WBEZ | maritime http://www.wbez.org/tags/maritime Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en The 'Eastland' disaster http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-06/eastland-disaster-99730 <p><p>Even at its widest part, the Chicago River is not much of a river. You can walk across one of the downtown bridges in less than a minute. The water here is barely 20 feet deep. Calm, peaceful and not very dangerous.</p><p>July 24, 1915 was a Saturday. That morning the steamship <em>Eastland</em> was moored at the south bank of the river, just west of the Clark Street Bridge. The ship was scheduled to depart for a cruise to Michigan City. Most of the 2,500 passengers were employees at the Western Electric plant in Cicero, on their way to a company picnic.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/00--The Eastland.jpg" title="The 'Eastland' (author's collection)" /></div></div><p>Boarding began at 6:30 a.m. The ship began to list to starboard. This wasn&rsquo;t unusual, and the crew took measures to balance it. &nbsp;</p><p>Shortly before 7:30, the <em>Eastland </em>cast off. After an hour of sways and straightening, the ship was now listing toward port&mdash;in this case, away from the dock. During the next few minutes the list continued. Finally, the ship simply rolled over onto its side.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/E--survivors%20and%20rescuers.jpg" title="Survivors being rescued from the hull (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>The whole thing happened so quickly. There wasn&rsquo;t time to grab life jackets, or get into the lifeboats. Many of the passengers had gone below deck to get out of the cool morning drizzle, and were trapped.</p><p>The <em>Eastland</em> settled into the mud at the bottom of the river. The hull jutted out above the water line. The ship was barely 20 feet from the dock.</p><p>Help was immediately on the scene. Some passengers had made their way to the hull of the overturned ship and jumped off into rescue boats. Others were plucked out of the river. Meanwhile, firemen clambered atop the wreck and began cutting through the hull, hoping to free those trapped below.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/E--crowds.jpg" title="Crowds behind police lines on La Salle Street (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>A total of 848 people died. Among the dead, 22 families were entirely wiped out. The <em>Eastland </em>sinking was the single deadliest disaster in Chicago history.</p><p>Someone had to take the blame. Both state and federal investigations were launched. Though the captain and some others were indicted under various charges, the cases were never brought to trial.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/E--floating morgue.jpg" title="Temporary onsite morgue (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div></div><p>The <em>Eastland</em> itself was raised, sold to the Illinois Naval Reserve, and became a training ship called the <em>Wilmette</em>. It was scrapped in 1947.</p><p>Nobody really knows what caused the <em>Eastland</em> to capsize. One story is that the passengers suddenly rushed to one side of the deck to look at something on shore, and that caused the tipping.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/E--funeral%20in%20Cicero-2.jpg" title="Funeral for Cicero couple (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div><p>Most likely, the original design and later modifications to the<em> Eastland</em> had simply made it top-heavy. And three weeks before the tragedy, the ship had added three lifeboats and six life rafts to its upper deck. This last 12 tons of weight may have been just too much.</p><p>So in the end, we might say the <em>Eastland</em> was victim of the Law of Unintended Consequences. Those new lifeboats and life rafts had been put on board because of new federal safety regulations&mdash;which had been enacted after the sinking of the <em>Titanic</em>. &nbsp;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/E--raising%20steamer.jpg" title="Raising the 'Eastland' (Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)" /></div></p> Tue, 19 Jun 2012 07:00:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/blogs/john-r-schmidt/2012-06/eastland-disaster-99730 The Christmas Tree Ships http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-11-22/christmas-tree-ships-94161 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/photo/2011-November/2011-11-22/christmas tree ships 2_LOC Chi Daily News.jpg" alt="" /><p><p>Chicago may not have an ocean, but we do have Lake Michigan. We are a maritime city. This is one day to remember that tradition, with the story of the Christmas Tree ships.</p><p>Around the turn of the 20th Century, the German custom of decorating Christmas trees was taking hold in Chicago. The closest evergreen forests were in northern Wisconsin and upper Michigan.</p><p>Each November a few lake schooners loaded up with trees and sailed them down to Chicago. Customers would come over to the Clark Street dock, go aboard a ship, and select their tree. It was fun way for city families to get into the holiday spirit.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/Christmas tree ships 4_LOC Chi Daily news.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 399px;" title="(Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>The <em>C. H. Hackley,</em> shown here moored in front of the John A. Rusk Building at 104 S. Water Street in 1909, was one of many ships that carried Christmas trees from Michigan to Chicago.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/christmas tree ships 2_LOC Chi Daily News.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 358px;" title="(Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>Herman Schuenemann was master of a Christmas Tree ship. Chicago children affectionately called him "Captain Santa." In 1912 he owned part-interest in the 123-foot three-masted schooner <em>Rouse Simmons</em>. The ship was 44 years old.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/christmas tree ships 5_LOC Chi Daily News.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 352px;" title="(Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>Here, in a photo taken in 1909, Capt. H. Schuenemann stands (center) alongside two fellow sailors.</p><p>On November 22 of 1912, the <em>Rouse Simmons </em>sailed out from Thompson, Mich. The ship carried close to 5,000 trees, and one observer said it looked like a "floating forest." Chicago was at the other end of Lake Michigan, 300 miles away.</p><p>The next afternoon, a hundred miles down the Wisconsin coast, a snowstorm was moving in. An officer at the Kewaunee rescue station observed a schooner on the lake flying a distress flag. He sent out the station's power boat to help. But the heavy weather and gathering darkness made it impossible to locate the schooner.</p><p>The <em>Rouse Simmons</em> never reached Chicago. Putting the pieces together later, authorities concluded that the missing ship was the schooner flying the distress flag near Kewaunee. Most likely it had gone down in the storm.</p><p>The disappearance of the <em>Rouse Simmons</em> hastened the end of the Christmas Tree ships. Within a few years trains and trucks were being used to bring the evergreens to Chicago. But the story was not yet over.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/christmas tree ships 3_LOC Chi Daily News.jpg" style="width: 396px; height: 497px;" title="(Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>Here, a 1915 photo shows Capt. Schuenemann’s daughter, Elsie, standing near the wheel of a Christmas tree ship tied up on the Chicago River near the Clark Street Bridge. After Schuenemann’s death his daughters continued their family tradition by shipping trees to Chicago by railroad and displaying them on river boats.</p><p style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/blog/insert-image/2011-November/2011-11-22/christmas tree ships 6_LOC Chi Daily News.jpg" style="width: 500px; height: 401px;" title="(Library of Congress/Chicago Daily News)"></p><p>Here, a photo taken in 1917 shows Capt. Schuenemann’s twin daughters, Hazel and Pearl Schuenemann, standing among Christmas trees for sale wearing garlands of greens around their necks.</p><p>In 1924 a lake fisherman hauled in his net and pulled up Capt. Schuenemann's wallet, wrapped in oilskin. Over the decades other remnants of the <em>Rouse Simmons</em> turned up. Mariners reported seeing a ghostly schooner in the fog, and the ship took on status as a local "flying Dutchman." A scuba diver finally located the wreckage of the ship off Two Rivers in 1971.</p><p>In recent years a U.S. Coast Guard vessel has re-enacted the voyage of the Christmas Tree ships to Chicago. The 2011 event is scheduled for the weekend of December 2-4 at Navy Pier.</p><p>Here's a <em>YouTube</em> video of a dive to the <em>Rouse Simmons</em>:</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/MPZeOHS9j6k" width="480" frameborder="0" height="360"></iframe></p></p> Tue, 22 Nov 2011 16:15:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/blog/john-r-schmidt/2011-11-22/christmas-tree-ships-94161