During our time in Chicago, The Tribune ran a full-page ad about a boat excursion on Lake Michigan. I looked at that ad with great longing. Both my brother and my mother watched me as I stared at it.
“Dick, you’d like to go on that boat, wouldn’t you?” Lynn asked.
“I sure would,” I replied.
“I’ll tell you what I’ll do,” he said. “We’ll put a bank on the table and all of us will put our spare cash into it. The night before the boat sails, we will open the bank. If there is enough for all of us to go, we’ll go and if there isn’t enough for all of us, then none of us will go. Is this a fair agreement?”
I agreed it was. I was willing to grasp at any hope at all.
We lived in an apartment house on Halstead Street. I ran errands for a doctor, an undertaker, and a dentist, who also lived in our apartment. We all did our part in putting what we could into the bank on the table.
As a boy, it was difficult for me to wait for the opening of the bank. The occasion is still fresh in my memory: I can see my brother trying to use a knife to slip the coins out of the acorn crockery bank, and because of the slowness of the process, finally taking a hammer and smashing it, causing the money to roll on the table. I was very excited as I watched him count it. And I was heartbroken when he announced it was $1.77 short.
It was more than I could take. I ran out of the house and went behind an old barn that was still at the back of the property and there I burst into tears. When I got control of myself, I returned to the house and my brother said, “Dick, I think we’d better stick to our agreement. We can’t go on the excursion, but tomorrow you and I will go down and watch the big boat sail.”
The next morning Lynn and I got up early. After he had done some chores, we took a streetcar to the Chicago Loop. We stood on the bridge at a good vantage point to observe all the excitement on the pier below. The flags were flying, the band was on the ship’s top-deck playing, and many, many people were waiting to board the ship.
The gangplank was lowered and the chain let down. The people poured onto the boat. In a short time the bell sounded, the whistle blew, and the chain was pulled across the gangplank.
Many of those left behind were very disappointed. Such cursing and swearing I had never heard before! As I remember, one man was permitted to crawl under the chain and go up the gangplank. The bell on the ship rang again, the whistle blew, the gangplank was pulled aboard, and the ropes to the pier were loosened.
And then, before our eyes, that giant ship, the Eastland, tipped over in the Chicago River. Something had happened on shore that had caused the ship’s passengers to rush to one side. About the only ones saved were those who had been on the top deck. Many of these crawled to shore over the bodies of those beneath them.
Soon, men were piling human bodies on the pier like one might stack boxes. The city sent dump wagons pulled by horses to carry the corpses to the funeral parlors.
God’s act of withholding $1.77 had almost certainly saved my life!