Student unearths footage of Chicago’s deadliest disaster | WBEZ
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Student unearths footage of Chicago's deadliest disaster

Nearly 100 years ago, the SS Eastland capsized in the Chicago River, killing 844 people. The boat, known as the Speed Queen of the Great Lakes, was part of a fleet of excursion boats. The boats took employees from Western Electric across Lake Michigan to Michigan City, Indiana.

But the Eastland rolled over into the Chicago River. More than 2,500 people were on board that day.

A Chicago grad student named Jeff Nichols was working on his dissertation on Chicago during World War I when he came across an archive of digitized European films and unearthed the news footage from the Eastland Disaster.

Nichols says he proclaimed, “Holy Cow,” when he recognized the south bank of the Chicago River around Clark and LaSalle streets. He could see the dock in the background of news footage.

In the film, first responders are pulling survivors out of the overturned boat.

A historical society dedicated to the disaster has been looking for footage since it was founded 17 years ago. A collections manager with a Dutch film institute confirmed in an email sent to The Associated Press that the footage is in the institute's archives.

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