers, welders who cut holes in the ship to recover victims, cemetery workers, even newspaper boys.
One such victim was Peter Boyle, an immigrant from Ireland and a lookout crew member of another boat, the Petoskey. Boyle dived from a life boat attempting to rescue a woman who had been thrown into the water.
Boyle’s relatives in Ireland did not know his cause of death for over 90 years, Wachholz said. “We contacted them and told them he died trying to save someone else’s life,” he said. The family provided a photo of Boyle for the Eastland Historical Society website, he added.
Co-sponsored events will take place in Forest Park the week of July 11-19, 2015, said Augie Aleksy, programming director of the historical society.
So far the two societies are throwing around ideas such as screening a documentary, a GPS cemetery tour and historian panel with Waccholz; Jay Bonansinga, author of The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy;and possibly a dinner or memorial service. The events will be called “Forest Park and the Eastland Disaster: 100 Years,” Aleksy said.