Charles A. Vileta


..."I grabbed the porthole with both hands and held tight"...

"Let's take the second boat -- it's safer," Charles A. Vileta, a 23-year-old assembler at Western Electric company told his three buddies. But instead, they boarded the first boat, the Eastland. Of the four men, only Charles returned home alive.

The few seconds of merry making turned into Chicago's Greatest Tragedy. The four young bachelors who had met at work were below deck in the dancing room.

Charles strolled to watch latecomers from a porthole on dockside. In his pocket he carried the book Law of Biogenesis by J. Howard Moore. It discussed, ironically, the study of the development of human beings.

"Suddenly the boat tipped," said Charles. "I grabbed the porthole with both hands and held tight. Women and men were screaming. Water poured in the doors and whirlpooled my buddies down to the floor."

Only a dozen were left clinging to the boat when the water settled.

"For thirty minutes we waited there with water up to our shoulders," he said. "I shouted something to a group of women huddled over in the far corner. Then some men broke through the side of the ship, threw down a rope and we climbed out. My buddies were drowned."

Water soaked, but safe, Charles said that when he got outside he went to get the "first drink of whisky in my life." He then rode the Douglas Park "L" to his home.

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