and Rose Nelson Eastland Collection Foundation for History
Even as a young boy Dave Nelson was always intrigued
by the star his grandfather carried in his wallet, but it wasn’t
until he and his wife Rose were watching the movie The Poseidon
Adventure in the 1970s that he fully realized the role Elmer
Nelson had played in the Eastland disaster. In the movie
Dave saw a welder cutting a hole in the ship to rescue trapped
survivors. That was when the story he had heard about his grandfather
was going to be just another July work day for Elmer Nelson when
he kissed his wife good-by and headed off to his job as a welder.
He was working near the Chicago River that rainy Saturday morning
when he heard about the ship that had capsized not far away. Elmer
gathered up his welding equipment and headed for the Eastland,
hoping to help rescue people who must be trapped inside. Elmer
worked for three days on the Eastland, never going home until
Monday evening. The Cook County Coroner was so impressed with
the heroic efforts of so many people like Elmer that he honored
them with a badge, in the shape of a star. It was this star that
Elmer proudly carried in his wallet for the rest of his life.
This is the story Dave grew up hearing
about his grandfather and the star was the beginning of the Dave
and Rose Nelson Eastland Collection. The Nelson Collection,
garnered over 33 years, is the largest of its kind with over 1,000
images plus newspapers, publications, artifacts and Western Electric
memorabilia. His collection was on exhibit at the Museum of Science
and Industry when the Eastland section was part of the
first Titanic exhibit held there.
Dave produced the first Eastland
documentary and organized the first historic marker recognizing
the disaster. That marker, placed at the Chicago River on Michigan
Avenue between Clark and LaSalle, was stolen many years later
and eventually replaced. Dave and Rose have been telling the Eastland
story for over three decades and continue to spread the word about
this incredible piece of history.
Dave chose the History Center to
be the permanent home for his Collection knowing it would be utilized
as an educational tool, be available for public viewing, and be
preserved by a professional staff. The History Center is actively
working to fulfill Dave’s dream of keeping the Eastland
story alive for future generations.