On July 24, 1915, Western Electric, a company in suburban Chicago, held an outing for it workers. They were to be taken aboard the SS Eastland for a trip from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana. The boat never left the Chicago River. It was poorly engineered and began rock. Frightened passengers shifted to one side of the boat, and it capsized. Of the 2,500 passengers on board, 844 drowned, several complete families. In an editorial to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the this tragedy, the Chicago Sun-Times asked why this disaster never received the attention of the Titanic. It concluded that part of the reason is social class: "The Titanic carried many passengers in society's top tier, while most of the those who died in the Eastland were factory workers and their relatives, many of them immigrants." We value the lives more of the rich and famous. Robin Leach taught us that. Long before him, Edwin Arlington Robinson explored the same theme in his poem "Richard Cory." I've been to the section of Bohemian National Cemetery where several victims of the Eastland disaster are buried. It's shocking to look at gravestones and see the names of parents and children who all died on the same day. As the Sun-Times pointed out, their lives had value and their deaths were tragic. We need to remember that when we hear politicians demean those who work low wage jobs, including the immigrants who often do work we exceptional Americans refuse to do.
A headstone from Bohemian National Cemetery marking a couple who died on the Eastland: