Chicago, Illinois — EDHS shares with great sadness the passing of George W. Hilton, author of "Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic," who died Monday, August 4, 2014 at age 89.
George was born January 18, 1925 on the south side of Chicago. Not only was his book the first to be published about the Eastland Disaster, it was – and will likely always remain – the only definitive work to be written about the tragedy.
George began his research on the Eastland Disaster in 1971, spending more than 20 years uncovering every fact possible before publishing his book in 1995. He personally saw the S. S. Eastland after it had been converted into the U. S. S. Wilmette.
Without George’s comprehensive work on the S. S. Eastland and the Eastland Disaster, several million people would not know that Chicago’s greatest loss of life tragedy was not in the Great Chicago Fire or the Iroquois Theatre Fire. The Eastland Disaster claimed more lives than either of these well-known Chicago disasters. It is also fair to say that the Eastland Disaster Historical Society would likely not exist.
It was the release of Hilton’s book in the mid-1990s that led EDHS co-founder Barbara Decker Wachholz on a quest through Chicago to obtain a copy as a gift for her mother. As Barb visited bookstore upon bookstore and asked to purchase a copy of the new book on the Eastland Disaster, she was consistently greeted by every salesperson with the same inquisitive response: "The what?" This was the impetus that pushed Barb further, only to discover that the Eastland Disaster was indeed one of the most obscure parts of Chicago's history. The seed for EDHS had been planted.
The breadth and depth of Hilton’s research was a monumental effort. It included everything – the ship, tragedy, aftermath, lawsuits, and the names of the victims. All information was meticulously documented in exactly 40 pages of footnotes (11% of his entire book). Hilton’s work – essentially a 36-volume encyclopedia condensed into a single book – opened the door for EDHS to begin its operations based upon the goldmine of factual research provided in his book.
"All of the work done by EDHS – past and future – should be added as footnotes to his book," said Ted Wachholz, EDHS Executive Director and Chief Historian. "All credit is anchored in Mr. Hilton and his work. He changed the course of what current and future generations will come to know and learn about the Eastland Disaster. He will be remembered and with us in everything we do, especially next year as we commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Eastland Disaster."