In the spring of 2008, the City of Chicago began construction on its strategic $80 million Chicago Riverwalk development project. (See photo below.) Once it is completed, the Chicago Riverwalk will become a major (and ironically new) destination for residents, visitors, and tourists. Consider the pedestrian and commercial activity at Navy Pier, then envision this same level of hubbub (and perhaps more) along the south bank of the Chicago River from Lake Street all the way out to the shores of Lake Michigan.
The Eastland Disaster Historical Society has been given the opportunity to establish a permanent outdoor exhibit running along the river's edge between Clark and LaSalle Streets. This once in a lifetime opportunity was extended to us by the Chicago Department of Transportation and Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs. Since 2000, EDHS has been working with the City to plan the installation of this permanent outdoor exhibit along the new Chicago Riverwalk. Site improvements to the riverwalk have been completed over the past few years as seen in the photos below. The photos are looking west and show the section of the Chicago Riverwalk between Clark Street and LaSalle Street. This one-block stretch of the riverwalk is the exact site of the Eastland Disaster.
The permanent outdoor exhibit will appropriately be named At The River's Edge. For it was at the river's edge that over 7,000 people had enthusiastically gathered for Western Electric's fifth annual employee picnic. And it was also at the river's edge that 844 people tragically perished within a matter of 5 minutes just 20-feet from the safety of the shore. The At The River's Edge exhibit will include 6 steel frames for a total of 12 panels. The 12 panels will combine text with high-resolution images to tell the story of the Eastland Disaster.
While it is a huge opportunity to become a permanent part of the Chicago Riverwalk, perhaps of equal significance is that the location of the outdoor exhibit is the exact location where the S.S. Eastland was moored when it rolled into the Chicago River. So not only is the location one of geographic prominence, the site serves a more meaningful role as one of historical significance.
At The River's Edge will become the fourth structure erected in Chicago's downtown Loop that is dedicated to the Eastland Disaster. The exhibit will be unique in a variety of ways. (1) At The River's Edge will become the first public outdoor exhibition to be a comprehensive telling of the history of the Eastland Disaster. (2) The exhibit will depict dozens of photographs not readily available to the general public and passersby. (3) The exhibit will help viewers understand that Chicago was as ethnically diverse 100 years ago as it is now. (4) The exhibit will serve a dual role of being, in some respects, a memorial as it draws attention to what happened at that exact site nearly a century earlier.
Please direct questions and comments to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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