EDHS News and Updates

"Survivor Story": Mary Louise Christiany

Chicago, Illinois -- Mary Louise Christiany, a 25-year-old Western Electric employee, and her best friend, Rose Skohan, were standing on the upper deck of the Eastland when the ship began to list.

Mary Louise was born on September 3, 1889, to John and Caroline (nee Hoffman) Christiany, in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood. According to our research, Mary Louise was a first generation German-American.

When the crew released the ropes holding the Eastland to the dock to begin the journey to Michigan City, Indiana, Mary and Rose were standing on the upper deck. Suddenly, the ship turned on its side and Mary and Rose were thrown and found themselves standing on the framework on one of the Eastland’s doors.

Mary, along with employees at local businesses, selflessly began to save anyone they could. Mary threw a life jacket to a girl in the river. Employees at Franklin McVeigh Packing Company, located along the Chicago River at LaSalle Street, threw wooden boxes into the river to help save those who were floundering in the dirty river.

Mary's younger brother, John Christiany, who was only sixteen years old and a driver for a railway express agency, was working in downtown Chicago. When he received word of the disaster, he immediately began searching for Mary. He found her at one of the locations where survivors were taken. When Mary and John returned home that evening, their family did not know about the disaster. During the 1910s, the block where Mary and her family lived in Elsdon, a neighborhood on Chicago’s southwest side, only had one telephone and most families could not afford a radio. Consequently, Mary’s family did not know about the disaster until she and John returned home that evening.

Ten years later, Mary married Charles Edward Dell, a former resident of LaCrosse, Wisconsin. They had three children: Charles J. Dell of Park Forest, IL; Rita M. Dell Bremigan of Bloomington, IN; and William J. Dell of Bridgeview, IL.

Mary carried the memory of her experience of fateful day all of her life, mentally, emotionally, and physically. While riding in cars, extra caution was needed when going around corners. If not, Mary would experience the same feeling she felt when the Eastland turned on its side. Mary requested her obituary stated she survived the Eastland Disaster, which was fulfilled when she passed away on April 20, 1977, in Park Forest, Illinois.


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