Newspaper stumbles upon forgotten photos of Chicago's worst disaster in history

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

July 24 marks the 100th anniversary of the Eastland disaster, a little-known event in which the SS Eastland, a luxury steamship, capsized on the Chicago River. The boat, which was meant to only hold about 1,000 people, rolled over when it was boarded by more than 2,500 people. The Western Electric Company had chartered the boat for a day cruise for its employees and their family; 844 people lost their lives in the accident, nearly three times the number who perished in the Great Chicago Fire, making it the worst disaster in Chicago history, and one of the deadliest American shipwrecks ever.

This image was removed due to legal reasons.

For some reason or another, the story of the Eastland has been largely forgotten outside of Chicago history circles. However, with the 100th anniversary approaching, there's been renewed interest in the story after a trove of historical documents from that tragic day were uncovered.


Warning: graphic footage below

Earlier this year, Alex Revzan, a student at Northern Illinois University, discovered the above footage while combing through the archives of British Pathe, a newsreel company. Revzan worked with the Eastland Disaster Historical Society to confirm its authenticity.

Even crazier, Marianne Mather, a photo editor at the Chicago Tribune, unearthed never-before-seen photos from that day in the newspaper's archives in a completely random coincidence.

Mather was looking around in the newspaper's basement archives for photos to use for the paper's weekly Flashback feature and found dozens of glass-plate negatives—including those for photos taken from inside the ship during the rescue effort.


Greg Foster Rice, a professor at Columbia College in Chicago, was impressed by the Tribune's find and pointed out the risk the photographers took to get the shots.


"There's significant effort," Foster-Rice told the Tribune. "In order to get these, they would have had to lug heavy equipment that would have been very dangerous to set up, especially if they were going to lug it down into the water in the inside of this ship to take these photos. That's pretty impressive."

The Tribune story about the recover of the pictures and the gallery of all of the never-before-seen pictures are really worth checking out. There's even a graphic-novel-esque retelling of the accident.


David Matthews operates the Wayback Machine on—hop on. Got a tip? Email him:

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