In May 2002 we were contacted by the Education Committee of the World Presidents' Organization (WPO). We were asked to give a Friday evening program on the Eastland Disaster as the grand opening for a weekend of educational activities. The audience was to be 50-100 Chicago area CEOs and their spouses. Further, we were challenged to make the program fun. This was the first time that anyone had ever used fun in conjunction with the Eastland Disaster.
As our society has done in the past, we rose to the challenge and we did in fact deliver a fun evening for our guests. During a creative moment, we decided that in order to make our program fun we had to shift the emphasis from the tragedy to what July 24, 1915 was to be originally - a fun and festive picnic. Members of the WPO were invited to attend the Western Electric fifth annual Hawthorne Works' Employee Picnic.
Just as in 1915, our guests (members of WPO) took "street cars" downtown to the wharf along the Chicago River between Clark and LaSalle Streets. This time, however, instead of boarding an excursion steamer alongside the south bank of the river, our guests arrived at the north bank at Bob Chinn's Crab House of Chicago. The gentlemen (wearing their skimmers) and the women (carrying their lace parasols) were greeted by over a dozen actors dressed in wardrobes from the turn of the century. Guests and actors alike portrayed different people who were involved in some way in the Eastland Disaster and its aftermath - firemen, priests, undertakers, survivors, victims, entire families in some cases.
After an hour of socializing, the WPO members walked through the gangway (double doors leading from the cocktail area into the dining room) and boarded the Eastland (entered the dining room). Once our guests had taken their seats, the Eastland tragedy was recreated through the use of multiple videos playing on two large screens. In between video segments, the actors, who only moments before had been mingling with the WPO members, came out one at a time to recount their personal experience of July 24, 1915. At the conclusion of the Eastland Disaster program, all thirteen actors gathered together and sang "The Boat That Never Left Town", a song written in 1915 about the Eastland tragedy.
The months, weeks, days, and hours before - the practices, preparations, and rehearsals. Friday, May 2, 2003: Performance day - last minute activities, guest arrival, and the performance. Sunday, May 4, 2003: Closing - two patriotic songs as the grand finale to an incredible weekend.
Please direct questions and comments to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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