We are always buying postcards and photos from before 1950 - email us at circa1910@tampabay.rr.com.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The EASTLAND Disaster 1915 Chicago

This post covers The Eastland Disaster in postcards from 1915.  Above is a real photo postcard (RPPC) showing the upturned ship in the Chicago River.  All the other postcards in this description are printed.  They are shown in the order in which the incident occurred.  First, here is a description of the disaster from the internet:

On 24 July 1915, the Eastland and two other Great Lakes passenger steamers, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey, were chartered to take employees from Western Electric Company's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. This was a major event in the lives of the workers, many of whom could not take holidays....

On the fateful morning, passengers began boarding the Eastland on the south bank of the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets around 6.30 a.m., and by 7:10, the ship had reached its capacity of 2752 passengers. The ship was packed, with many passengers standing on the open upper decks, and began to list slightly to the port side (away from the wharf). The crew attempted to stabilize the ship by admitting water to its ballast tanks, but to little avail. Sometime in the next 15 minutes, perhaps owing to a passing canoe race on the river side of the ship, a number of passengers rushed to the port side, and at 7:28, the Eastland lurched sharply to port and then rolled completely onto its side, coming to rest on the river bottom, which was only 20 feet below the surface. Many other passengers had already moved below decks on this relatively cool and damp morning to warm up before the departure. Consequently, hundreds were trapped inside by the water and the sudden rollover; others were crushed by heavy furniture, including pianos, bookcases, and tables. Although the ship was only 20 feet from the wharf, and in spite of the quick response by the crew of a nearby vessel, the Kenosha, which came alongside the hull to allow those stranded on the capsized vessel to leap to safety, a total of 841 passengers and four crew members died in the disaster. Many were young women and children. 

Many of the bodies were taken to a cold storage warehouse in the vicinity, which has since been transformed into Harpo Studios, the sound stage for The Oprah Winfrey Show.

This is a postcard showing the Eastland before the disaster.

Here are two postcards showing the ship having rolled.  You will see that the top postcard is a printed version of the real photo postcard that begins this post; it may have been taken from the RPPC postcard or these printed views may have been made from newspaper photographers' images at the time.


There are several picture postcards of bodies being removed from the hull.

Note that the faces of the dead have been blanked out, perhaps out of sensitivity or perhaps to prevent complaints from bereaved family members of the deceased.

Some of the postcards have captions; others seem self-explanatory.  Here, bodies are laid out awaiting identification.

In the last image, we see a memorial service for those who were lost in the disaster.

Price Estimates:  Disasters were popular collectible postcard images in the early 1900s - dramatic and moving -  there are some disasters that were covered in great detail, like the San Francisco Quake and Fire, and others that have few preserved postcard images.  The more images there are, of course, the less expensive they are.  So a comprehensive album of San Francisco Quake and Fire postcards can be assembled relatively cheaply, especially if purchased in lots (expect to pay $3 - $10 per postcard).  The Eastland Disaster has limited images - they are more expensive (up to $25 each).  Local photographers created real photo postcards of nearby  tornado damage, fires, floods and railroad wrecks to sell to the local residents, who sent the postcards to their friends.  They are a  sub-set of real photo postcards and quite interesting to collect.  The main problem is that they often lack captions.  Because the residents of the town knew about their local disaster, they apparently didn't think labeling the location was important.  Now, 100 years later, we can find dramatic images that are 'unidentified'.  A location (which can be supplied by a caption, a postmark, or a message the sender has written on the card) adds significantly to the value of the postcard. Real photo postcards of identified disasters will cost more than printed postcards.   Prices are for postcards in EXCELLENT condition, and they are only estimates.


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