On the morning of July 24, 1915, the 2,500 passengers aboard the excursion ship SS Eastland were looking forward to a pleasant outing at a Lake Michigan destination but instead found disaster.
In a tautly written, vividly detailed, suspenseful narrative, Sutton chronicles the event that stands today as the greatest loss of life on the Great Lakes. From the time of the Eastland’s launch in 1903, design flaws making her susceptible to listing were known though kept quiet by the company that owned it. The ship was top-heavy, which became evident when passengers congregated on the upper decks. Several incidents in the intervening years indicated the Eastland was destined for catastrophe. It occurred when the ship was chartered to take employees and their families from Western Electric Company’s Hawthorne Works to a picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. This was a major event for the workers, most of whom were first- and second-generation Polish and Czech immigrants and could not take holidays. The Eastland capsized in the Chicago River while still moored to the pier. Seventy percent of the 844 passengers and crew who perished were under the age of 25. Sutton raises several provocative questions: Why is so much known about the Titanic’s sinking and yet so little about the Eastland disaster? Why was no one ever held responsible for this catastrophe? Her fast-paced account makes ample use of primary sources, plaiting them into her narrative naturally as dialogue.
A true disaster story rivetingly told. (maps, photo, diagrams, source notes, bibliography) (Nonfiction. 10-14)