Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Bon Voyage (09/05/05)
TITLE: Dearest Diary
By Sandra Petersen
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Mum and Daddy sent me straight to bed. After the events of the day, they presumed me exhausted.
How can I sleep after seeing and hearing all that I have today? If I were to dream, I fear I would imagine myself entangled in the mass of dead and dying that even now are being rescued or removed from the Chicago River.
I wished to set down in writing my memories of this day, lest time should dim the horror I felt. Perhaps I can find release from my sorrow in doing so.
Our Hawthorne Works facility was abuzz with excitement for weeks before the annual Western Electric picnic. Although there were rumors that anyone not attending would lose his or her job, my father had expressly forbidden me to attend. He said there were too many young eligible men planning to go. Mum could not agree.
“Isn’t there any way we can allow Margaret to go?” my mother asked.
Daddy paused, drawing from his pipe and exhaling the smoke slowly, before responding.
“Now, Gertie,” he finally said, “Remember the Tribune articles about that ship. They call it ‘The Greyhound of the Lakes’, but the paper says it has a reputation of listing. What if the Eastland should sink with our Maggie aboard?”
My mother persisted. “What if we sent her with Anna and her mother and requested that they board one of the other ships going to Michigan City?”
I was sent to bed, praying that Daddy would listen to Mum’s voice of reason. God answered my prayer, for the next morning, arrangements were made for Mrs. Verilla to accompany me.
In great anticipation, I paid for my boarding ticket and hugged Anna, my best friend and coworker. We talked about the picnic several times until the day of the festivities.
Dressed in our nicest cotton shirtwaists and skirts, we met at 6:00 to go to the harbor. We were swept toward the Clark Street dock by a throng of fellow employees eager to be the first to board. Above me loomed one of the ships to be loaded. Sleek in design and newly outfitted with additional life rafts and lifeboats, the Eastland seemed beautiful to my inexperienced eyes. Anna seemed equally awestruck, but her mother was frowning. She took our hands in hers, hesitated, and tried to turn back.
“Step lively, now,” a person behind us commanded, and other passengers pushed us forward.
Mrs. Verilla reluctantly led us to the gangway where one man took our tickets and another marked our boarding on a counter.
We made our way to the side of the ship facing the dock. From there, I could see the gangway being raised.
“I think we’re about to cast off,” Anna exclaimed. “Oh, Mother, can’t I go to the other side to watch the river?”
Her mother, pale and tight-lipped, nodded. “Do you want to go with her?” she asked me as her daughter hurried away.
“No, ma’am,” I answered. “This ship feels like it’s swaying side to side. I’ll just stay with you, if you don’t mind.”
From the Clark Street Bridge, a man called out, “Get off!”
The ship began to capsize even as passengers mocked him.
People and deck furniture slid in a tangled mass toward the river. Some scrambled onto the exposed hull.
“Anna!” Mrs. Verilla screamed. In shock, I watched as she fell toward the murky waters.
The horror of bodies clustered on the water’s surface, some trying desperately to reach anything that would keep them afloat, are memories that will not be easily swept away. Children as well as adults drowned before my very eyes. As we who survived waited atop the hull for rescue, we heard pounding from inside.
People were still alive in there! Several minutes passed before men with oxygen torches arrived. To our wonderment, the captain attempted to stop the rescuers from using their torches to open the hull. He was arrested. People still alive were helped out of those holes.
The Kenosha, a workboat, arrived to aid in rescue. We were led to the Kenosha, across its deck, and onto the dock. From there I watched until I could bear no more.
Tomorrow, Mum and Daddy will bring me to the makeshift morgue so I can identify some of my fellow employees. I pray that Anna and her mother escaped, but I know deep within, they perished. I pray God helps me find them. Until tomorrow.
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