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By Marian Cheatham

GENRE: Drama
LOGLINE: In 1915 Chicago, an engaged young woman survives a deadly shipwreck only to discover that her orderly life has been complicated by grief, duty, and the attentions of a mysterious sailor. Based on my Young Adult novel, Eastland, and true historical events.


SETTING: The grimy world of Chicago 1915 where horse & buggy and streetcars still dominate. Women don’t yet have the vote, children are still found in the workplace, union workers clash with police and management, and a corrupt mayor rules the city. The foul stench of the Chicago River pollutes the air. PROTAGONISTS: Pretty, but mousy 20-year-old, DEE PAGEAU, Western Electric employee, daydreamer, desires only one thing – to quit her menial job and marry her handsome beau, the successful greengrocer, KAREL KOZNECKI. Dee Pageau could be played by a serious-minded actress like Anna Kendrick or Ellen Page. Charming Karel Koznecki could be played by Andrew Garfield or Zac Efron. Dee anticipates the huge Western Electric company picnic on Saturday where 7000 employees and their families will board chartered steamships that will ferry them from the Chicago River to picnic grounds in Indiana. But more importantly, Dee anticipates a proposal from Karel. Dee & Karel, accompanied by his suffragist sister, MAE KOZNECKI (played by a flamboyant Emma Stone or Rachel McAdams), board the elegant steamship, the SS Eastland, along with 2500 other excited passengers. Leaving Mae below deck with friends, Dee & Karel seek out some privacy on the topmost deck. Karel prepares to propose when ship engineer, LARS NIELSEN (a muscular Scandinavian type like Kellen Lutz or Alexander Ludwig), rushes by on his way to warn the captain of an instability problem. In his haste, Lars knocks into Dee. She falls into his powerful arms, and the two lock eyes for one thunderstruck moment before Karel drives Lars off. The unstable ship lists perilously toward the river. Dee and Karel rush for the stairs, hoping to make it back down to Mae before something terrible happens, but they are too late. Mae appears at the base of the staircase just as the ship capsizes. Dee and Mae share one last poignant look before the staircase floods with river water. Karel pulls Dee through the railings to the outside of the ship where they find safety on the overturned hull along with hundreds of others. But hundreds are dying - drowning, crushed by falling debris, or trapped in the flooded bowels of the ship. Karel goes in search of his sister while Dee remains on the hull to help in the rescue efforts. Lars re-appears. He has been searching for Dee and is relieved to find her alive. He escorts her to safety on the dock. She tells him about Mae and begs him to try and find her. Lars promises to do all he can. Before Dee leaves for home, she takes one final look at the ill-fated Eastland. Karel returns home without Mae. Dee & Karel search hospitals, but without any luck. In a dramatic set piece, Dee & Karel visit the makeshift morgue where they finally find Mae amongst the 800 other bodies laid for identification. On Monday, Dee stops at the greengrocery shop on her way to Western Electric and discovers Lars there waiting for her. He saw Mae’s obituary in the newspaper and is worried about Dee. Karel is angry to see this sailor again and asks Lars to leave. Lars departs, but not before overhearing Dee telling Karel that she will help him with the grocery shop this week. In another set piece, Dee checks in at Western Electric only to discover that she is the only woman in her department to have returned from the picnic. 28 other women have died. She promises to help her distressed boss hire and train replacements after all the wakes and funerals are over. Dee finds one of Mae’s suffragist flyers in her bag and decides to attend a meeting in Mae’s honor. On Tuesday, Dee helps at the greengrocery. And so does Lars who has lost everything he owned on the Eastland and wears Salvation Army hand-me-downs. Karel wants to object to Lars’s presence, but Karel needs help. While he attends to his grieving parents, Dee and Lars run the grocery and spend time getting to know each other. Lars encourages Dee’s new suffragist interest. At Mae’s funeral, Lars touches Dee’s hand. Karel witnesses the exchange and tells Lars that he and Dee are as good as engaged. Karel commands Lars to stay away. Dee returns to the grocery shop every day on her way home from Western Electric anxious to see Lars. Karel tells Dee that the shiftless Lars has never returned to the shop to help. Dee realizes that Lars is really and truly gone from her life. She resigns herself to a life with Karel. In a set piece scene after church on Sunday, Karel brings out the engagement ring again, anticipating a ‘yes’ from Dee, but instead, she sighs. Karel finally acknowledges that Dee is no longer in love with him and tells her the truth about Lars. Dee rushes to the docks hoping for news of Lars. She spots him just as he is about to board a ship bound for Milwaukee. In a romantic reunion, Dee and Lars pledge their love for each other and share their first kiss! Lars tells Dee that he must take the job on the Milwaukee ship, but promises to return every weekend to see her. At Western Electric, Dee has done such an outstanding job training the new workforce, she is promoted to Assistant Chief of her department and becomes the first woman in management at the company. In a subplot, Dee makes a new friend of an Eastland survivor hired to work at Western Electric. Over the coming weeks, the friend falls for Karel. In the final lovely set piece scene, Dee, Lars, Karel and this woman picnic together in Grant Park. Dee then leaves to attend a suffragist rally, but not before Karel gives her Mae’s suffragist sash to wear. Lars helps the Salvation Army while Karel and the woman distribute his produce to the hungry. The woman now wears Karel’s engagement ring.


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