Saturday, June 15, 2019

Remembering June 15, 1904 — the General Slocum Disaster

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The General Slocum on fire in the East River, 1904. Named after #CivilWar General and Congressman Henry Warner Slocum, the steamboat was built at the Devine Burtis shipyards in #RedHook and launched in 1891. On June 15th, 1904, congregants of the St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in the #EastVillage (then nicknamed Kleindeutschland, “little Germany") set out for their annual excursion to a Long Island picnic ground. The steamer, filled with nearly 1,400 people eager to enjoy the beautiful day, left from a pier off of East 3rd Street. Just before 10 A.M., as the boat was passing Blackwell’s Island (now #RooseveltIsland), a crew member noticed smoke billowing out from under the deck. It was quite windy on the water, and the blaze quickly spread. The crew hadn’t gone through a fire drill, and the fire hoses they tried to use were defective. Soon, the steamer had entered the tumultuous #HellGate, and Captain William Van Schaick declined to beach the ship along the #Queens shore, instead making the fatal decision to head towards North Brother Island. People strapped their children into "never-sink" life vests and tossed them overboard, only to watch in horror as they were pulled beneath the water, as the vests were filled with rotten cork that became heavy and dragged them down. The lifeboats were completely inoperable, as they were cemented to the deck by paint or tied down. Many of the passengers couldn’t swim, and they were faced with the horrific decision to be consumed by the flames or drown. The steamboat's burning shell wound up sinking in the water off of #HuntsPoint in the #Bronx. For days, bodies washed ashore on nearby North Brother Island. 1,021 people died on that day, making it the worst maritime disaster in the city's history. Van Schaick was sentenced to 10 years at #SingSing prison, but only served 3 years, and was later pardoned. The tragedy decimated the once vibrant neighborhood of #Kleindeutschland, with most of its residents moving to #Yorkville or #Queens. Many of the victims were buried at Lutheran All Faiths Cemetery in Middle Village #NYC #GeneralSlocumDisaster #onthisday #history #maritimehistory #NYChistory #DiscoveringNYC

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Anonymous said...

There is a monument to the people who died outside the Synagogue on 6th street between 1st and 2nd Avenues.

Anonymous said...

As always, incompetent leadership is rewarded with pardons and light sentences while the rest drown or burn.

Anonymous said...

I am fascinated by some of the details of the story. Much of the loss of life was due to most people (at the time) not knowing how to swim. Also, the life vests were evidently not in working condition having become decrepit over the years. And there is speculation that the heavy wool clothing of the era also contributed. Interesting since this was a summertime day trip. I guess my point is that life has significantly since then. Most of us can swim, and in June most of us would be wearing light clothing, and all of us benefit from much stricter transportation regulations than a hundred years ago.

dwg said...

That is a sad and gruesome and infuriating event.