Eastland Disaster of 1915 / Open Lines

Eastland Disaster of 1915 / Open Lines

Date

HostRichard Syrett

GuestsNatalie Zett, Open Lines

During the first half of Friday's show, guest host Richard Syrett (Twitter) welcomed author Natalie Zett, who discussed the tragedy of the SS Eastland passenger ship in 1915, and how her great aunt guided her during the writing of a book about it. The passengers aboard the ship were working-class people from Western Electric's Hawthorne Works in Cicero, Illinois, Zett reported. Her grandmother was an employee of Hawthorne Works and should have been aboard the ship the day it capsized, but she was pregnant and gave her ticket to her younger sister, Martha Pfeiffer (Zett's great aunt). Zett admitted she wrote the book, Flower in the River, to bring attention to the tragedy as well as the story of her great aunt.

The death of Pfeiffer adversely affected Zett's grandmother and the "trauma traveled down to me and my sister... we could feel it even though we didn't know it," she continued. Zett described a strange experience she had at a hotel in La Crosse, Wisconsin, on her way to Chicago to investigate her family's history and the Eastland disaster. "I began feeling uneasy, I began feeling like I wasn't alone... I began to sense a presence," she recalled, noting there was a humming at the hotel that was "inside of me [and] outside of me."

Zett spoke about visiting the cemetery where her great aunt was buried and the coincidence of parking next to her headstone, though she initially roamed the grounds looking for it. At the gravesite, she closed her eyes and was transported to a living room where her great aunt and other family members were sitting. Zett believes she connected with her great aunt on this journey. "She came to me, and I was not a believer, but as I paid attention to her, she seemed to return the favor," Zett revealed.

The remainder of the program featured Open Lines.

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