In 1915, a Chicago shipwreck left 844 people dead. Although the Eastland disaster was documented in numerous photos, there was no known film footage of the incident. Last week, a University of Illinois at Chicago Ph.D. candidate made an incredible discovery.
On July 24, 1915, 2,500 passengers boarded the the SS Eastland. The Eastland was one of three passenger steamers chartered for the Western Electric employee picnic.
As the ship filled to capacity, it began to tip back and forth with the passengers’ movements. Unfortunately, nobody realized the SS Eastland was in serious danger of capsizing.
EastlandDisaster.org reports that the ship began taking on water before it left the dock. Despite the warning signs, the ship’s gangplank was removed and the crew prepared for departure.
Although the engines were started up, they were later stopped due to the ongoing issues. Within minutes, the ship drifted away from the dock, rolled onto its side, and became lodged in the mud.
George Goyette, who was aboard the SS Eastland when the disaster occurred, describes the scene.
“The entire crowd of men, women, and children came slipping and sliding and sprawling down with a mass of… rubbish of every sort – on top of them. They came down in a floundering, screaming mass, and, as the boat turned completely over on its side, crashed into the stairs, carrying them away.”
Unfortunately, the crew had no time to react. Although the ship was equipped with emergency rafts and life jackets, there simply was not enough time to hand them out. As a result, 844 people lost their lives in the 1915 Chicago shipwreck.
The tragedy was documented in a series of haunting photos. However, there was no known film footage of the Eastland disaster.
Jeff Nichols was scanning a Dutch news reel when he happened upon the footage. As reported by Chicago Tribune, the clips were “sandwiched in the middle of several minutes of unrelated material.”
Nichols said the a majority of the reel focuses on European news. However, it also contains the only known clips of the 1915 Chicago shipwreck.
The first clip, which is 55 seconds long, was filmed shortly after the Eastland disaster occurred. Rescue workers are seen walking along the ship’s hull looking for survivors. In the second clip, which is 30 seconds long, crews are in the process of righting the ship.
The news reel is in the possession of the EYE Film Instituut Nederland, in The Netherlands. However, Nichols copied and shared the footage via his Facebook account.
Interestingly, the 1915 Chicago shipwreck footage was discovered just five months shy of the Eastland disaster’s 100-year anniversary.
[Images via Wikimedia]