Credit: AP Photos

Eastland disaster footage

On July 24, 1915, the Western Electric Company chartered the steamship SS Eastland to ferry a few thousand employees from downtown Chicago to a company picnic in Michigan City, Indiana. Four stories tall and nearly the length of a football field, the Eastland was as spectacular as the Hindenburg—and just as poorly designed. It capsized on the Chicago River before it even launched, and 844 people died, the greatest loss of life from any tragedy in Chicago history. There are written and photographic accounts, but no moving images were known to exist until this February, when graduate students Jeff Nichols of the University of Illinois at Chicago and Alex Revzan of Northern Illinois University discovered contemporaneous newsreels about the disaster while cataloging digitized film collections. These newsreels weren’t so much lost as uncategorized, but now they’re readily available on the Internet. For the first time in nearly a century people can watch the Eastland capsize and observe the efforts to recover bodies trapped beneath the boat.