EDHS News and Updates

"Survivor Story": Thomas Zahradnik (Gardner)

Chicago, Illinois -- Thomas Zahradnik worked as a magnet hardener specialist at Western Electric. He sometimes went by the last name of Gardner because Zahradnik means “gardener” in Czech and Gardner was easier to pronounce for some of the Western Electric employees of many different ethnicities.

At the time of the Eastland disaster, Thomas was married and had five children. However, all of the women in his family decided not to attend the Hawthorne Works annual picnic because Thomas’s eldest daughter was to be married a couple weeks after the picnic and the women were busy finishing her dress. One of the family members suggested Thomas should take his youngest son (who was 10 years old) to the picnic. However, Thomas was going to be in charge of overseeing some of the games at the picnic and he did not want to have to keep track of the young boy. As a result, Thomas attended the picnic alone.

Thomas was a strong swimmer, and when the Eastland capsized, he was able to save himself and another man. After they both made it safely out of the water, the other man asked Thomas if he would go back into the water to retrieve his hat. Thomas declined, and instead, went to a tavern to call his neighbors (the Zahradniks did not have a phone at home). He asked them to tell his family what happened and that he was okay. With his clothes drenched from the Chicago River, Thomas walked over three miles to his home in the Pilsen neighborhood. He lived to age 88 and spent his entire career at Western Electric Company.

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