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Dave and Rose Nelson Eastland Collection Foundation for History Center’s Collection
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 made sense.

Dave Nelson speaks to visitors about his grandfather and the Eastland disaster.It 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.