Thursday, January 29, 2015

Safety Laws Can Kill Ya...!

At some point we have all stopped and wondered just why some rules supposedly designed to make us safe, turned out to be deadly to someone.

If rules can be followed safely, then that's the way to go. If the rules themselves pose a danger to folks...then I say they need to be studied a little more. Maybe by someone with a little common sense!

The Maritime Safety Law That Killed Hundreds Of People
By Larry Jimenez on Wednesday, January 28, 2015


In the wake of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, the US passed the Seamen’s Act which required ships to be fitted with adequate lifeboats. The passenger ship SS Eastland was retrofitted to accommodate the lifeboats, but this added more weight to the already top-heavy vessel. The inevitable disaster that followed ironically killed more passengers on Eastland than on the Titanic, in a catastrophe not out on the open sea, but on an urban river, a mere stone’s throw from the dock.

Launched in 1903, the steamer Eastland plied its route between Chicago and picnic sites on the shores of Lake Michigan. It had an initial capacity of 650 people, but a design overhaul in 1913 allowed it to take on 2,500 passengers. It was then that a naval architect issued a note of warning that Eastland had structural problems that put it in danger of listing and recommended remedial measures to prevent an accident. Eastland lacked a keel and had only poorly designed ballast tanks in its hold to keep it from overturning. The modifications, which also increased the boat’s speed, made it even less balanced. Eastland behaved like a bicycle, unstable when in the dock but steady when underway.

Two close calls in 1904 and 1906 earned Eastland a reputation as a “hoodoo boat.” Now, only one factor was needed to trigger a horrific disaster—additional weight. In a tragic irony, a maritime safety law would provide the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In the aftermath of the sinking of the RMS Titanic in 1912, a “lifeboats for all” campaign was launched by international maritime officials. In March 1915, President Woodrow Wilson signed into law the LaFollette Seaman’s Act requiring ships to provide lifeboats to 75 percent of their passengers. Lawmakers never considered warnings that Great Lakes vessels were not built to hold the extra weight.

Eastland complied with the law and was equipped with a full complement of 11 lifeboats (it was designed to carry only six) and 37 life rafts of 500 kilograms (1,100 lb) each, and enough life jackets to ensure the safety of all passengers and crew. The stage was set.

On the fateful day of July 24, 1915, employees of the Western Electric Company and their families were headed out on the lake for an annual picnic. In a festive mood, 2,573 passengers and crew jammed the Eastland at its dock on the Chicago River. Bands played as friends and acquaintances greeted each other. No one seemed alarmed when the ship began to list to port. Some reports recalled that a crowd gathered on one side of the boat to pose for a photograph. At 7:28 AM, Eastland listed 45 degrees. An engineer desperately attempted to stabilize the vessel by opening one of the ballast tanks. Too late. Eastland rolled over as it was moored just 6 meters (20 ft) from the wharf, in water only 6 meters deep, trapping hundreds of men, women, and children underneath the bowels of the ship. So sudden was the movement there was no time to launch the lifesaving equipment.

Some lucky passengers simply walked across the hull of the overturned vessel to reach dry land, not even getting their feet wet. But for many more, the day became a nightmare of screams and struggle against a drowning death. Onlookers on the riverfront jumped into the water to help or threw whatever they could for flotation into the mass of drowning humanity.

Rescuers were able to pull 40 people out alive. But for 844 others, nothing could be done but recover the bodies and take them to the Second Regiment Armory for identification. Twenty-two entire families had perished. Most of the dead were under the age of 25. Though more passengers died on the Eastland than on the Titanic (excluding crew), it remains an obscure event in the public’s mind. “There wasn’t anyone rich or famous onboard,” explains Ted Wacholz, president of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society. “It was all hardworking, salt-of-the-earth immigrant families.”

I had never heard about this particular disaster until I found the article on KnowledgeNuts. Very, very sad!

Once more we are having coffee out on the patio. Upper 70s again today!


Gorges Smythe said...

Another reason we never heard of it was that the government probably tried to keep it hushed, since it was partly to blame.

Chickenmom said...

Such a sad story. So many lives lost because of rules and regulations.
Send some of that nice warmth up north to Joisey. It's -5 degrees here!

linda m said...

That is a new one for me and I live just 90 miles north of Chicago. Guess my history teachers just plain forgot to tell us about that one. If you have some warm weather to spare I'll take a degree or two. It is solid ice here this morning - I can't even get outside, way to slippery for this old gal.

Hermit's Baby Sis said...

Bubba -
I, too had never heard this story, but your headline seems correct. Sorta what our PTB are doing to us today, huh? Don't fix it until you can fix it right, and oh, well, I'll just shut up now. I'll take a seat on the swing on enjoy the company on the patio.....

Dizzy-Dick said...

Wow!! Again and again you come up with such fantastic history. Keep it up Jim, we love it!!

JO said...

Never heard this story either. What a disaster so very sad so many lives gone in and instant.

We are gearing up for a big storm here tonight and into tomorrow. Lightening, thunder and lots of rain. Already clouding up and chance of some rain today.

HermitJim said...

Hey Gorges...
I think you are right about that!

Thanks for coming by today!

Hey Phyllis...
Some rules seem to be very dangerous, that's for sure!

Tanks for coming by today!

Hey Linda M...
Makes you wonder why it wasn't taught in the local history, doesn't it?

Thanks for dropping by today!

Hey Sis...
Seems like this should have been a much larger story than it was, doesn't it?

I appreciate the visit today!

Hey Dizzy...
I'm glad that you liked it.Always something interesting in our history to talk about, if we can find it!

Thanks for stopping by today!

Hey Jo...
It could have been prevented and that's the truly sad part!

Thanks, sweetie, for dropping by today!