Wednesday, Aug 14, 2019

Chicago, Illinois -- After nearly twenty-one years of honoring those affected by Chicago’s deadliest disaster, I am now thrilled to share with you the news regarding the next chapter in the history of the Eastland Disaster Historical Society (EDHS). Beginning this month, we will be transitioning EDHS from being a family-run, not-for-profit organization to becoming a key asset within several iconic Chicago area institutions.

For more than twenty years, EDHS has been led by the passion of a single family: Susan Decker, her sister/my wife Barbara Decker Wachholz, and I have dedicated ourselves to the thousands of families who were kind enough to entrust their family histories with us. Realizing that we needed to plan for the long-term stability of EDHS, we sat down in 2018 to discuss our vision for the future of the organization. Ultimately, we had to develop a plan to ensure that the names, faces, and stories of those affected by the Eastland Disaster would be preserved and shared for generations to come. Clearly, this became the most important task that we had undertaken through the twenty-one years that EDHS has grown.

We quickly identified that we wouldn’t be able to sustain EDHS as the family-run not-for-profit that it has been since its inception. So, we took a step back and considered several different options for the next chapter of EDHS. We thought about what the Eastland Disaster families – people like you – would want, and need. We wanted to ensure that your stories would live on into the future, and that the historical documents and artifacts of Chicago’s greatest tragedy would be preserved for years to come. The discussions and the decision making process were very emotional times for us.

With the vitality and spiritedness of our grandmother and brave Eastland Disaster survivor, Borghild “Bobbie” Aanstad helping us with our thoughts and decisions, we ultimately decided that several iconic Chicago-area institutions could provide more value and care for a longer time horizon than that of our single family. We now have agreements with the Newberry Library, the Chicago Genealogical Society (CGS), and the Chicago Maritime Museum (CMM), and through them you will continue to be a valued member of the EDHS family.

These new agreements will ensure ongoing archival access to the comprehensive collection of EDHS family records, historical documents, and artifacts. More importantly, these new agreements will ensure that present and new Eastland Disaster families will have a place to go to share their family information and learn more about their family’s role in the tragedy. And after the final pieces of the transition have been completed, we are confident that you will receive even more value and care than ever before. Each of the agreements will protect and honor the work that EDHS started twenty-one years ago.

  • NEWBERRY LIBRARY (founded over 130 years ago): Our agreement with the Newberry Library will ensure that the historical archives of Chicago’s greatest tragedy will always be preserved and shared for present day and future generations. This includes the family histories and photos provided by thousands of generous families across the country, as well as the numerous historical records from various entities such as the Cook County Coroner’s Office, the Red Cross, and the Western Electric Company.
  • CHICAGO GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY (founded over 50 years ago): Our agreement with the Chicago Genealogical Society will likewise guarantee that the EDHS brand will exist in the future, as it becomes a valued part of the Chicago Genealogical Society. I am excited about my new position on the CGS Board of Directors, and look forward to helping CGS serve as the new steward of the EDHS community.
  • CHICAGO MARITIME MUSEUM (founded nearly 30 years ago): Our agreement with the Chicago Maritime Museum will guarantee that families and the public will have improved access to artifacts and reference books, now and forever. Early evidence of this is already visible today through the newly expanded Eastland Disaster exhibition at the museum for which EDHS provided the names, faces, stories, and artifacts for several dozen Eastland Disaster families. Six other museums throughout the Great Lakes region will also receive important pieces from the collection of artifacts.

I know that this is a lot of information that we have provided above, but there are a lot of pieces that are integral parts of the transition and this announcement! We look forward to sharing subsequent news bulletins that announce how you may get involved in one or more exciting new initiatives that will provide you with better access to historical records and archives.

The work to transition EDHS recently began and will continue for a full year. The board and staff of EDHS will work closely with each of these institutions during this time to ensure a smooth, successful transition and keep you updated along the way.

We hope that you are as excited as we are about the next chapter in the long-term history of EDHS. We look forward to continuing to share the names, faces, and stories from the Eastland Disaster with you and with future generations.

Please note: Jean Decker, Susan and Barbara's mother and one of the founding family (pictured in the photo above), sadly passed away in October 2015.