CHICAGO (AP) — It was intended as a festive day out for Western Electric Co. workers and their families — an excursion across Lake Michigan from Chicago to a park in Michigan City, Indiana. It ended up as the deadliest disaster in the Windy City's history, killing more than twice as many people as the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.
The SS Eastland — one of five ships chartered for the company outing — was preparing to leave a dock in the Chicago River on July 24, 1915, with more than 2,500 passengers and crew aboard when tragedy struck.
Top-heavy with several lifeboats and rafts and with its ballast tanks empty, the ship became more unbalanced as passengers gathered to watch other boats. It rolled over, trapping passengers in the lower decks, where 844 drowned or were suffocated, including more than 20 families.
On Friday, Chicago residents, historians and ancestors of the victims were marking the 100th anniversary of the disaster.
The Eastland Disaster Historical Society planned to hold a public ceremony Friday on the Chicago Riverwalk. Saturday activities include a cruise and sunset ceremony lighting 844 candles on the river.
In February, the first-known film footage of the Eastland disaster was spotted by Jeff Nichols, a doctoral student at the University of Illinois at Chicago who was looking through seemingly unrelated material on World War I. One clip shows first-responders and volunteers walking on the boat, and a second shows workers trying to right the ship.