Chicago, Illinois -- Charles A. Vileta was 23 years old when he and three friends boarded the Eastland on July 24, 1915. Charles, a relay assembler at Western Electric Company, told his friends, whom he met at work, “Let’s take the second boat -- it’s safer.” Sadly, only Charles returned home that day.
Charles Albert was born on November 3, 1892, to John and Barbara (nee Pelekan) Vileta, who immigrated from Austria in 1888 and 1889 respectively. Charles had several siblings, including John (born in January 1895), Edward (born in January 1900), Helen, (born in 1904), Joseph, (born in 1906), and Frank (born in 1908).
Charles, with J. Howard Moore’s book on the development of human beings, “Law of Biogenesis,” in his pocket, and his friends boarded the ship and made their way to the Dancing Room, located on the bottom deck. He made his way to a porthole on dockside where he watched the final passengers climb aboard the Eastland when tragedy struck.
“Suddenly the boat tipped,” Charles recalled. “I grabbed the porthole with both hands and held tight. Women and men were screaming. Water poured in the doors and whirlpooled my buddies down to the floor.
“For thirty minutes we waited there with water up to our shoulders. I shouted something to a group of women huddled over in the far corner. Then some men broke through the side of the ship, threw down a rope and we climbed out. My buddies were drowned.”
After he was rescued, Charles recalled going to a tavern for his “first drink of whisky of my life” before he rode the Douglas Park branch of the L home.
Charles continued to work for Western Electric Company after the disaster, and in 1955, he celebrated 45 years of employment with the company. In 1919, he married Florence Molzahn and they had three children: Beatrice Ruth (born on November 2, 1920), Joyce Violet (born on May 6, 1923), and Eugene Charles (born on December 26, 1932).
Charles passed away at the age of 88 on November 24, 1980, and is buried in Mount Auburn Memorial Park in Stickney, Illinois.