Chicago’s Most Haunted: Eastland Disaster

This summer I took a trip to Michigan City, Indiana and spent a few minutes in Washington Park by the lake having no idea at the time that over 100 years ago the S.S. Eastland ship was suppose to arrive with Western Electric employees and their families to  celebrate a summer picnic.  It never happened.  After researching the Eastland Disaster, I returned to the park again imagining its beauty in 1915.

It.was an ideal location that offered various attractions according to the Eastland Disaster Historical Society including a roller coaster, electric merry-go-round, dancing pavilion, picnic grounds, baseball park, bathing beach with bath houses, band stand/gazebo, bowling alleys, amusement park, and photo studio. Though today, still beautiful, Washington Park has less attractions and activities including women dressed in hats, stockings, long dresses and the men dressed in suits and ties on the beach.

Western Electric picnics began in 1913 and really took off with over 6,000 attending where attendees boarded several ships in Chicago docked near the Clark Street Bridge for a leisurely trip to Michigan City across the lake for the picnic. On July 24th, 1915 the Eastland along with other ships began boarding at 6:30 am. Five thousand people had arrived for the excursion.

Because the Eastland was late the prior year in arriving at Washington Park, the owners decided it would be the first to depart. They were quick to board the passengers at a rate of about 50 per minute. At approximately 7:10, the Eastland reached capacity of 2,500. The engines started about 5 minutes before with a light list to port.  Attempts were made to move passengers to starboard but they did not follow the directions.  The list becomes worst and valves are opened to fill the no. 2 and 3 starboard ballast tanks. Water eventually enters the Eastland through the port gangways and a warning signal is sounded.

The Eastland tries again moving away from the wharf. The angles of the list reaches 45 degrees and everything begins to slide with water pouring in through portholes on the main deck. Passengers are rushing to the staircases which becomes not an exit but a death trap. The list worsens. Passengers and crew members jump off from fear of being trapped. The Eastland finally rolls in the Chicago River and 844 people are killed.

Today, paranormal investigators have found activity between the Clark and LaSalle bridges and people have reported screams and orbs in photographs. But the Armory where bodies from the Eastland were taken to be transported to funeral homes and used for family identification which was Harpo Studios where Oprah Winfrey taped her show, was haunted for years.

Oprah and her staff continued to see shadows which some have called the Grey lady; they think the ghost was of a mother who has lost her child. However,demolition of the Harpo campus took place in 2016 which will make way for a new building that thousands of McDonald’s corporate employees will call home in 2018.

Is the site still haunted?