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E. W. Sladkey's Personal Account

Dramatic Recital of the Events of Chicago River Tragedy by Eye Witness

One of the most dramatic, complete, and coherent of the survivors' stories was that told by E. W. Sladkey, head of the Western Electric company's printing department.  Sladkey, the last to board the Eastland and the first to escape, walked over the upper of the vessel and jumped onto the deck of the Kenosha without so much as wetting his feet.  Many of those who were saved, he said, followed his example.

Sladkey...praised the captain of the Kenosha for his presence of mind in backing the tug against the upset Eastland.  But he said the excursion boat's officers and crew gave no warning of the impending disaster until the vessel had heeled beyond an angle of 45 degrees.

"It was about 7:30 o'clock when I ran along the dock to get aboard the Eastland," said Sladkey.  "They had just hauled in the gangway and were casting of the stern line.  I noticed the boat was listing to port, and the thought flashed into my mind there might be trouble before we got far."

"However, a crowd of about thirty of the boys and girls employed in my department were waiving at me and calling to me from the upper deck, and I jumped aboard.  As I made my way to the upper deck the list was even more perceptible.  My people were up in the bow and I went to them, keeping on the starboard side, which was uppermost and closest to the dock."

"I know a bit about boats, and I wondered the Eastland's officers were not taking some steps to right the boat, which kept heeling farther and farther, very slowly.  From what I could see it did not appear that a great majority of the crowd was on the lowering port side, and I could not account for the list."

"The Eastland was leaning over at an angle of about 45 degrees when crew and passengers became alarmed.  After that it went over quickly, and the shout of warning from sailors and officers came too late.  In an instant passengers who were not, like myself, gripping the starboard rail or leaning against the starboard side of the deckhouses, were slipping down the deck.  In another instant it was all over with the Eastland."

"I waited until the port rail was in the water and then climbed out onto the upturned starboard side, calling to others to follow me.  A few did, I noticed, but my cry was drowned in the chorus of screams that went up as the Eastland flopped over."

"Apparently realizing what was coming, the captain of the Kenosha had backed up until his stern was close to the Eastland's bow.  The tug was still a few feet away when I jumped, but I made its deck, and a number of others came after me.  Out of the whole party from my department I saw only one alive afterward, and that was one of the boys who had followed me."

Copyright © Ft. Dodge Daily Chronicle
reprinted from the Ft. Dodge Daily Chronicle

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