The Wreck of the Eastland
Jul, 1915
Early on the morning of July 24, 1915 the third worst disaster in U.S. maritime history occurred when the passenger ship Eastland overturned in about twenty feet of water next to the dock on the Chicago River. The ship, which had a reputation for being unstable, had about 2,500 people on board and about 844 died. The enormous loss of life led to federal and state criminal charges including criminal conspiracy and resulted in civil litigation. Clarence Darrow defended the ship's Chief Engineer, Joseph Erickson. Darrow's defense was based on the theory that the ship must have been resting on an underwater obstruction. During the course of the federal trial this was proven not to be true. In February 1916 a federal judge found the defendants not guilty of criminal conspiracy to operate an unsafe ship. Erickson died in April 1919 before he could face state criminal charges. Civil litigation dragged on for twenty years before the final lawsuit was decided in 1935. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, LC-USZ62-126620.