On the morning of July 24th, 1915, local workers and their families boarded the S.S. Eastland in downtown Chicago. The Eastland was slated to travel to Michigan City, Indiana for a long awaited company picnic.
The ship, topheavy from the weight of the individuals and lifeboats, began to sway back and forth and eventually capsized in the Chicago River.
844 people died in the ensuing tragedy, mostly immigrants and low wage workers under the age of 25. Many drowned, weighed down by heavy clothing. Those trapped below deck suffocated or suffered fatal injuries from falling debris.
Despite one of the largest death tolls of any event in the continental United States, the Eastland Disaster has largely been forgotten.
How do you write a piece of music about 844 people dying one hundred years ago? We can find the names of the dead but we cannot fathom their stories. That number is just too large. And yet we must try. This is something of the utmost importance.
This is a peculiar requiem. We come here to reflect on a tragedy that we did not witness. Pay respects for people we did not know. Our requiem isn’t necessarily about praising God, begging for mercy, or wishing a safe journey for the departed. It might be, though. It also might be about collective memory - about the history books that never mentioned the Eastland, about how quickly and easily we can forget.
One hundred years ago 844 people drown in the river.
Let us pay our respects to the dead.
Let us remember something that none of us have seen.
Let us take better care of each other.
Let us take better care.
“I see a dozen Eastlands
Every morning on my way to work
And a dozen more going home at night”
released November 14, 2016
Composed by the Suburban Piano Quartet — Nadine Dyskant-Miller, Clay Gonzalez, Perry Maddox, Corey Smith.
Performed and recorded by Sonya Belaya, Zan Berry, Travis Blume, Daniel Braunstein, Nadine Dyskant-Miller, Rachel Epperly, Peter Felsman, Rachael Gingerich, Clay Gonzalez, Alison Hendricks, Lincoln Herring, Wesley Hornpetrie, Thomas Kratofil, Rita Lee, Perry Maddox, David Magumba, Tsukumo Niwa, Rebekah Marcella Rinckey, Karl Ronneburg, Rebecca Rosen, Corey Smith, Ben Willis, Phoebe Wu.
Recorded, engineered and produced by Peter Littlejohn, Mac Porter, and Sam Schaefer.
Commissioned by The McCormick Bridgehouse and Chicago River Museum. Requiem in Water premiered at the Bridgehouse Museum on October 19th, 2015.
Recorded in Ann Arbor, Michigan on December 10th, 2015.