A medal awarded by the Cook County Coroner's Office to welders who assisted in the Eastland Disaster. | Courtesy David Nelson, Wheaton Center for History, Eastland Collection

For one night only, this Friday, artifacts from the S.S. Eastland Disaster in 1915 will be on display in Forest Park. The artifacts are on loan from the Wheaton Center for History and will be displayed at the Historical Society of Forest Park’s Eastland Disaster 100th Anniversary Dinner at First United Church of Christ, 1000 Elgin Ave. The society will also lead a walking tour of Forest Park Cemetery’s Eastland victim gravesites on Saturday morning. 

“The days following the Eastland tragedy were very important in the history of Forest Park,” said Historical Society Executive Director Diane Hansen Grah. “More than 120 victims were buried in Forest Park cemeteries at Forest Home, Jewish Waldheim and Concordia.” 

The anniversary dinner, catered by Starship Subs, will also include a presentation by Jay Bonansinga, author of The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s forgotten tragedy and music performed by Forest Park’s “oldest social society” the Harlem Mannerchor, formed in 1890. Alberta Adamson of the Wheaton Center for History will give an overview of the artifact collection. Local descendants of survivors and victims are also invited to share their reminiscences. 

Tickets to the dinner are $35 for individuals and $60 for couples. 

The S.S. Eastland touring steamer capsized in the Chicago River the morning of July 24, 1915. More than 2,500 were on the boat, which was intended to take workers for a Western Electric Company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. The death toll for the disaster numbered 844 victims. 

The visiting display includes an “Uncle Sam” costume worn by survivor Herman Edward Krause, who was dressed up for a parade planned for the ill-fated picnic. According to family legend, Krause’s wife told her grandchildren that Krause was thrown from the boat and then plucked from the 21-foot muddy waters of the Chicago River because rescuers shouted, “Save Uncle Sam!”

The Wheaton collection was built by David Nelson, a descendant of a Chicago welder who helped torch holes in the hull of the boat to rescue survivors and retrieve the dead. The Wheaton group meets at Concordia Cemetery in Forest Park every year in July for an Eastland memorial.


Cemetery tour

Review columnist John Rice and Adamson will lead a walking cemetery tour on Saturday, July 18, starting at 10 a.m. at Concordia Cemetery. Hansen Grah and local historian Mark Rogovin have marked and photographed gravesites of every Eastland victim resting in Forest Park. A trolley will transport visitors to a tour of Queen of Heaven Cemetery in Hillside, final resting place of many of the police, fire and rescue personnel who helped with the disaster.

The Historical Society will also collect donations for a granite monument commemorating the Eastland Disaster victims to be erected at Concordia Cemetery. 

See the Historical Society of Forest Park Facebook page for more information. 

Jean Lotus serves on the board of the Historical Society of Forest Park.

If you go

  • WHAT: Historical Society’s Eastland 100th Anniversary Dinner
  • WHEN: Friday, July 17, 6:30 p.m.
  • WHERE: First United Church of Christ, 1000 Elgin Ave.
  • COST: $35 for individuals/$60 for couples.
  • RESERVATIONS: Available by phone: 708-232-3747
  • WHAT: Historical Society’s Eastland Disaster victim gravesite cemetery tour
  • WHEN: Saturday, July 18, 10 a.m.
  • WHERE: Meet at Concordia Cemetery, 7900 Madison St., Forest Park
  • COST: $20/$20 extra for Hillside Cemetery Tour addition
  • RESERVATIONS: Available by phone: 708-232-3747 

Jean Lotus loves community journalism. She covers news, features, two school boards, village council, crime, park district and writes obits for Forest Park Review. She also covers the police beat for...