On Wednesday evening, September 29, 1999, the Eastland Disaster Historical Society (EDHS) gave a presentation at the Shedd Aquarium to the Underwater Archaeological Society of Chicago (UASC). One of the UASC's members, Mr. Sam Frank, approached us afterward and we discussed doing an archaeological dive at the site of the Eastland Disaster. Based upon Sam's sincere interest in archaeology and our interest in preserving history, we jointly decided that this was in fact the right thing to do at this time. To wait and do it five or ten years down the road would only lessen the already remote chance of finding any history of the Eastland Disaster that the Chicago River might still hold.
Over the succeeding two months, Sam (who is the owner/operator of Sam Frank & Associates advertising and an amateur diving enthusiast) contacted and received the prerequisite approvals from the U. S. Coast Guard, the Chicago Marine Police, the Illinois Historical Preservation Agency, the Chicago Department of Transportation (Bureau of Bridges and Transit), and the Illinois Department of Natural Resources. Sam subsequently obtained the volunteer services of Mr. Tim Woolsey to recruit a dozen volunteer divers and to be the dive coordinator. And so everything was in place for the dive.
Before dawn broke on that mid-December Sunday morning, the team of volunteers - divers and coordinators - gathered along the South bank of the Chicago River in the heart of downtown Chicago. And for the first time in a long time (if ever), an archaeological/historical dive was made into the Chicago River at the site of the Eastland Disaster. Approximately fifteen divers in full scuba gear descended one by one into the river, transitioning from the 38 degree surface along the bank into a watery environment that was a few degrees cooler. The bright, optic colors of their diving suits disappeared immediately once below the surface of the murky river water. Several hours later and after many trips in and out of the water, numerous items were pulled from the river and placed in a pile. Old bottles, shoes, license plates and various other tidbits (including a 15-foot piece of railing from the bridge) were brought up by the divers. None of these items could be traced back to the Eastland Disaster.
In the end, the dive resulted in no artifacts being found. While slightly disappointed, we nonetheless accomplished our primary objective of drawing attention to the Eastland Disaster. Chicago TV broadcast live coverage of the dive, it was spotlighted on the local evening news, and numerous radio stations and newspapers carried the story.
When was the last time that the Eastland Disaster made local and suburban news - in December, no less?
The Chicago Tribune's coverage can be seen here and here.
Click the image below to open the photo catalog from the dive.
Please direct questions and comments to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society at email@example.com.
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