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Eastland River Disaster: Chicago

Updated: May 26, 2021

Chicago is home to many famous landmarks and sites. A lot of these sites have stories to tell. Such is the case of the Chicago River. When you think of the Chicago River, you think of it being dyed green on St. Patrick's day, or the way it winds through the middle of the Second City leading its way to Lake Michigan. What you probably don't think about is that this famous landmark is also the spot of one of the worst disasters in Chicago history. That's saying something considering the city's history.

On July 24, 1915, the SS Eastland, a passenger ship built in 1903, was set to carry almost 2,600 passengers from downtown Chicago over to Michigan City, Indiana, a fairly short distance away. Problem's began to arise almost immediately when it became apparent the ship was well over capacity. Panic set in as the passengers began to realize that there was a problem with the ship, and thus, a mad dash for the side began. Too many people went to one side of the ship too quickly causing the ship to bank hard on its side before turning completely over, plunging passengers and crew into the river below.

The scene was one of absolute panic as those in the water frantically tried to reach the shore, while others were still trapped inside the flipped ship. Bystanders and rescue crews did their best to help save as many as they could, but tragically, 844 souls were lost on that fateful morning.

Following the disaster, reports of paranormal activity began to circulate. Passersby would claim to hear disembodied voices pleading for help. Apparitions would appear in the water, before vanishing altogether.

Today, over 100 years later, the site of the Eastland Disaster still has paranormal activity. Bright orbs, disembodied voices, apparitions in period clothing and more have all been reported as recently as last year.

If you visit during the day, it would be next to impossible to notice anything paranormal with the nonstop action that occurs in downtown Chicago. But, at night, very late at night, the odds of witnessing something paranormal increase dramatically. I have been to this location many times over the years. One time, during a ghost tour several years back, we stopped at the bank of the Chicago River where the Eastland met her fate, and witnessed what can only be described as supernatural. There were what sounded like cries coming from the river, but no one was there. One woman on the tour swore she saw a lady in an antiquated dress staring back at her, while another captured a photo full of large bright orbs. Everyone seemed to experience something different, although we were all within a few feet of one another. Was it paranormal, or were our minds playing tricks on us? It's hard to tell. But with the tragic history of the site, it's not a far fetched theory to believe the spirits are still hanging around.

The next time you're in Chicago, take a moment to check out the site of the Eastland Disaster. Maybe you too will experience something unexplainable.

New York Times image courtesy of the Library of Congress

(1915, August 1) The New York times. Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

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