Haunted History – The SS Eastland disaster and the spirits that linger in its wake

I wanted to tell you guys about the worst luxury liner disasters of all time! If you’re thinking Titanic, think again!

The SS Eastland disaster killed more passengers than the Titanic and the Lucetania combined! This madness went down on July 24th 1915 but there are plenty of ghostly remnants still vividly present today.

The SS Eastland was docked and ready to take off on its next journey at 7:18 a.m. that morning.  The gangplank was being hauled in just as a late crew member shows up, he had to jump from the wharf in order to board. 2,573 passengers and crew were waiting to be taken to a park that was only 38 miles away, across Lake Michigan. There was a massive event planned for that day, 7000 tickets had been sold and the Eastland was 1 of 5 ships that had been chartered to carry the guests to the party.

The Eastland was the first boat scheduled to leave.  At a few minutes after 7 a.m., men, women and children were boarding at the rate of 50 per minute. The weather had begun to turn and it was starting to drizzle.  Despite the fact that there was a band on deck to entertain them, most of the passengers boarded and went directly below. Between 7:10 and 7:15 a.m., the boat was holding a lot of folks, it began to list to port, away from the wharf.  At 7:23, it listed even further and water began to pour through the open gangways and into the engine room.  The crew there, realized what was fixing to happen, so they start hauling ass up a ladder to the main deck.

At 7:28 a.m., the Eastland listed to a 45-degree angle. The piano on the promenade deck rolled to the port wall, almost crushing two women; a refrigerator slid to port, pinning a couple of woman beneath it. Water was pouring into open portholes in the cabins below. The most deadly shipwreck in Great Lakes history was under way.

By 7:30 a.m., the Eastland was lying on its side in 20 feet of murky water, still tied to the dock. Everything happened so fast there was no time to launch the lifesaving equipment. As the boat started settling on its side, many passengers were able to just climb over the starboard railing and stand on the hull.  Those lucky bastards never even got their feet wet. But, a lot of the folks on the upper deck were hurled off.  The water was filled with terrified passengers, some struggling, some drowning and some already dead.  A local reporter who was present for this nightmare said that dead infants were floating around like corks.

Everyone near the wharf joined forces to help, by 8 am all of the survivors had been pulled from the water.  The local hospital was overcrowded with wounded, local department stores sent blankets and the surrounding restaurants were showing up with soup and coffee.  Anyone that drove by the site was flagged down and having the less wounded loaded of the victims loaded into their cars.  They were then asked to take them home, not one of them said no.  But then, it was time to begin the gruesome task of retrieving the dead, most of which were women and children.

There were so many corpses that they were having to be hauled to the surrounding buildings, one of them was the Second Regiment Armory.  Corpses were being lined up in rows, 85 deep, just under 850 people perished that day.

Could you imagine being one of the souls that belonged to them.  I could imagine them standing there in shock from such a traumatic death.  Don’t you just know that some of them lingered near their bodies long enough to see their mourning family come and identify them!  Oh, and let’s not forget about the pick pockets and thieves that made their rounds.  As if it’s not enough to have your life snatched away so quickly, these souls were being tormented further even after their passing.

So, now that we know what went down, let’s talk about the souls that still linger from this disaster today.

What was once the Armory is now Harpo studios, sound familiar?  Harpo is owned by Oprah Winfrey, and is the studio from where she films her show.  This joint is definitely haunted!

There was a security guard that worked for Harpo for 3 years that told a reporter: “I can say for sure that there are spirits walking the halls.” He gave several examples. He said that one night while he was at work, he got a call from this chick that was there working late. She tells the guard that there were people outside her door laughing. She was freaking out when she called. So, the guard hauls ass to get to her but of course, he sees no one standing around outside her door.  The chick was still frantic.  She admitted to him that she had opened the door before he got there to see what was going on.  When she did, there was no one there but the laughing and talking didn’t stop.

Other folks have reported some pretty crazy experiences here as well.  Some say that they’ve heard mournful sobbing, whispering, the sound of old time music and marching footsteps of a large crowd.  Doors are known to slam shut without anyone being around and there is a specter that has been seen by several people as well as recorded on the security camera.  She’s been nicknamed the Gray Lady.  She’s seen wearing a floor length dress and an old fashioned hat, just like the women were wearing back in July 1915.  Some employees here have also reported hearing a woman crying in the bathroom and there’s a little girl who suddenly appears near the vending machines.

Another spot where the ghosts of the Eastland are rumored to haunt is a nearby nightclub named Excalibur.  The building was originally constructed for the Chicago Historical Society in 1892.  Some people think that Eastland victims were brought here, as well as the armory.

In 1997, a segment of the television show, “Sightings”, was filmed at Excalibur, featuring host Tim White, a local ghosthunter, and a psychic.  Tim heard a child’s voice say, “Stop and watch me.”

Excalibur employees have also heard the voices of children crying and some have seen a little girl looking over the railing in the Dome Room.  Adult apparitions have been seen in the club as well, one of them is a white-tuxedo clad figure.  I’m thinking that this is the spirit of a crewman.  There is also a bluish-colored mist that is seen floating up the stairs. There have been multiple reports of people being pushed down stairs and over railings by an invisible force here.  And this is really crazy, there’s this one candle hanging high up on a wall, high enough that it can’t be reached without a ladder, that has a strange habit of lighting itself.

Now in all fairness, Excalibur wasn’t only affected by being involved in the Eastland incident. This joint has had it’s own share of trauma and tragedy. The building was supposedly built to be fireproof, but back during the Great Chicago fire, there was a group of women who sought refuge in the building thinking they’d be safe.  Yeah, they burned alive in there.  There was also a wealthy lawyer who bought the place, turned it into his mansion, then hung himself in the Dome Room.

Besides the Excalibur and Harpo Studios, there are plenty of folks that say they’ve spotted the spirits of the Eastland victims near, and beneath Clark bridge.  Locals and tourists alike have reported seeing bodies of the drowned passengers floating, then sinking, in the water beneath the bridge.


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