An eyewitness to the Eastland tragedy

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This is the story of George A. Goyett [great-grandfather of Hauser Junior High music teacher Patty Gill], who went down with the "Eastland" and was rescued. Mr. Goyett, who is foreman of department 4930, Hawthorne Plant Department, was accompanied by his three sons, all of whom were Hawthorne employees. The two older boys, Lyle, aged 20, and Frank, aged 18, were toolmaking apprentices; they were both saved. The youngest, Charlie, aged 16, was lost. He was an office boy in department 2025. The account below is given as Mr. Goyett told it, at the Hawthorne hospital, on July 29th [1915].

 

We got down to the dock rather early. I remember looking at a big clock on a warehouse across the river, as I came out on deck, and noticing that it was just ten minutes past seven. Even then, twenty minutes before sailing time, it was hard to get a good place. I didn't bother to go to the upper decks at all, as I had noticed when we got on that they seemed pretty full. Lyle, the oldest of the boys, stayed downstairs, outside on the dock side of the main deck, talking to some friends. Frank, Charlie, and myself went up to the second deck. Frank went outside, just above where Lyle was standing, on the dock side of the boat. Later, when the boat began to capsize, they simply held on to the rail and climbed out on the upturned side of the boat.

Charlie and I went forward to the ladies' saloon, up in the bow. Charlie went downstairs again, and I went outside to try and find a seat. The dock side and front of the deck were, I knew, so crowded as to be out of the question, so I went around on the river side. It was almost full here.

There were two solid line of occupied chairs, one against the rail and one against the side, down the whole length of the boat; the space between these was filled with people standing and walking around. Seeing that there was no use trying to sit outside, I went back into the saloon. Charlie, who had come upstairs again, was carrying around a little handbag, in which were our bathing suits, towels, and some odds and ends. I told him to take it down to the cloak room and check it, to get it out of the way. "You boys look me up when we get to Michigan City," I told him, "and we'll all have dinner together."

He went below with the bag. I never saw him again.

There was a chair over by the stairway, on the river side, so I went over; it looked like a pretty good spot, so I sat down. Opposite me was Wolcott, foreman of department 4910, with his wife and a friend of hers. They were sitting with their backs to the glass partition that separated the deck and saloon. Just then Miss Kathleen MacIntyre came in, with her mother and little brother. I told Miss MacIntyre to hold my place by the stairs, and went out on the forward deck to get chairs for the rest of her party. When I came back, we all sat down together. There were several other people around that I knew, and we had quite a little group.

I had just about sat down when the boat began to list. It went over so far that my chair slid away from the stair rail, against which I was leaning. I didn't pay much attention to this -- simply pushed my chair back again.

Then the Eastland began to go over in earnest. I caught hold of one of the stair posts and managed to keep from sliding.

I looked over to where the people had been sitting on the dock side of the saloon and outer deck.

What I saw was exactly what you see when you watch a lot of children rolling down the side of a hill. That entire crowd of men, women and children came slipping and sliding and sprawling down with a mass of lunch boxes, milk bottles, chairs -- rubbish of all sort -- on top of them. They came down in a floundering, screaming mass, and, as the boat turned completely over on its side, crashed into the stairs, carrying them away. The whole thing came down on me, of course, and I was carried down to the river side of the saloon, which by this time was full of water. I happened to fall against one of the posts between the glass partitions; otherwise I would have gone right down to the river bottom. Just as I slid down I managed to retain enough presence of mind of jam a handkerchief in my mouth, to keep from swallowing any water. I lay doubled up there, unable to move, for what seemed years, until the water had risen high enough to float the wreckage off me. I probably owe my life to the fact that a chair was jammed in above me which saved me from being crushed under the weight of the others who had fallen down.

I don't remember being frightened -- there wasn't time. I know that I was absolutely sure that I was going to be drowned. There didn't seem to be the slightest hope of my being able to get out alive. It sounds like a joke to say that I remembered everything wrong that I had ever done in my past life; that is supposed to be a myth that is always told about drowning people. But that is exactly what happened to me.

At last the pressure began to ease up, and I was able to come up to the surface and keep afloat by treading water. The air pressure in the saloon was fearful, and it was some time before I could breathe properly.

The boat was lying on its port or left side. Consequently, as I floated facing the dock, I had the glass partition forming the starboard wall of the saloon over my head, the ceiling in back of me, the port side and the river bottom under me, and the saloon deck in front of me. I worked my way back until I bumped into the saloon ceiling. This consisted mainly of life preserver racks, so I managed to get my feet on one of the cleats, and, holding on to another, was able to keep my head out of water without treading.

I looked around the saloon. Several people were floating around, alive. Among them were five of our girls. I called to them, and they managed to get over to where I was. By resting their hands on my shoulders they were all able to keep afloat without much exertion; they kept remarkably cool. In fact, the only person who had lost self-control was a poor woman to my left, who was also clinging to the life-preserver racks. Her child had fallen out of her arms when the boat went over, and was somewhere down under the wreckage. She was frantic, and kept screaming, "Where's my baby! Where's my baby!"

Over toward the stairs I caught sight of Wolcott with his wife. I called out to him, "Tom, are you hurt?"

"No, I'm all right," he answered, "she has a piece of railing to hang on to."

Just then the first of the rescuers found us. Someone stuck an oar through the porthole over our heads nearby. The woman who had lost her baby made a grab for it, missed it, and went down. I managed to grab her and get her back beside me, and tried to quiet her.

The only way the rescuers could get at us was by smashing the glass partition over our heads. Of course, all the jagged pieces of glass showered down of top of us, and several of us were cut -- I had one of my thumbs gashed; but it was the only thing to do.

They let a rope down with a loop on the end of it, and we threw it over the shoulders of the woman who had gone under before. She was the first one to be pulled out.

When all the women were out I must have caved in all at once. I remember hearing someone call down, "Come out yourself, George." I remember, too, trying to put the rope under my shoulders. I must have succeeded, for the next thing I remember is lying out on the side of the boat with an ambulance surgeon down beside me.

I tried to get up, but found that my right leg wouldn't hold me.

"How do you feel?" the surgeon asked me.

"Pretty good," I said, "but I can't walk."

The surgeon looked me over and said I had a dislocated knee. So a big policeman held on to my upper leg while the surgeon pulled on the lower and snapped the joint into place. It certainly felt fine after it got back! I felt perfectly well, and said I thought I'd go back and help get some of the other people out.

"Not much you won't," said the surgeon. And before I knew it they had me in an ambulance, on the way to the Iroquois Hospital.

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