...Come on, Willie, we'll have a good time....
Willie Guenther was unsure about attending the Western Electric Company picnic. He had just returned from a vacation and was to work that day at his job in a store in Melrose Park. But his friend, a Western Electric employee, had invited him and said, "Come on, Willie, we'll have a good time." Also, it is thought that he was interested in getting a job at Western Electric.
The last relative who saw him on his way to the picnic was Henry Wilder, husband of Willie's old sister, Betty. Henry was already at work on Main Street in Melrose Park early that Saturday morning. Willie had to take the Chicago & Northwestern train from Melrose Park to Chicago to board the Eastland. He was late for the train's scheduled departure time, and ran past Henry in a great hurry. The train, however, happened to be running behind schedule and the conductor, who also knew Willie, saw him approaching and held the train in the station until he boarded.
When the Eastland capsized, Willie was most likely inside on a very crowded deck where a violin and mandolin orchestra was playing the popular ragtime tunes of that time. He was apparently very fond of that music, as he had his own mandolin. As the ship turned on its side, Willie was not drowned or suffocated, as were so many victims, but was reportedly crushed by a piano as it tipped or slid.
His brother, Adolph Guenther, identified his body from among more than 800 others that were laid out in the large, makeshift morgue set up for the victims. Among the personal effects Willie carried with him that day were his watch, wallet and identification card. He was buried in Arlington Cemetery in DuPage County. He was 23 years old.
(Recollection by Lois Guenther, niece, and William Wilder, nephew.)
Please direct questions and comments to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright © 1998-2002 Eastland Disaster Historical Society. All rights reserved.