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Eagle Park disaster remembered

by Alex
Fri, Jul 6th 2012 11:50 am
Town and state officials unveiled a marker at the Whitehaven overlook on West River Parkway describing the 1912 Eagle Park disaster. From left: State Sen. Mark Grisanti, Grand Island Town Supervisor Mary Cooke, New york State Parks Department manager Andrew Hillman, and William Koch, chairperson of the Grand Island Historic Preservation Advisory Board.
Town and state officials unveiled a marker at the Whitehaven overlook on West River Parkway describing the 1912 Eagle Park disaster. From left: State Sen. Mark Grisanti, Grand Island Town Supervisor Mary Cooke, New york State Parks Department manager Andrew Hillman, and William Koch, chairperson of the Grand Island Historic Preservation Advisory Board.

One of the darkest days in Grand Island history was remembered Sunday during a ceremony along the West River.

June 23 marked the 100th anniversary of the Eagle Park Resort pier collapse, which took the lives of 39 people. On July 1, about 80 people gathered for a ceremony and to dedicate a sign about the tragedy at the Whitehaven overlook. The event was sponsored by the Town of Grand Island and the town's Historic Preservation Advisory Board, the Grand Island Historical Society, the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation, and the West River Homeowners Association.

The actual site of Eagle Park is located along West River near Staley Road, but the overlook location offers a place to stop and reflect that the Eagle Park location does not.

Family of Eagle Park victims were on hand for the ceremony, according to Town Supervisor Mary Cooke. Many of those who perished in the water were from the Black Rock section of Buffalo, and members of the Black Rock Historical Society attended as well, placing flowers at the marker.

Cooke said 100 years ago, Grand Island, population 900 at the time, was the "summer play spot for Western New York," featuring clubs and parks along the shoreline. Town Historian Teddy Linenfelser noted the Island's waterfront amusement parks "were some of the big draws to the city-dwellers," with steamboats taking revelers to and from the Island parks and taverns. On   June 23, 1912, a sunny and warm, day, Linenfelser said, hundreds of Buffalonians crowded the Eagle Park dock awaiting a steamer, perhaps singing and dancing to the popular songs of the day, when the dock collapsed beneath them. Linenfelser said 150 people were trapped in the water, struggling in a mass of beer kegs and empty soft drink cases.

"About 260 persons went into the water," Linenfelser said. "Thirty-nine people lost their lives. All of the dead were recovered with the exception of one tiny baby, who it was assumed went over the Falls nearby."

Many who survived suffered horrific injuries, and the the tragedy was compounded later when bodies were looted of their jewelry, Linenfelser said, while resting in a boathouse used as a makeshift morgue.

Eagle Park reopened five days later with business as usual.

Linenfelser thanked June Crawford and the West River Homeowners Association for their in staging the event. The WRHA members will maintain the marker site.

Doreen DeBoth of the Black Rock Historical Society called the marker "a nice testimony" to the tragedy. Evelyn Vossler of Black Rock praised the Grand Island Historical Society for inviting their "counterparts from Black Rock and taking us under their wing" in forging a new working relationship.

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