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"Survivor Story": Genevieve Hajek

Chicago, Illinois -- Genevieve Hajek said the one thing in her life that she will never forget is the Eastland Disaster.

Genevieve was the parade captain of the Western Electric Company picnic and excursion. Her family was against her taking the trip because they feared the boat would sink. She told her family that she was going whether it sank or not, especially since she had gone to all of the work of making her uniform for the parade.        

Genevieve recalled that there was great excitement and the crowd of 2,500 aboard the vessel was happy.

Shortly before the ship cast off, a man ran up from below yelling that the ship was taking on water. No one paid any attention to him and the rope was cast off from the boat, the whistle sounded and the band in the bow began to play, "It's a Long Way to Tipperary."

When the Eastland began to flounder, Genevieve was on the starboard side. She watched the musicians throw their instruments into the river and leap in after them. Although she could not swim, she ran to the rail to jump over, hoping to grab one of the crates floating in the river to support her. Before she could jump, the ship capsized. Still clinging to the rail, Genevieve was thrown neck deep into the river.        

People grabbed at her body and feet and stepped on her hands and fingers as they were thrown off of the capsized ship. She recalled being so frightened that she didn't even think of praying as she clung to the rail. She also had no idea how long she hung there before rescuers found her. They put a rope around her and, after prying her fingers loose from the rail, pulled her to the side of the ship.

After the tragedy, Genevieve would not go on another boat and she could not go near Lake Michigan without feeling like she was choking.

 

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