EDHS News and Updates

"Survivor Story": They All Escaped the Same Way

Chicago, Illinois -- L.W. Miller, John Peterson, E.H. Peterson, William Lessuenhop, E.W. Sladkey, and Anna Bohn (pictured above) survived the Eastland Disaster by climbing over the stern on the dry starboard side of the ship.

Around 7:15 am, with the Eastland close to capacity, L.W. Miller, an employee of the stationery department, John Peterson, E.H. Peterson, and William Lessuenhop boarded the vessel. Miller recounted the ship began to sway from side to side shortly after he boarded. The Eastland stopped swaying once the crew released the line at the stern. However, this caused the Eastland to list away from the dock.

E.W. Sladkey, the head of Western Electric’s printing department, was the last passenger to board the Eastland. Prior to boarding, Sladkey noticed the ship listed to its port side and had an inclination trouble was looming. Against his better judgment, he boarded the vessel to join roughly 30 of his employees on the upper deck.

As Sladkey made his way to his party, he felt the ship listing even further. Knowing the Eastland was listing to a dangerous degree, Sladkey clutched onto the starboard rail. The Eastland’s crew and passengers only became alarmed after the vessel listed to an angle of about 45 degrees. Miller recalled, “There weren't many who seemed to pay any attention to the list. The orchestra kept on playing some ragtime thing and lots of people were singing and whistling to the music. It wasn't until the chairs started sliding down the deck that the music quit, and it finished up in the middle of a bar.” It was at this moment the crew shouted to the passengers to “get over.” But, the warnings came too late; the Eastland and its passengers were doomed.

Sladkey gripped the rail until the port rail was in the Chicago River and the starboard side of the bow was sticking out of the water. He climbed onto the bow and shouted for other passengers to follow him. But, the screams of despair and terror drowned his cry.

While Miller, Peterson, Peterson, and Lessuenhop were escaping the horrific disaster, they saw a boy about six years old flailing his legs with his head below water. They quickly grabbed the boy and threw him into an empty lifeboat floating near the port side of the Eastland.

The captain of the tugboat Kenosha, sensing the impending doom of the Eastland, positioned the Kenosha’s stern next to the Eastland’s bow. Still a few feet from the capsized ship, Sladkey leaped onto the Kenosha’s deck, with a few others following his example. Out of the 30+ people from Sladkey’s department, only 2 survived: Sladkey and a boy who followed his boss’s quick thinking of jumping onto the Kenosha.

Anna Bohn survived the disaster by heeding a fellow passenger’s advice to stay on the starboard side because it was safer. Anna, traumatized by the catastrophe, spoke very little of her experience, trying to forgot the horrors she experienced that fateful July day.


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