Thomas Zahradnik (Gardner)

Queen of Heaven

...was able to save himself and another man...

Thomas Zahradnik was a magnet hardener specialist at Western Electric. He sometimes went by the last name of Gardner, as Zahradnik means "gardener" in Czech, and Gardner was easier to pronounce for some of the Western Electric employees of many different ethnicities.

At the time of the Eastland Disaster, Thomas was married and had five children, yet all of the women in the family decided not to attend the Western Electric Picnic. Thomas' eldest daughter was to be married in a couple of weeks and the women were busy putting finishing touches on the dresses. One of the family members suggested that Thomas take his youngest son (who was 10 years old) to the picnic. However, Thomas was going to be in charge of overseeing some of the games at the picnic, and he did not want to have to keep track of a young boy. As a result, Thomas attended the picnic alone. The day before the picnic he was busy making signs for the games that were planned.

Thomas was a strong swimmer, and when boat tipped over he was able to save himself and another man. When they both made it safely out of the water, the other man asked Thomas if he would go back into the water to retrieve his hat. Thomas did not go back to get the hat. Instead, Thomas went and found a tavern where he made a call to his neighbors (the Zahradniks did not have a phone at home). He asked the neighbors to tell his family what had happened and that he was okay. In his wet clothes, Thomas then walked all the way to his home in the Pilsen neighborhood. He lived to age 88 and spent his entire career at Western Electric.

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