Lost Film Discovered: SS Eastland Disaster

By Victoria Spiegelberg.
 

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A victim in her white summer dress is pulled from the Chicago River.

It was reported in the Chicago Tribune and the Chicago Daily Herald this week that Alex Revzan, a student from Northern Illinois University, has discovered an important piece of Chicago history in the British Pathé archive. The footage shows the recovery efforts of the July 24 1915 capsizing of the SS Eastland on the Chicago River.

As with quite a lot of older Pathé footage, the notes with the film gave no indication of the location of the events and suggested the event happened between 1910-1919.  Revzan spent several hours searching the archive before coming across this shipwreck footage. It took Revzan and the Eastland Disaster Historical Society some considerable detective work to confirm that this footage is of Chicago’s most deadly disaster.

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The intertitle in the film is so dark, it barely can be read. When lightened, it tells us the event happened in 1915.

On the morning of 24th July 1915, more than 2,500 employees of the Western Electric Company of Hawthorne boarded the luxury steamer SS Eastland. The Western Electric company had chartered Eastland, the Theodore Roosevelt and the Petoskey to take employees to Michigan City for a picnic. Soon after the passengers had boarded Eastland and whilst still docked, the steamer listed over to port and then completely rolled over on to her side. Hundreds were trapped inside and despite being so close to the dock and the quick response of rescuers, 844 people lost their lives.

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Recovery effort continues. Another steamer hired by the Western Electric Company, the Petoskey can be seen in the background.

The lost footage is only just over a minute long and shows harrowing footage of the aftermath of the disaster. Now it has been discovered, we have renamed and tagged up the film on the British Pathe website. We would like to thank Alex Revzan and the Eastland Disaster Historical Society for finding and identifying this film.

The film can also be viewed here: