Chicago, Illinois -- 21-year-old Thomas Chakinis fled starvation in Greece in 1911 and immigrated to Chicago where he married, raised four children, and operated two restaurants. On the morning of July 24, 1915, he boarded the Eastland.
Tom survived, and in his mid 80's still vividly recalled the tragedy. He gestured and lapsed into snatches of Greek as he told the story he'd repeated so often.
"It was a Saturday, 7:30 in the morning," Tom began. "Nearly 2,000 Western Electric Hawthorne plant employees and their families boarded the steamer that day in 1915, bound for a day-long company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. As they waited for the boat to leave, they sang and nibbled at their picnic lunches," he said.
He remembered sitting in a chair on the top deck with his friend, Ted Hallas, who pointed to the life preservers above them and told him, "Grab onto these in case of an accident." Tom thought little of the comment, for he'd sailed from Greece a few years before with no mishap.
"The poor people who were sitting on the other side of the boat slid, like vroooooosh," Tom said, making a downhill motion with his hand. Tom could not swim, so he slid toward the staircase leading to the lower deck, and lunged for the railing. He saw hundreds of bodies below him, bodies of people who had been on the lower deck. "I was lucky all the people was under me," he said. "I remember I was standing on somebody's shoulder so I didn't drown."
Tom was later pulled onto the dock by a fireman. His friend Ted Hallas was not as fortunate. He was swept away as soon as the Eastland capsized.
Most survivors returned to work immediately after the disaster, he recalled. "The people that survived didn't want to hear anything more about it. You tried to forget." But Tom never truly forgot. Years later, he forbade his children from going near the water. He never boarded a boat again.