Sweethearts of Eastland

Justin and Manthey

James C. Justin, Jr.
4 November 1894 – 24 July 1915

Emily Mary Manthey
15 October 1892 – 24 July 1915

The Eastland, one of five chartered excursion boats meant to ferry employees, their families and friends from Chicago over to the Michigan City shore for the annual Western Electric Company picnic, keeled over into the Chicago River while still at dock, trapping hundreds inside its hull and leading to the deaths of 844 of the 2,500 passengers aboard at the time of the incident which became known as The Eastland Disaster.

James was the son of Bohemian immigrants and Mary the daughter of German immigrants. Both were born and raised in Chicago and their families were both rare ones where all siblings had survived childhood – James’s three (two older brothers and one younger sister) and Mary’s four (two older sisters; two younger brothers).

At the time the 31 July 1915 Chicago Tribune special edition went to press, Mary’s body had not yet been recovered (or as likely not yet identified), so there is no obituary for her though she is mentioned (name misspelled) in James’ obituary.

Mary’s family had recently suffered another great loss with her father passing away on 20 March 1915, just four months prior to the disaster. Mary’s mother remarried in late 1916 to a cemetery gardener, so I like to think they met while she was visiting her daughter and husband. After her own death in 1936, she was buried beside her them rather than with her second husband who I believe had been a widower as well and is likely buried with his first wife.

Mary and James met at Western Electric where Mary was working in 1910 per the census and James had not yet started to work there. He was at that time a stock boy at a wholesalers. James’ obituary states that he’d been working at Western Electric for five years at the time of his death, so later that same year, he must have begun working there.

When the couple met is unknown, but by 1915, they were engaged. According to her death record, Mary was working as a seamstress when she died and was working in Melrose Park, so it appears she’d left Western Electric. It’s also possible she left the company to establish herself elsewhere prior to her marriage in a job she could continue to do after marriage which she could not at Western Electric per their rules (many women were employed there in good jobs for the time, but they did not allow married women to work for them until 1920).

James was an inspector in department 2324 (which I wonder what that was!) and a member of Hawthorne Men’s Club which had been established in 1911 when he would have been a fairly new employee. At some point in 1915, the club opened up its membership to women. Overall Western Electric appears to have een something of a model employer not even just for the time, having fairly progressive employee policies far in advance of when such things became normal and adopting progressive policy changes such as this opening of the company-sanctioned club long before any legal action would have forced them to be inclusive.

The club seems to have primarily been a social club, a company-centered fraternal organization with many associated clubs, special services, and educational programming. Honestly, if you time travel, head back there and get a job at WE as your base of operations while you attempt to change history. Sounds like a good gig.

The club was named for the massive Hawthorne Works complex in Cicero, Illinois, where most of the employees who were Eastland victims worked. (Hawthorne was the original name of Cicero prior to its incorporation); that complex continued to operate until 1983 but only the tower still remains today.

The couple were buried together in the Manthey family plot at Concordia, sharing a joint headstone which originally held cameos of both though those are sadly long gone now. Between the cameos “Sweethearts Died Eastland” is inscribed and below their names, “Budded on Earth to Bloom in Heaven.”

RIP James and Mary

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