Blog Entries from 2011-2012 Season
Posted June 5th, 2012 by Stephanie Shum|
By Alberta Adamson, President & CEO, Eastland Fellowship Authority Center for History, Wheaton, IL
Drizzling rain did not hamper the spirits of the picnickers boarding the S.S. Eastland heading to Western Electricâ€™s annual picnic in Michigan City, Indiana on July 24, 1915.Â The Hawthorne Club at the Western Electric plant in Cicero organized the event and sold 7,000 tickets to employees for their family and friends.Â Everyone anticipated a day filled with games, food, swimming, relaxation, and fun. Parents held their childrenâ€™s hands as they walked through the crowded decks and looked for a place to sit.Â For some this would be their first boat ride which raised the expectation of a day to remember.Â Five boats were chartered but the Eastland, the largest, was the first scheduled to depart at 7:30 a.m. Â Ticket takers counted 2,500 eager passengers before raising the gangplank and directing people to the other steamers. Â
The band was playing on a lower deck and guys and gals danced as the boat swayed back and forth.Â It was a remarkable scene filled with gaiety and anticipation.Â As the steamer was getting ready to depart, the ship listed to port and then to starboard but seemed to right herself.Â Passengers were not concerned until she listed to port again and things started to fall. Within two minutes the Eastland was resting on the floor of the Chicago River.Â Pandemonium broke out â€“ people screaming and jumping into the river, others tightly holding on to their children, and some were climbing over the deck railing to the side of the ship which had risen out of the water.Â Those below were grabbing onto whatever they could to keep their heads above the water.Â A few managed to slip out of 18â€ť port-holes resting above the water.Â Eventually grasps gave way and many were lost in the depths of the ship decks before divers and welders could save them.Â Bystanders were tossing items into the river hoping these would keep someone afloat. Â Individuals were diving in the river to rescue as many as possible.
In the end 844 people perished including 22 entire families.Â Temporary morgues were setup and the task of identifying loved ones was overwhelming.Â Spouses were lost, children became orphans, and parents cried over the loss of their children.Â Some families rejoiced in the safe return of loved ones while mourning the loss of other family members.Â Many families lost their only source of income.Â The capsizing of the S.S. Eastland marked the greatest loss of life in Chicago or the Great Lakes.
Chicago jumped into action to help from rescue efforts to raising funds. Within two weeks $350,000 was raised for the relief of those families in need.Â Businesses helped in many ways, for instance Marshall Fields sent blankets to cover the victims and warm those pulled from the river.Â Storefronts and hotels opened their doors as shelters and medical stations. Â Phone lines were installed and lists of victims and survivors were complied and forwarded to the switch board operators at the plant in Cicero.
Western Electric provided compensation to the families by establishing two funds.Â One was to help with the funeral expenses including cemetery plots and even a new suit if necessary.Â The other provided funds for food and everyday expenditures.Â The company gave needed medical care and inoculated over 200 people against typhoid, and adopted a policy of favoring victimsâ€™ relatives in application for employment.
Czech, Polish, German, Italian, and Swedish immigrants were among the nationalities employed at the Western Electric plant in Cicero. Individual ethnic groups responded and offered assistance. Organizations such as the Masons and Eastern Star aided with the financial burden of burying the victims as well as supporting and comforting families.Â An Eastern Star member attended numerous funerals and wrote, â€śIt rained all week at all burials.Â It seemed as if the heaven was weeping too.â€ťÂ
Newspapers across the country reported on this horrific incident with some sensationalism, such as 1,200 people dead, or 300 still missing.Â Nonetheless, newspapers were the best source of information and quickly the number of victims was reduced.Â Everyone wanted to know the cause of the disaster.Â Fault was wide spread and contributed to improper construction of the steamer, faulty equipment, negligence of the captain and engineer, graft and greed.Â Naturally, those involved cast the blame on to others.Â Testimonies were heard and recorded; insurance coverage was certainly not adequate so the families of the victims had to shoulder another burden.Â The possible causes leading to the S. S. Eastland rolling on its side have been defined yet still disputed.Â Some like to say she was simply a â€ścranky shipâ€ť and never should have sailed.Â Testimony proved she sailed for twelve years without incident if the water ballasts contained water.Â Who was responsible for the water ballasts and keeping the ship even keel is also debated.Â Trying to find the answer to why the S. S. Eastland capsized was never resolved.Â Even after almost twenty years of criminal and civil investigation no one was held responsible.
Regardless of the cause, the story of the Eastland Disaster should focus on the people who perished and their families, those who rescued so many survivors, and the businesses and organizations that offered assistance that fateful day.Â It truly is a story of a community coming together to pay respect to the victims and help the survivors.Â
About Alberta Adamson
Alberta Adamson is the President & CEO of the Center for History, a mid-size privately funded, history museum and education center.Â She started as a founding member of the Wheaton Historic Preservation Council in 1980.Â Her leadership led to the establishment of the Center in 1985 and its expansion including the Eastland Disaster Gallery in 2005, and Fairways, Greens & Clubs golf museum in 2006.Â Adamson's approach to "making history fun" and professional standards has earned the Center forty-nine awards from national, state and local organizations. She has a BA in Museum Management from DePaul University, earned the Certified Fund Raising Executive certification in 1998, and is a 1992 Seminar for Historic Administration alumnus.Â She is currently a board member of Illinois State Historical Society.Â She served on several history and community boards including the American Association for State & Local History.
Adamson has presented programs and sessions at several national conferences, developed numerous educational programs and exhibits.Â She researched and wrote We've Put The Past In Front Of You, an architectural tour of Wheaton, and was the Managing Editor of Recollections of the War of the Rebellion.Â Adamson was presented with a â€śLifetime Achievement Awardâ€ť from the Illinois State Historical Society in 2011.
The Center for Historyâ€™s interactive programs on slavery, abolition and Underground Railroad attract students from all over the greater Chicago area.Â Recently after attending a NO RIGHTS! The Injustices of Slavery program, a 5th grade student said, â€śThank you.Â This was much better than learning history out of booksâ€ť.Â Â Adamson said she is rewarded every time a student makes a comment like that.Posted December 16th, 2011 by erikschroeder
By Peter Morris
In 1945, many people were asking questions about major league baseballâ€™s color barrier. Most baseball executives responded defensively by pointing out that segregation permeated American society and asking â€śwhy should baseball be the one to take the lead?â€ť Branch Rickey looked at the situation and had a different question. â€śWhy shouldnâ€™t baseball right this wrong?â€ť wondered Rickey, and that different formulation of the question changed everything.
Few people today are aware that several African Americans played major league baseball in the nineteenth century. Indeed, in the heady days of Reconstruction that followed the Civil War, it looked as though people of color would be allowed to take their places alongside whites in most facets of American life. Instead Jim Crow reared its invidious head and by the end of the 1880s opportunities for African Americans within professional baseball had dwindled to a select few.
By the dawn of the new century the door had closed entirely and the major and minor leagues became almost exclusively lily-white. The only exceptions were a few Cubans who were described to those who raised eyebrows as being as white as the â€śpurest bars of Castilian soap.â€ť The best African-American ballplayers performed instead on barnstorming teams that bore such names as the Page Fence Giants, the Cuban Giants, and the Columbia Giants. It was a time when there were giants in the land â€“ figuratively, at least.
After World War I, the best African-American barnstorming teams began to form the leagues that have become collectively known as the Negro Leagues. These circuits were short on organization but long on talent. Stars such as Satchel Paige, Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, and Oscar Charleston were so brilliant, indeed, that touring African-American squads began to defeat teams of white major leaguers on a regular basis. A frustrated baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis finally banned entire major league teams from competing in such games, but the problem didnâ€™t go away. Exhibition games still pitted all-star squads drawn from the American and National leagues against African-American teams and the results continued to show the sides to be evenly matched. Each closely contested game raised the same nagging questions about the color barrier.
Major league executives responded to these inquiries with a variety of justifications. Some maintained that African Americans werenâ€™t good enough, but this was so palpably untrue that it fooled few. One popular approach was to contend that signing African Americans would kill the Negro Leagues, meaning that it was best for everyone to leave things as they were. Others expressed fear that violence was sure to ruin any attempt to integrate baseball. Still others argued that it wasnâ€™t fitting for baseball to get involved. As one sportswriter explained, baseball dugouts â€śseldom operated on the highest level of mental maturity,â€ť so they werenâ€™t â€śthe places to seek the answerâ€ť to a â€śgrave social question.â€ť
Whatever the excuse, the message to African-American ballplayers remained the same. As a result, the American and National leagues remained segregated through two world wars and the Great Depression. By 1945, there were few alive who could remember the days before major league diamonds became segregated. The unfairness of that situation became all the more evident when Jackie Robinson and the other African-American servicemen returned home after fighting to defend American freedom in World War II, only to find themselves denied the right to share in those liberties. As is demonstrated in Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting, Branch Rickey was acutely aware of both this shameful history and the objections that his fellow executives had raised. A year before signing Jackie Robinson, Rickey had warned that a poorly planned effort to integrate baseball could â€śthrow back their cause of racial equality a quarter century or more.â€ť Knowing the cost if his â€śgreat experimentâ€ť were to fail, the Dodgers general manager took considerable pains to determine that Jackie Robinson possessed both the physical ability and the character to succeed under very demanding circumstances. Rickey took similar care in arranging the details of Robinsonâ€™s entry into the National League in order to maximize the likelihood of a favorable outcome.
Yet in the end the most important thing that Rickey did was simply to look at a familiar question from a different vantage point. As long as baseballâ€™s leaders were content to look at the status quo and find ways to justify it, there was no chance for progress. â€śWe just accepted things the way they wereâ€ť was the later explanation of one of the many baseball managers who chose not to get involved. But when one instead asked â€śWhy shouldnâ€™t baseball take the lead,â€ť as Branch Rickey chose to do, the answer became self-evident.
Indeed what became clear was not only that it was appropriate for baseball to go first, but that it was absolutely essential for the national pastime to do so. Businesses could always deny an opportunity to African Americans by saying that they didnâ€™t have the experience that theyâ€™d been denied the chance to obtain. Schools could use similar grounds to exclude people of color and so could almost any institution. But baseball was different.
Baseball has never been about credentials â€“ a large part of its appeal lies in the principle that everyone gets a turn at bat to see what they can do. If you used to be able to perform brilliantly but canâ€™t do so any more, tough luck! But if you are able to use your at bat productively, thatâ€™s all that matters. The precise word for that state of affairs is a meritocracy, but the underlying principle of fairness is also a cornerstone of democracy. As a result, when Jackie Robinson finally got his long-overdue turn at bat and (literally) knocked the ball out of the park, one sportswriter recorded, â€śBaseball took up the cudgel for Democracy, and an unassuming, but superlative Negro boy ascended the heights of excellence to prove the rightness of the experiment. And prove it in the only correct crucible for such an experiment â€“ the crucible of white hot competition.â€ť
Branch Rickey recognized all of this and chose to act. We are all the beneficiaries of that decision, as is vividly brought to life in Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting.
About Peter Morris
Called â€śone of the most prolific living baseball researchersâ€ť by the New York Times, Peter Morris has written several books about the history of baseball, Baseball Fever, A Game of Inches, Level Playing Fields, But Didn't We Have Fun?, and Catcher: How the Man Behind the Plate Became an American Folk Hero. A frequent presenter at the annual conventions of the Society for American Baseball Research, he is one of the initial recipients of their Henry Chadwick Award.Posted November 16th, 2011 by J Nicole Brooks
Mr. Rickey Calls A Meeting highlights the moment that Jackie Robinson integrated Major League Baseball. With energy and forcefulness, the play looks at the terrible consequences of racism and the fierce debate over the meaning of integration within the Black community.
The story of Jackie Robinson is not only a valuable moment in American history, but it is also an irresistible drama. Growing up, I thought I had a pretty good idea of who Jackie Robinson was--a soft spoken, well mannered gentleman and a pretty good athlete. I knew that Jackie could run, hit and field--but what I didnâ€™t know, is that Jackie couldnâ€™t fight back. Paul Robeson was a renaissance man who could move audiences to tears with his oration and his song. But I didnâ€™t quite realize that he was an iconoclast who refused to turn the other cheek. These two men were heroes of mine, and I cannot deny I was biased because they happen be legends Baseball and Theatre--two of my great passions. I stand proudly on their shoulders, along with countless other Negro men and women who chose to speak up or in some cases chose to take a vow of silence in the name of freedom and independence. I am a beneficiary of their battle for civil liberties. I invite you to take this journey with me, to explore these men and their imperfections. In baseball it isnâ€™t who and what you are, itâ€™s whether you can play the game. And folks, Jackie played one hell of a game.
J. Nicole Brooks
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