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"Survivor Story": Mabel Gunderson, James & Jenny Peterson

Chicago, Illinois -- Mabel Gunderson joined her sister Jenny Peterson and her husband James Peterson on the second deck of the Eastland. The family was on the side next to the river when the ship capsized. Jenny and James told of the experience to a local newspaper after the disaster:

Jenny:  "[We] no sooner got in when we heard a crash of bottles downstairs and the boat was tipping. But I thought it might be just because it was starting out and as we were looking down at that we were all holding on a railing and the railing broke and they shouted all go to the other side. There's too many here, but we didn't get no chance and we fell on top of each other."   

James:  "We were standing near the rail a little toward the front of the boat. I could see down either into the engine room or the barroom. The first thing I heard was something that sounded like beer cases falling over. I dropped my cane and it went slipping across the deck toward the cabin. I leaned over to reach for it but before I could grab it I was kicking about in the water."

Jenny:  "Then we were scattered, I didn't know any more and we were in the water. I didn't know where my husband and Mabel were, but I went down and came up again and clung on to something, which was the ceiling of the cabin. Down there I seen my husband and Mabel. We were now close together. My husband was calling us to stay where we were and not to let lose, but each thing we got hold of broke."

James:  "I can swim, and I rose with the water. The partition above me gave way, at least some of the windows did, and I went up through the cabin. I caught hold of a long beam supporting the upper deck, with some others. This beam gave way, though, and I had to swim again. While I was hanging there my wife came up right where I had. She had her hat and coat on and was holding a dollar bill in one hand. I helped her to hold on to a piece of wood and said, 'Now hold on there, Jenny, don't move.'"

Jenny: "Mabel grabbed a life saver, which was floating in the water. As she was floating, she called for me to take one. I tried but they were so tight I couldn't. I was standing there asking to be saved. When I looked above me I seen a girl climbing up the ceiling of the cabin which we were hanging on, and I thought I could do that too, so I tried and I got high enough for a man to reach my hand to pull me out but I thought he would drop me alone, so I asked if he couldn't get another man too and he did so I was saved."

James:  "One man who had been hanging on with only his nose, eyes, and mouth out of water disappeared when the beam broke, and I didn't see him again. The water rose some more, and I leaped and caught another two by four. I saw women and men come up all around me, and a lot of them went down again. There were about twenty near me who were saved."

Jenny: "When I was on land my sister and husband were still down there but my sister seen how I got saved and did the same as I so she was saved. Then we two clung together, our teeth chattering calling for my husband which didn't come out for about 10 minutes after us. He had saved a lady with a baby and a lady and man but the thing he was standing on broke so he went down again, and swam to where we had been saved and a fireman pulled him up."

James:  "Just then Mabel came up where my wife had appeared. I don't see how either one of them ever was saved, for neither can swim. The strange part of it was that when Mabel came up she had a life preserver strapped about her body. She said she had found it floating near her and had asked a girl to tie it on her. Just as the girl was doing this, Mabel said she slid off into the water and was gone. Jenny and Mabel evidently had been carried up by the swirl of the water through the same break in the partition I had passed through.

When the police came we were about 10 feet below the wire screen on the upper side. They let ropes down and pulled Jenny and Mabel up. I helped the police draw up the women. There was an excited man who told me his wife had been saved and pleaded to be allowed to go up next. I saw a woman holding a baby in her arms and I snatched the rope from him. I gave it to the woman and told her how to fasten it. She was pulled up still holding the baby."

Jenny: "Then he came through the crowd and found us and called that he was saved. It was such a pitiful sight. He took each of us in his arms and walked down Clark Street when I meet some friends who were looking for each other, we went in the Sherman House and there the manager got a taxi and we sped home soaking wet. I lost my coat, hat, camera, and my clothes were ruined. And my father had been down there thinking we were surely one of the dead but came home to find us three alive."

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