Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Book Review: 'The Sinking of the Eastland' by Jay Bonansinga

✰✰✰✰½ When you think of famous ship disasters, the Titanic and the Lusitania are probably the two names that come to mind. However, there is another disaster that until recently has mostly been forgotten. The Eastland was an excursion boat on Lake Michigan with a reputation for being a bit cranky due to her design. Over the years she had had some near disasters, and the number of people she was allowed to carry was reduced. Her owners, however, were determined to raise her capacity in order to make more money. Thus, shortly before her fateful voyage, lifeboats were added and other changes were made.

On the morning of July 24, 1915, thousands of Western Electric employees and their families arrived at the Chicago riverfront to board several ships that would ferry them to the annual company picnic in Michigan City. While still sitting in port, the Eastland began to list. As thousands of horrified people watched, the ship capsized sending 844 men, women, and children to their untimely deaths. Using eyewitness accounts, first-hand testimony, photographs, and archived materials, author Jay Bonasinga has woven together a gripping tale of greed and tragedy.

The Bottom Line: This is a fast-paced read that focuses on a mostly forgotten tragedy in American history. By placing the spotlight on the lives of the passengers, crew members, rescue workers, and an undertaker, Bonansinga has retold the unimaginable horrors of the day with vivid imagery. Very highly recommended for nonfiction readers of American history, Chicago history, survival, shipwrecks, and other disasters.

Book Club Notes: Summer book club attendance is always lower due to scheduled vacations, but we had a good turnout to discuss this forgotten incident in our local history. Although several participants had grown up and attended schools in the Chicagoland area, most of us were not aware of this tragedy. We agreed that it's best to read the book a little bit at a time, otherwise it can be overwhelming. We also noted that as a work of narrative nonfiction. Thus, the author has taken some liberties with creating dialogues; however, the dialogues were believable. On a scale of 1 - 5, ratings from the group ranged from a low of 2 up to 4.5.

To supplement your book club, questions can be found at the Oswego Public Library District and the Galesburg Public Library. Additionally, several video clips are available, including the ones featured on Chicago Tonight. Lost footage is featured at gCaptain. For more information about the author, visit his website.

Details: The Sinking of the Eastland: America’s Forgotten Tragedy by Jay Bonansinga. Hardcover published by Citadel Press in 2004. 320 p. ISBN: 0-8065-2628-9

No comments: