The History

Volunteer Divers

As the dead were recovered from the river or from the hold of the ill-fated ship, the scenes enacted were heart-rending. Women fell unconscious and strong men wept.” -- L. D. Brown

Several heroic volunteer divers assisted the policemen and firemen on the scene of the Disaster, oftentimes going where even professionals could or would not go. Throughout the day and night, these divers entered the dark, murky bowels of the ship, primarily in search of victims’ corpses, yet hoping that they would find survivors.

One diver, Dan Robbins, made multiple trips into the scrambled mess between the vertical decks of the half-submerged Eastland. Over the course of the day he recovered dozens of victims’ bodies.

Another volunteer diver was a 17-year-old boy named Charles R. E. Bowles. An excellent swimmer with little to no fear of danger, “Reggie” arrived at the wharf, slipped into his swim trunks, and began exploring sections of the hull where professional divers didn't want to go. He worked throughout the day and into the evening, constantly fighting self-inflicted fatigue. “Just let me rest a bit and I’ll go back [into the ship],” Reggie pleaded with authorities. He heroically brought 40 bodies to the surface and quit only when forced to do so. Veteran divers who witnessed his feats gave him the distinctive nickname, “The Human Frog.”

Fortunately, of those who were helped out of the river, the survival rate was very high. But for those who were pulled from the river, the revival rate was very low. Most pulled from the river were dead, but a few showed signs of life. Western Electric nurse Helen Repa estimated that out of hundreds pulled from the river, only a few were revived.

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