1915: The S.S. Eastland

130 W Wacker Dr Chicagoundefined

The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan/1915: The S.S. Eastland
The House Theatre
Written By The House Theatre

The House is Chicago's premier home for intimate, original works of epic story and stagecraft. Founded and led by Artistic Director Nathan Allen and driven by an interdisciplinary ensemble of Chicago’s next generation of great storytellers, The House aims to become a laboratory and platform for the evolution of the American theatre as an inclusive and popular artform.

Today there are 26 BRIDGES that span the Chicago River around the Loop, from Lake Shore Drive to Cermak. In July 1915, when Captain Harry Pederson was looking for a place to dock The S.S. Eastland, the Clark Street Bridge was one of the only options.

It was 6:30 A.M., and The Eastland, billed the “Speed Queen of the Great Lakes” by no less than FRANKLIN Delano ROOSEVELT, was the first boat scheduled to depart for the Western Electric annual employee picnic on July 25, 1915. 

The 2500-plus passengers, many of whom had never been on a boat before, were anxious to board. Some had come as far away as other states, like WASHINGTON, or COLUMBUS. Captain Pederson walked around the boat for one final inspection. Everything looked good. Pausing to admire the sunrise from the bow, a glint from the water caught his eye. He climbed down to the waterline, reached down, and plucked the object out of the river. It was Sullivan's cursed gold pocket watch, which had spent four years on the bottom of the lakebed, floating around with the currents. Captain Pederson raised the beat-up watch to his ear, and was stunned to hear a faint ticking, a pulse of life, emanating from within. He smiled at his good luck — or so he thought — and went up to welcome the first passengers aboard. The curse, buried for years, had found its next target.

Throughout the boarding, as passengers spread throughout the ship, the The Eastland listed idly, rocking from starboard to port. Most passengers, their first time on water, figured this was typical behavior. It wasn't; something was wrong. Whether Captain Pederson noticed is unclear, as he failed to call for evacuation. The ship continued to list, and then, finally, it started to tip to port. Sensing his ship was about to go down, Captain Pederson screamed for everyone to move to the starboard side. But it was too late. People began sliding across the deck of the boat. The Eastland was sinking. 

“What I saw was exactly what you see when you watch a lot of children rolling down the side of a hill. The entire crowd of men, women, and children came slipping and sliding and sprawling down with a mass of lunch boxes, milk bottles, chairs – rubbish of every sort – on top of them. They came down in a floundering, screaming mass, and, as the boat turned completely over on its side, crashed into the stairs, carrying them away.” — George Goyette

In a few short minutes, the Eastland went from upright to completely capsized, rolling over into the Chicago River and sinking to the muddy bottom. There was no time for handing out life jackets, or to scuttle onto life boats.

844 men, women and children perished, just nineteen feet from shore, and Peg Leg’s watch went back down into the water. Where it is now, nobody knows.

The Eastland was eventually raised and dragged away. Later she was rebuilt and recommissioned as USS Wilmette, a gunboat. For decades, she served as a training vessel for the Navy. One of her final acts was transporting President Roosevelt, Admiral MONROE, and a team of advisors to Lake Superior's Whitefish Bay.

Answer is 5 letters.

Note: this chapter doesn't require traveling to the location, but it might require doing some online research.

What word is hidden in chapter 6 — and near Buckingham Fountain?
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The Curse of Peg Leg Sullivan

1915: The S.S. Eastland

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