The “Christopher Columbus” heads upstream to its dock just south of Michigan Street. Backing downstream required the aid of a pair of tugboats. Collection of Carl Swanson
On the last day of June 1917, the excursion steamship Christopher Columbus cast off from the Goodrich Transportation dock on the Milwaukee River, just south of the Michigan Street bridge. A familiar visitor, the 362-foot boat made a daily round trip in warm-weather months between Chicago and Milwaukee. Licensed to carry 4,000 passengers, today’s load was an unusually light one – a group of 200 students from the University of Chicago along with about 200 other passengers.
University student Emma Taylor, one of the passengers, looked down at the dirty river and remarked to her friend, “I should hate to have to bathe in that water.”
Moments later, the Columbus was in ruins, 16 passengers were dead, and 20 others injured. And Emma Taylor, with broken ribs, a lacerated scalp, and unable to swim, was sinking in the filthy river, her heavy clothing dragging her to the bottom.
Incredibly, the Columbus, one of largest and most elegant ships of its time, operated by a safety-minded company, and captained by one of the most respected masters on the Great Lakes, had collided with a Third Ward factory.