Career Calling

July 25, 2015

Valuing the Lives of Working People

 

On July 24, 1915, Western Electric, a company in suburban Chicago, held an outing for it workers.  They were to be taken aboard the SS Eastland for a trip from Chicago to Michigan City, Indiana.  The boat never left the Chicago River.  It was poorly engineered and began rock.  Frightened passengers shifted to one side of the boat, and it capsized.  Of the 2,500 passengers on board, 844 drowned, several complete families.  In an editorial to commemorate the 100 year anniversary of the this tragedy, the Chicago Sun-Times asked why this disaster never received the attention of the Titanic.  It concluded that part of the reason is social class:  “The Titanic carried many passengers in society’s top tier, while most of the those who died in the Eastland were factory workers and their relatives, many of them immigrants.”  We value the lives more of the rich and famous.  Robin Leach taught us that.  Long before him, Edwin Arlington Robinson explored the same theme in his poem “Richard Cory.”  I’ve been to the section of Bohemian National Cemetery where several victims of the Eastland disaster are buried.  It’s shocking to look at gravestones and see the names of parents and children who all died on the same day.  As the Sun-Times pointed out, their lives had value and their deaths were tragic.  We need to remember that when we hear politicians demean those who work low wage jobs, including the immigrants who often do work we exceptional Americans refuse to do.

 

A headstone from Bohemian National Cemetery marking a couple who died on the Eastland:

bohemian Cemetary 030

 

July 2, 2012

Sabbath, July 1, 2012

[On Sundays, this blog looks beyond careers and work in “Sabbath.”]

A Forgotten Tragedy Inspires a Great New Play

Chicago’s Lookingglass Theatre Company has a history of producing original, inventive work.  Its latest production Eastland, A New Musical follows in that tradition and might even raise the bar.  The play is based on a 1915 disaster in Chicago in which a tour boat capsized in the Chicago River, killing over 400 people.  While the play is based on this historical event, it dives much deeper into what happened to the people who died on the ship, their lives before the tragedy, and its meaning on an individual level.

I saw this play a few hours ago.  Normally, I’m not a fan of musicals.  However, author Andrew White and his musical partners Andre Pluess and Ben Sussman write lyrics and tunes that never call undue attention to themselves.  Instead, they are fully integrated into the play and add to its power.

There is no one dominant character in this play.  The tragedy affects all equally, victims, survivors, and characters who were not on the ship, such as an undertaker who cannot believe the number of corpses or a firefighter who is indignant with the ship’s captain and his excuses.  White juxtaposes scenes on the sunken ship with those that occurred earlier in the characters’ lives, which helps us understand the pain, joy, and hope they felt before they boarded the Eastland.

I can’t recommend this play highly enough.  It is thoughtful and powerful in reminding us how one day can change everything.

Postscript: Eastland  has been extended through August 19 – if you’re in or near Chicago, go see this play.  If you’re not near Chicago, plan a trip – see this play!

A novel that I read recently Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann follows a similar plot structure, building its story around the day Philippe Petit walked on a tightrope between the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center.  If you don’t see the play, read this book.  Better still, do both.