Harlan E. Babcock

Harlan E. Babcock

...infants floated about like corks...

"Never to my dying day shall I forget the supreme horror of that moment. Men, women and children, who a moment before had been laughing and shouting messages to one another on board the Eastland and to friends on shore, were hurled by the hundreds into the Chicago River.

As the vessel top-heavily careened on its side, screams and wails, sobs and pitiful prayers came from those on the upper deck. They were hurled off like so many ants being brushed from a table.

The boat went over so quickly that scores who were sitting in chairs on deck did not have time to rise but were shot into the river.  In an instant, the surface of the river was black with struggling, crying, frightened, drowning humanity. Infants floated about like corks.

Cries of 'help' from those in the water filled the air. Many sank instantly. Others turned white, lifting imploring faces toward the panic-stricken crowd on the nearby Clark Street Bridge and piers. But before help could reach them, they too sank.

I was chilled by the harvest of death. The crew of the Roosevelt manned their lifeboats and commenced rescue work.

Hundreds of life preservers were thrown to the pleading men and women in the river, some of whom sank even before they could reach the floating bits of cork.

I shall also never forget the way those wailing, shrieking women - and some men - clung to the upper railing of the capsized boat. In mad desperation they grasped the rail, knowing that to let go meant possible death.

Many of the passengers had retired to the staterooms of the Eastland. Those on the submerged side of the vessel must have drowned instantly. Within a minute after the boat careened, men were at work chopping holes through the hull, so that imprisoned passengers might be pulled out. A woman taken out of the hull was laid on a stretcher and a blanket was thrown over her. As four policemen were bearing her up to the street, someone on the bridge shouted: 'I saw that woman's arm move. She's alive.'

The policemen removed the blanket and were overjoyed to see the woman open her eyes. 'My God, boys, she is alive,' shouted a policeman.

The crowd cheered and wept.

A woman who was one of those rescued from the upper railing stood weeping at the top of the pier. When she stepped into the Eastland an hour before, she had her husband and little boy with her.

Whenever a child's body would be brought to the street, she would wildly demand to see the face. Finally, a tiny form was brought up, and before police could prevent her, she grabbed the body and pulled the blanket away from the cold, white face of the child. It was her baby and she fainted."

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reprinted from the Chicago Herald

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