Hedwig A. “Hattie” Korn
13 May 1891 – 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.
Hattie was the second oldest and oldest daughter of ten children born to German immigrants Otto and Elisabeth Wiedeck Korn. Elizabeth was ten years her husband’s junior.
From the census records, it appears the time between 1900 and 1910 was very hard for the family. Little sister Edna who was five years younger than Hattie, died at the age of 12 in 1908. Elizabeth lost three other children likely in infancy in that same span of time. Her youngest, Mildred, was born in 1907 and only two years later, Otto passed away at 49 years old.
It’s likely that Hattie and her older brother Reinhart and possibly the next-oldest, brother George, had already entered the workforce by this time, and the 1910 census finds all three still living at home but also working, helping support their family. Hattie was working as a saleslady at a factory.
It’s possible this job was with Western Electric, but in any case, she was working for the company at the time of the disaster in 1915. Hattie never married and appears to have lived at home her whole life.
Hattie’s name is on the list of the missing published in the 25 July Tribune and on the list of the identified dead in the next day’s issue. Her short obituary lists her mother and surviving siblings and little else.
The family seems to have been very close through these years after so much loss. The 1920 census lists the four youngest, including married George, his wife, and two children, all living in the same house with their mother. She’d also taken in her widowed father who died the next year at the age of 87.
Elizabeth herself died in 1924 at only 53. Her youngest daughter Mildred — who was sixteen years younger than Hattie — was still a teenager. It’s unclear if this loss was what led the family to split up into separate homes or if that had already taken place before Elizabeth’s passing, but the 1930 census lists Mildred living with her surviving sister Minnie who was about eight years older than she was.
A sign of the different times in which the siblings grew up, the youngest two, Otto Jr. and Mildred, who came of age after WWI, both completed high school while their older siblings (who came of age before the war) left school after eighth grade.
The sisters were still living together in 1940, the last census we have for them, both unmarried and a friend of Minnie’s sharing their home. Mildred married in 1943 when she was 35; it does not appear that she and her husband had any children.
Minnie died at only 55 and was buried with her parents and Hattie. Also buried there is sister Edna.
Reinhart fought in WWI, married, and lived a long life. Though he was the oldest of his siblings, he outlived all of them but youngest Mildred (who was 18 years his junior), dying in 1977 in Florida at 87 years old. His only child Robert tragically died at only six years old.
George may also have fought in WWI (it seems at least that he was in the navy at some point). Between 1920 and 1930, he and his wife had two more children and had moved into their own home. Sadly, he died just four years later at the age of 40.
Otto Jr. also married, had at least two children, and had a career as a fireman before passing away at 67.
Like her oldest brother, Mildred also lived out the last years of her life in Florida and died in 1987 at 80.
The victims of the Eastland Disaster were all working class and mostly immigrants. Perhaps that’s why the event faded into obscurity while the story of the Titanic lives on more than a century later. There was no slow realization, no fighting for life boats, no self-sacrificial men of wealth, no string quartet playing as the inevitable overtook them. It was a quick, terrible tragedy with days of awful aftermath as first responders fought to save and then recover hundreds of victims from the capsized ship and surrounding water.
The truth is the stories are depressingly similar, full of hard-working young people expecting a day of fun only to meet a terrible, tragic end. I will continue on, poking through records and looking for what information I can find about each victim, though, because it matters that they lived, and it matters that they died.
RIP Hattie and Korn family
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