The Newberry to Receive Collection from Eastland Disaster Historical Society | Newberry

The Newberry to Receive Collection from Eastland Disaster Historical Society

Historical documents and artifacts of Chicago’s infamous tragedy will be preserved in the independent research library

August 2019

The Eastland Disaster Historical Society (EDHS), now in its 21st year of honoring those affected by Chicago’s deadliest disaster, has announced it will transition from a family-run, not-for-profit organization to a key asset within several iconic Chicago area institutions including the Newberry, Chicago Genealogical Society, and the Chicago Maritime Museum.

An agreement with the Newberry will bring much of EDHS’s comprehensive collection of photographs, family records, and historical documents to the independent research library. Together, these materials tell a vivid story about the Eastland Disaster of 1915, the 844 people who tragically died in the event, and the impact it had on their families and the city of Chicago at large.

“We are thrilled about this fantastic collection of historical records coming to the Newberry,” said Matthew Rutherford, Curator of Genealogy and Local History at the Newberry. “We are well-situated to provide access, assist researchers as they use the collection, and make it visible to audiences across Chicago and the rest of the country. The records in the Eastland Disaster collection are vital to family and local history, and to the national record as well.”

The materials related to the Eastland Disaster form a one-of-a-kind collection, having been compiled over the course of more than two decades by EDHS research efforts. The collection includes information that historically has never been available to the public: family histories and photos provided by thousands of generous families across the country; plus unknown, forgotten, or inaccessible historical documents from various entities, including the Cook County Coroner’s Office, the Red Cross, and the Western Electric Company (the company that arranged for the S.S. Eastland to take its employees and their families on an ill-fated trip across Lake Michigan; the ship rolled over before it could leave its dock in the Chicago River).

These materials will be delivered to the Newberry over the next four months; the library expects to make them available for users in 2020.

“The iconic institutions with whom we are working are committed to protecting and honoring the work that EDHS started 21 years ago, ensuring that the stories of Chicago’s greatest loss-of-life tragedy will always be preserved and shared for generations in the future,” said Ted Wachholz, Eastland Disaster Historical Society Executive Director and Chief Historian.

About the Eastland Disaster

The S.S. Eastland, known as the "Speed Queen of the Great Lakes," was part of a fleet of five excursion boats assigned to take Western Electric employees, families, and friends across Lake Michigan to Michigan City, Indiana, for a day of fun and fellowship. But the festivities were short-lived and quickly turned tragic.

On July 24, 1915, the Eastland, docked at the Clark Street Bridge and never left the Chicago River. Tragedy struck as the ship rolled into the river at the wharf's edge. More than 2,500 passengers and crew members were on board that day; 844 people lost their lives, including 22 entire families, far surpassing the lives lost in the Chicago fire of 1871.