Long-Lost Video First to Show 1915 ‘Eastland’ Disaster in Chicago

Photo shows the aftermatch of the SS Eastland disaster, taken approximately 75 minutes after the ship capsized. Photo: Eastland Disaster Historical Society
Photo shows the aftermatch of the SS Eastland disaster, taken approximately 75 minutes after the ship capsized. Photo: Eastland Disaster Historical Society

Some newly discovered video has emerged showing the only known video footage of the tragic 1915 sinking of the passenger vessel SS Eastland on the Chicago River.

The clips come from EYE Film Instituut Nederland and were brought to light by a Ph.D. candidate at University of Illinois at Chicago, Jeff Nichols, who was scrolling through old Dutch newsreels looking for material on World War I when he made the discovery.

The SS Eastland had 2,500 passengers and crew aboard when it rolled over while still tied to the dock on the Chicago River on July 24, 2015, resulting in the loss of 844 lives. The accident is considered worst loss-of-life maritime disaster in Great Lakes history.

The first 55 second clip shows first responders walking on the overturned hull of the Eastland, pulling survivors/victims out through a gangway, and several other rescue and recovery efforts.

The second clip, lasting 30 seconds, depicts the efforts while righting the Eastland weeks after the day of the tragedy.

While the disaster has been documented in photos, these clips are the first known video footage to emerge showing the disaster.

In a statement announcing the finding, the Eastland Disaster Historical Society (ECHD) commented: “Since founding the Eastland Disaster Historical Society 17 years ago, we had always felt that video footage existed somewhere, but were never able to locate it. These two short video clips are the first that EDHS has seen, and likely, the first that the public has seen of the Eastland Disaster as well.”

On the day of the sinking, the SS Eastland was part of a fleet of five excursion boats chartered by Western Electric to shuttle its employee across Lake Michigan to Michigan City, Indiana for a company picnic.