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Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster

Review

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster

On July 24, 1915, in the times before air conditioning, people were met with a wonderful opportunity to enjoy some cool lake breezes and board the mighty SS Eastland ship. Who wouldn’t be excited sail on the boat, which was nicknamed the “Greyhound of the Lakes”? Employees from Chicago’s Western Electric Company were thrilled to have a relaxing day off, though slightly overcast and drizzling, it was still a day to picnic and have fun.

Well over 2000 persons eagerly boarded the magnificent boat. One man, running late, leapt from the dock onto the ship as his friends encouraged him. There were lots of families with children running excitedly around, a band playing music --- a mood of anticipation and joy filling the air. This was going to be a day to remember for everyone.

"Not all answers are clear, but Sutton has brought to life and carefully researched a very important and sad part of American history....CAPSIZED! is an excellent book...highly recommended for both middle and high school libraries."

Suddenly the ship began to tilt --- chairs sliding, people screaming, tables tumbling and bodies flying through the air. Alarms sounded as people on the dock watched in horror as the disaster unfolded. The ship continued to slide onto its side as frantic calls for help rang through the air and bodies sunk beneath the waters. Crew members scrambled to aid whoever they could, police and fire departments worked as quickly as possible and even many on lookers helped drag bodies from the murky waters. Over 800 lives were lost in just minutes!

In CAPSIZED!, author Patricia Sutton explores the possible causes of the SS Eastland tragedy, including the persons involved and what was known before the Eastland ever became a “pleasure” boat. She examines the various known problems as well as the lack of communication between the captain and the engine crew. With careful research she presents a chilling look at some of the things that could have contributed to this horrible accident.

Sutton’s book reads smoothly, building up to the deadly moments as the ship turns on its side. Diagrams, maps, newspaper clippings and actual photographs help in augmenting the reality of what happened that July day.

Who carries the burden of blame? What happened to those charged with “negligence” leading up to the disaster? What could be done for the families lost, the children gone, the babies tumbling to their deaths, the horrible lines of grief stricken faces as friends and families tried to identify their loved ones? Tragedies like this leave forever scars.

More persons lost their lives in the Eastland Disaster, Sutton points out, than in the sinking of the Titanic --- yet in comparison, very little publicity was given to the Eastland disaster. Was that because most of those who perished were poor immigrants? Was it because WWI was looming over the horizon? What lessons have this terrible tragedy and its aftermath brought to us?

Not all answers are clear, but Sutton has brought to life and carefully researched a very important and sad part of American history. Detailed research resources follow at the end with notes, bibliography and index. CAPSIZED! is an excellent book for historical research and highly recommended for both middle and high school libraries.

Reviewed by Sally Tibbetts on July 24, 2018

Capsized!: The Forgotten Story of the SS Eastland Disaster
by Patricia Sutton