EDHS News and Updates

"Survivor Story": Polivka Sisters

Chicago, Illinois -- Josephine (Polivka) Engenhart (pictured right) recalls the morning she and her sisters, Mae and Anna, prepared to leave for the excursion boat that would take them across the lake to their company picnic:                

"We were all dressed in white for the parade we were to be in when the boat reached Michigan City. On our way we stopped to call for our three neighbor friends (the Zasteras). Their mother said, 'You girls are late, my girls left a long time ago.'

"I remember the boat as not having anywhere to sit. We met Mae's boss, Mr. Wiley, and went with him to the lower deck but it was packed with people and we had to go back up.

"We were on the upper deck when the boat tipped. There were screams and we were thrown to the side. My sister screamed and told me to hold on. People were grabbing at us from below. I remember hands reaching out from the water. Somehow we were pulled up onto the side of the boat where we stood for a very long time. Then some men said, 'Come on girls, we're going to take you off.' They told us to roll over their arms into a row boat. We were dropped off by the river in a daze without any money. A cab driver picked us up and took us to a station where we received blankets. We were taken home by the cab driver but when I turned around he was gone and I never had a chance to thank him.

"When my sisters and I walked into the house my mother was baking as she did on Saturdays. She put her hand to her face in alarm and said, 'What happened to you'" She wasn't aware of the capsizing, although the neighbors already knew their three daughters were dead. My brother Frank, who was in Michigan, hurried back when he heard but was afraid to come into the house because of what he might hear.

"It was a terrible time. So many people from our area, the 4300 block of West 25th Place, worked at Western Electric. There was a wreath on nearly every door. My sisters and I were pall bearers for our friends the Zastera sisters."

Josephine (Polivka) Engenhart passed away peacefully on February 10, 2000, just a few days before her 104th birthday and just a few months after writing the personal account above.

 

Get Involved