Connecting Families Program

Authors Discussion

July 24, 2015
River North Westin - map
Grand Ballroom
2-5:30 p.m. Connecting Families Program

The are several books written and published about the Eastland Disaster. These diverse works range from a comprehensive documentary to a classroom resource to a musical, both fiction and non-fiction. While it took 80 years for the first book to be written and published, five new books have been completed during the past four years alone. A new book is also nearly complete and will be published tentatively in 2016. Incredibly, there is no overlap or redundancy within this collection -- each of these works nicely complements the rest.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Eastland Disaster and provide the richest author experience possible to attendees of the Saturday afternoon Connecting Families Program, all 12 authors of the various Eastland Disaster works will gather together to provide a truly special, dynamic, and engaging discussion. Later, each author will be available during the afternoon program for one-on-one conversations, photo opportunities, and author signings.

Amy Stefhon
Stepdaughter of the late George W. Hilton

Amy Stefhon had been raising her two-year-old daughter when her stepfather, George W. Hilton, suffered a debilitating stroke. Amy stepped in and became the primary caregiver for George for the balance of his life (nearly 15 years until his passing in the fall of 2014). While George is no longer with us, his heart, soul, and spirit will be represented by Amy and her daughter.


George W. Hilton was a historian, economist, professor, and author. Born in Chicago, George attended Dartmouth College and earned his B.A. in Economics summa cum laude in 1946. He obtained his M.A. in 1950. Hilton attended the London School of Economics from 1953 to 1955 and obtained his Ph.D. from the University of Chicago in 1956. He taught for many years at the University of California at Los Angeles, and was later a Professor Emeritus of Economics at UCLA. He served as the Acting Curator of Rail Transportation at the Smithsonian Institution from July 1968 through June 1969. He died in 2014 at age 89.

Jay Bonansinga

Jay Bonansinga is a New York Times best-selling author of 22 books, including the Bram Stoker finalist The Black Mariah (1994), the International Thriller Writers Award finalist Shattered (2007), and the wildly popular Walking Dead novels. Jay has been called “one of the most imaginative writers of thrillers” by the Chicago Tribune. In 2004, Jay’s non-fiction debut, The Sinking of the Eastland, was published and received national acclaim. The novel also become a source for the hit musical, Eastland: A New Musical. Jay lives in Evanston with his photographer wife Jill Norton, his two teenage boys, and is currently hard at work on the next Walking Dead book in the Woodbury quartet.

Ted Wachholz
Executive Director and Chief Historian, EDHS

Ted Wachholz authored the third book ever written about the Eastland Disaster. Published by Arcadia Publishing in 2005 and now in its fourth printing, the book combines captivating images with compelling narrative taken from firsthand accounts of families of victims, survivors, responders, and others directly affected by the Disaster. Ted’s passion and interest in the Eastland Disaster was sparked by his personal connection to the tragedy: His wife’s grandmother, Borghild “Bobbie” Aanstad, survived the tragedy as a young teenager.

Andrew White
Artistic Director

Andrew White is a founding Ensemble member of the Lookingglass Theatre Company where he is currently serving as Artistic Director. He has performed and/or participated in the creation of more than 40 original Lookingglass productions, including writing and directing the 1989 production of Of One Blood about the 1964 murders of Schwerner, Chaney and Goodman; an adaptation of George Orwell's 1984 (Joseph Jefferson Award for Adaptation); and the book and lyrics for 2012's Eastland: A New Musical.

Marian Cheatham

Marian Cheatham is a fulltime writer of contemporary and historical young adult fiction. A native Chicagoan and a graduate of Northern Illinois University, Marian taught special education and worked in the business world before pursuing her dream of becoming a writer. Her debut young adult novel, Eastland, is based on the Eastland Disaster. Marian speaks about the Eastland Disaster to schools, libraries, and book clubs. She writes a post on the subject in the Tribune’s Chicago Now blog. Her new series, Stratford High, revolves around modern retellings of Shakespeare’s plays.

Catherine Lantz, Dennis Schlagheck

Catherine Lantz first heard of the Western Electric story while working as a reference librarian at Morton Community College, which is also the home of the Hawthorne Works Museum. Originally from Southern California, she enjoys reading about Chicago and the Midwest. Catherine currently is a Reference Librarian at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Dennis Schlagheck is a Reference Librarian at Morton College in Cicero, Illinois, where he regularly conducts tours for school groups, researchers and community members at the Hawthorne Works Museum on campus. Along with Catherine Lantz, he co-authored Arcadia Publishing's Hawthorne Works. Dennis is a fifth generation Chicagoan with a B.A. in History from Roosevelt University and a Master's degree in Library Science from Dominican University. His interests include local history and genealogy. He and his wife Tess live on Chicago's northwest side.

Michael McCarthy

Michael McCarthy, who learned to sail on Lake Michigan, worked for the Wall Street Journal for 22 years, first as a reporter and then an editor on feature stories. He is the author of The Sun Farmer and has been published in The Southern Review, among other publications. He spent 12 years researching the Eastland case. He has lived in Chicago and now resides in South Haven, Michigan — two ports of call in the Eastland story.

Sue Barwick / Kelly Barwick / Mary G. Furlong
Author / Singer / Author and Musician

Susan Barwick, an Illinois State Teacher of the Year Award of Merit recipient, has taught in primary, intermediate and special education classrooms. She holds a Master's Degree in Education and currently teaches fifth grade in the Chicago suburbs. Susan enjoys reading, writing, drawing, traveling, and spending time with family and friends. The love of history and her grandmother Sylvia led Susan to write “Sylvia's Story.” She is the proud mother of a daughter, Kelly, and lives with her four-legged girl “Lilah” in the Chicago area.

Kelly Barwick is a graduate of Columbia College Chicago’s fiction writing program, and will graduate in June from National Louis University with her Masters of Arts in Teaching Secondary Education English. She is honored to sing “Sylvia’s Song,” based on her great-grandmother's role in the Eastland Disaster. She is proud of her mother Susan for bringing Sylvia’s tale to the page.

Mary G. Furlong is an award-winning children’s author and musician who integrates original music and stories into core classroom subjects such as geography, science, and history. In addition to Sylvia’s Song, Mary is the author/composer of other song-stories including: Nile, Nile Crocodile; 5 Monkeys & Little Crocodile; and Little Fido: The History of the Civil War Through the Eyes of Abraham Lincoln’s Beloved Dog. A native of Wisconsin, Mary is an avid Packer and Cubs fan. She lives in the Chicago area with her husband T.C., two dogs, and two sons.

Graham Lee

Graham Lee is the grandnephew of Jun Fujita, who photographed the Eastland Disaster for the Chicago Evening Post. Lee spent the last four years researching Fujita's life, retracing his grand-uncle's footsteps, and creating a story that combines a rich family history with historical and personal photographs. The culmination of his work will be published in the forthcoming biography, Fujita—A Portrait of Jun Fujita: Photographer and Poet. The project is dedicated to his family and the stories that connect us all. The father of two daughters, Lee lives in Wisconsin with his wife Pam.

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