Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Marion Eichhloz, The Last Survivor of the Eastland Disaster, Has Died

The Eastland disaster
Most people don't even know about the tragedy that unfolded on July 24th, 1915, in the Chicago River, just three years after the sinking of the Titanic. This was the day of Western Electric Co.'s annual employee picnic. Around 7,000 people were waiting on six ships to be ferried from Chicago's Lakefront to Washington Park, in Michigan City, Indiana. Workers (mostly migrants), and their families were eager to enjoy the park's roller coaster and dancing pavilion, a bathing beach, and its amusement park. But instead, that morning 844 people died, including 22 entire families.

Marion Eichhloz
Marion Eichhloz was only four years old that day. "I remember only a few incidents of that day," reads Marion's account at the Eastland Disaster Historical Society reads. "My mom, Anna Eichholz, and my dad, Fred Eichholz, were seated on the upper deck, and I was standing by mom's chair. Suddenly, the boat listed and I fell against the railing. Mom pulled me back to her side. Mom began yelling, 'Run to the other side of the boat!' People began to panic, and women were running and screaming."

The Eastland ship was docked between Clark and Lasalle Streets, and it was carrying around 2,500 passengers. Seventy percent of them were under the age of 25, and 58 of those were infants. 228 of them were teenagers. It was 7:30am when the vessel rolled into 20 feet of mud and water.

"Dad picked me up in his arms, stood on the railing, and jumped into the river," Marion recalls. "I believe he told mom to go to the other side of the boat, but because there was so much panic, mom stayed in her seat. When the boat went over, she floated from the seat into the water. Someone threw her a rope, and she was rescued. I remember dad swimming with me in one arm. I was crying, and my strap slippers were dangling from my ankles."

Marion never married, and taught Sunday school for over 50 years at Cicero Bible Church. She died on November 24th and the age of  102. In an interview with the Chicago Tribune Marion's niece, Kathleen Kremholz, said that Marion "was one of the kindest and most conscientious people I have ever known. She remembered everyone's birthdays. If someone was sick, she'd always be sending cards."

Kremholz also told the Tribune that she remembers her grandmother Anna talking about the tragedy: "What she always talked about was seeing all the babies underneath (the water) who had drowned in baby buggies."
Eastland victims

Bert Cross, another survivor, wrote in a letter to his mother in 1915: "The whole river was a mass of struggling humanity, when hundreds were drowning before my eyes. You have probably read about it in the papers, but no one can picture the horror of the scene. Men and women covered with blood from broken windows, children and girls struggling in the water calling for help and the people trapped within the boat who never had a chance for their life."

*Photos by Eastland Disaster Historic Society. 
Link to Spanish story/Enlace a la historia en Español. 

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