WSW: Keeping The Memory Of The S.S. Eastland Alive 103 Years Later

Jul 16, 2018

The S.S. Eastland passing the St. Joseph North Pier, circa 1914.
Credit Courtesy of the Heritage Museum & Cultural Center.

Actor Terry Lynch says his one man production tells the story of some of the people who died when the S.S. Eastland capsized 103 years ago, but he also wanted to tell the stories of survivors.

The Eastland is the deadliest shipwreck in Great Lakes history. 844 died as the ship was getting ready to leave Chicago for Michigan City Indiana July 24, 1915. Lynch will present his one man production Just 20 Feet From Safety: The Story of the S.S. Eastland Thursday July 19th at 6:30p.m. at the Heritage Museum and Cultural Center in St. Joseph.

Lynch and wife research historical events and people. Then he presents a lecture in character. Often he portrays well known figures such as Benjamin Franklin. For his presentation about the S.S. Eastland, Lynch portrays a fictional character based on a distant relative of his wife who was supposed to be on the Eastland that day. Lynch says she wasn’t able to get on the boat, so she was spared, but some friends died that day. Lynch changed the gender of the character, but kept the name “Ollie.”

Actor Terry Lynch as Ollie Sanders
Credit HFK Presents

The title 20 Feet From Safety highlights the dangers for the Eastland. Lynch says after the Titanic sank in 1912, there was a movement to make sure there were enough lifeboats for everyone on board. He says the life boats made the ship top heavy, so the time when the ship left the dock was the most dangerous for the Eastland. In the open water it would move fine, but navigating a top heavy ship as it was leaving port was difficult. 

To mark the 100th anniversary three years ago, Lynch and his wife developed the production about the Eastland. Lynch says he met with the family of woman who survived Eastland. She couldn’t swim, but got a life preserver and survived. Lynch says he found the woman’s name did more research, and her story is now part of the play.