Saturday, July 25, 2015

Today -100: July 25, 1915: The Eastland disaster

The SS Eastland, a ship used for tourist excursions, rolls over in the Chicago River, drowning 1,800 according to the NYT, at least 919 according to the Chicago Tribune, and 844 according to Wikipedia (or, elsewhere in the article, 848)(So how in hell does the NYT have a figure of 889 recovered bodies?) Either way, way more than were killed by Mrs O’Leary’s cow in the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, the largest previous disaster in Chicago.

They were employees of the Western Electric Company, being taken on a picnic. The Eastland was simply a badly designed, top-heavy ship, took on water ballast ineptly, and was carrying more passengers than the legal maximum of 2,500. Also adding to the excess weight, ironically, were 15 tons of lifeboats added due to legislation passed after the Titanic.

The captain is nearly lynched on the wharf when he tries to stop rescuers, I guess because they were dismantling his ship to get to people trapped in it. Chicago, as was the custom, is after blood. The coroner orders the arrest of every official of the Indiana Transportation Company. 4 of those officials and two of the crew will be indicted and tried in 1916, the former for manslaughter, the latter for criminal negligence. They’ll get off scot free, although to be fair, the chief engineer, who was defended by Clarence Darrow, seems to have been a hero, nearly drowning while keeping the boiler from exploding as the ship sank.

Headline of the Day -100:

Standard Oil refuses arbitration of the demands of the Bayonne refinery strikers.  Why are the workers almost entirely foreigners, anyway? The Tidewater Oil Company plant’s guards have been taking random potshots from the factory stockades at houses and saloons and tenements. The sheriff tells the company that if any more shots are fired except in defense of life – “and by that I mean life, not property” – he’ll arrest company officials. It stops. (Update: no it doesn’t, and tomorrow Sheriff Eugene Kinkead will arrest 30 Tidewater employees).

William Creen, the prisoner who tried to kill Leo Frank, tells Georgia Governor Nat Harris that he only did it to prevent an attack on the prison by a lynch mob, so really he was just preventing bloodshed.

Relatedly, a meeting is held in La Grange, Georgia which calls on the Jews of Georgia to deny the charges that they have been the subjects of prejudice and/or race hatred. “By their silence they have indorsed all the vile charges, and if these charges be true it is high time that they were seeking more congenial climes.” Yup, no prejudice or race hatred in Georgia, that’s for sure.

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