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The Eastland

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A timeline of the morning of July 24, 1915

12:30 A.M.

Shortly after returning from the Masonic excursion, Captain Harry Pedersen instructs Chief Engineer Joseph Erickson to fill the Eastland with coal for the day's excursions.

3:00 A.M. to 3:30 A.M.

The Eastland proceeds up the Chicago River to the Chicago & South Haven wharf.

6:15 A.M.

1st Assistant Engineer Charles Silvernail and 2nd Assistant Engineer Fred Snow pump out the ballast tanks.

6:20 A.M.

Erickson finishes breakfast and goes to duty in the engine room.

6:30 A.M.

About 5,000 people have already arrived for the excursion.  Passengers begin boarding the Eastland in preparation for a 7:30 A.M. departure.

6:41 A.M.

The Eastland begins to list to starboard from the usual concentration of passengers who have gathered on the wharf side of the ship.

6:48 A.M.

Erickson notes the list to starboard and orders the engine room crew to steady the ship. Water is admitted to the port ballast tanks for approximately two to three minutes to correct the starboard list.

6:51 A.M.

The Eastland straightens, momentarily.

6:53 A.M.

The Eastland begins to list to port.  Erickson orders to put the ship on an even keel and the Eastland is righted again, momentarily.

6:55 A.M.

A phone call is placed to request a tug to take the Eastland out to the lake.

7:00 A.M.

The tug Kenosha takes its place alongside the Eastland's bow.

Passengers continue boarding at a rate of about 50 per minute.  The passenger count now reaches over 1,000.

A light list to port occurs once again.

7:05 A.M.

Erickson starts the engines.

7:07 A.M.

Erickson pumps out the port No. 3 ballast tank.  The port No. 2 ballast tank is not pumped out.

7:10 A.M.

Harbormaster Adam F. Weckler arrives at the Clark Street bridge and estimates the Eastland's list to port to be seven degrees.

The Eastland's capacity of 2,500 is attained and boarding is discontinued.  The picnickers are now directed to board the Theodore Roosevelt on the east side of the Clark Street bridge. The Petoskey also begins to load passengers.

Preparations begin to bring the gangplank in.

Radio Officer Charles M. Dibbell notes the list to port and attempts to move the passengers to starboard.  The passengers show no inclination to follow his directive.

7:13 A.M.

Bradfield's Orchestra begins playing music on the promenade deck aft, attracting many of the passengers who begin dancing.

7:15 A.M.

David Durand, an employee of the Watson Warehouse located diagonally across the river from the Eastland, observes from a third-story window that the ship is listing badly to port.  He calls out to Walter Perry, a co-worker, to come to the window.

7:16 A.M.

The list to port worsens to an estimated 10 to 15 degrees.  Erickson orders the valves opened to fill the No. 2 and 3 starboard ballast tanks.  Inexplicably, no water is brought into these starboard ballast tanks for about seven minutes.

7:17 A.M.

Ray W. Davis, Hull's assistant, becomes concerned over the list and goes to the engine room to ask Erickson if action is being taken to straighten the Eastland.

Erickson asks Davis to check the Eastland's starboard fender strake to ensure that it was not hanging on the wharf.

7:18 A.M.

The Eastland rights herself, and although righted, is in an unstable equilibrium state.

Lynn signals Captain Pedersen that the Clark Street bridge is his whenever he wishes to move the Eastland out into Lake Michigan.

O'Meara begins preparation for departure and orders the Kenosha's line cast off.  The tug is maneuvered out into the Chicago River to the north of the Eastland's bow.

The gangplank is drawn in.

One additional passenger, E. W. Sladkey, stands at the wharf and considers boarding the Eastland.  He notices the list to port and considers boarding another ship.  Some of his co-workers from his department, already on board the Eastland, wave and shout to him to board.  He jumps over the water and becomes the last passenger to board the Eastland.

The Eastland lists perceptibly to port, even though most of the passengers are along the starboard rail; there are no large numbers of people along the port rail.

Charles Lasser, baggageman for the Chicago & South Haven line, casts off one stern line.

7:20 A.M.

The list to port continues.

As water enters the main deck through a scupper on the port side, Erickson orders the engines stopped.

Richard J. Moore hears a crash and sees beer bottles and shards rolling over the main deck.

David Durand, from his third-story window across the river, observes a major movement of passengers away from the port rail to starboard.  The Eastland, however, continues to list to port.

7:21 A.M.

Captain Pedersen notes that the loading of passengers has been completed and begins preparations for immediate departure.

7:23 A.M.

Erickson orders Silvernail to instruct the passengers forward on the main deck to move to the starboard side.  The same request is made to the passengers immediately abaft of the engine room.

Water begins to enter the Eastland through the port gangways.

Fireman and oiler Joe Conrad, standing in the forward starboard gangway, notices the water entering opposite him in the forward port gangway.

Snow opens a Modoc whistle warning signal.

7:24 A.M.

Captain Pedersen rings a "stand by" on his engine room telegraph to which Erickson responds immediately.

Captain Pedersen activates the buzzer at the stern, where Second Mate Peter Fisher is awaiting a directive to cast off.  Lasser throws off the stern line and runs along the wharf to the bow to await a similar order to throw off the three forward lines.

Lynn tests the three forward lines from the Eastland and finds them to be taut.

Captain Pedersen calls for the opening of the Clark Street bridge.  Weckler refuses because of the serious list of the Eastland and directs Pedersen to trim the ship.

Weckler shouts down to Del Fisher to not cast off any lines due to the serious list of the Eastland.

Lynn, with his back braced against a building, sights the Eastland and estimates that the list is now 20 to 25 degrees and concludes that the situation has become hopeless.

The stern of the Eastland swings out away from the wharf into the river, as intended, and the bow swings in slightly to the wharf.

As the Eastland moves away from the wharf, passengers on the upper decks drift away from the starboard rail - their first substantiated move to port.

7:25 A.M.

The Eastland makes her third and last reversal of direction in her list to port.

Captain Pedersen walks along the starboard side, supervising the casting off of the lines.

Erickson orders Snow to start the bilge pump to deal with the water coming in through the scuppers and the gangways.

7:27 A.M.

The Eastland resumes her list to port, at an estimated 25 to 30 degrees.

The stokers and oilers in the boiler room run upstairs to the main deck, sensing that the Eastland is now doomed, not only from the list but also from the water coming into the ship.

Peter Fisher asks the passengers on the hurricane deck to move to the starboard side.  The angle is too great now, and the deck too slippery from the rain, for the passengers to comply.

Oakley, counting passengers on the Petoskey, senses there is something wrong and departs to observe the Eastland at a 30 to 40 degree list.

The musicians in Bradfield's Orchestra dig in their heels to brace themselves against the list.  They switch to playing ragtime to entertain the passengers, as dancing has become impossible due to overcrowding on the dance floor.  Panic still has not yet ensued.

7:28 A.M.

The angle of the list reaches 45 degrees.

Dishes begin slipping off of the shelves and racks in the pantry.

Chief Steward Albert Wycoff watches his dishes fall out of their rack in the dining area.

The piano on the promenade deck slides across to the port side, almost crushing two women.

Bradfield's Orchestra stops playing in the middle of a bar.

The refrigerator behind the bar crashes over with a loud noise, alerting all passengers that the disaster is imminent.  One or two women are pinned beneath the refrigerator.

Water pours in through the aft port gangway and the portholes on the main deck.

Passengers on the main deck panic and rush to the staircases leading up to the 'tween deck, which proves to be the worst single death trap for those passengers in the hull.

Erickson sends his younger brother, Peter, to see if the ship's fender strake was hanging on the wharf.  Peter is unable to make his way through the mass of frantic passengers.

Panic ensues throughout the Eastland.

Captain Pedersen realizes that the situation is hopeless.  He shouts to Flatlow, on the wharf, "For God's sake, open up your gangway!"  Flatlow tries to comply, but it is too late.

Passengers and crew members jump off the ship on the starboard side, either landing on the wharf or in the river.

The list of the ship to port worsens as water rushes in on the port side, and as passengers and crew members jump off and lighten the load on the starboard side.

7:28 A.M. to 7:30 A.M.

The Eastland rolls quietly into the Chicago River.

The three forward lines are still in place.  The spring line and the head line rupture.  The breast line holds, and pulls over the spile to which it is fastened.

7:30 A.M.

The Eastland comes to rest in the mud of the Chicago River, in just 20 feet of water.  Her bow is a mere 19.2 feet from the wharf, and her stern is 37 feet from the wharf.

O'Meara orders the Kenosha's line off the pilings and has it put onto the wharf, allowing passengers on the starboard side to use the tug as a bridge to the wharf.

Because the Eastland capsizes so quickly, no lifeboats are launched nor are any life jackets handed out.

One of the Eastland's life boats floats free from the wreck and a six-year-old boy climbs into it.

Erickson turns on the injectors to bring cold water into the boilers to reduce the tempurature of their steel, fearing an explosion as the cold river water hits the hot boiler shells.

Captain Pedersen pulls himself into the pilot house.

Erickson makes his way up the steering cable under the main deck on the starboard side, and drags himself up on an air duct to a porthole.  Watchman Robert Brooks pulls him to safety.

Conrad grabs a clamp at the top of the starboard forward gangway and hoists himself up to safety on the hull.

Dibbell climbs over the starboard rail to safety on the hull.

Over 800 passengers perish.

Sailors know what to do on a capsizing ship; passengers, typically, do not.

Please direct questions and comments to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society at info@eastlanddisaster.org.
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