Posts Tagged ‘General Slocum disaster’

A faded memorial marks a horrific 1904 tragedy

June 5, 2017

The faded marble fountain dedicated to the 1,021 victims of the General Slocum disaster is not easy to find in Tompkins Square Park.

It’s beyond the brick comfort station that blocks off much of the park from the northernmost end, near the pool and across from the lovely brownstones on 10th Street.

This lonely statue marks the city’s second-biggest tragedy after 9/11 in terms of the number of people killed—and almost all of the dead came from the heavily German “Kleindeutschland” neighborhood of today’s East Village.

The disaster is remembered every June 15, the anniversary of the day St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on Sixth Street chartered the steamship General Slocum for a day excursion up the East River.

The ship, packed with women and children expecting to have a picnic, caught fire as it steamed past 97th Street at about 10 a.m.

As the boat  continued to burn while sailing up the river, passengers—weighed down by the heavy clothes of the era and unlikely to know how to swim—were forced to either stay on the ship and die by fire or jump into the river and risk drowning.

The huge death toll rocked the German neighborhood, and two years later, the fountain was dedicated—paid for by the Sympathy Society of German Ladies.

The inscription, “They were earth’s purest children young and fair” (from a Percy Bysshe Shelley poem) has cracks and chips in it, and a powerful sadness.

Who was General Slocum?

June 5, 2010

June 15th marks the 106th anniversary of the General Slocum disaster, when a paddle steamer packed with mothers and children on a church trip caught fire in the East River. 

More than 1,000 people, mainly residents of the East Village’s huge German community, perished.

Most New Yorkers know of the S.S. General Slocum. But who was General Slocum the man, and why did his name land on excursion boat associated with the greatest loss of life in city history, aside from  9/11?

Henry Warner Slocum was a Union general during the Civil War who fought in Gettysburg. Prospect Park is home to a heroic bronze statue of Slocum on horseback in battle.

After the war, he became a congressman from New York, then served as commissioner of public works for the city of Brooklyn.

When he died in 1894, thousands of Brooklynites paid their respects by lining the streets to watch his funeral procession go from his home on Clinton Avenue to Lafayette Street, South Oxford, Hanson Place, and then Fourth Avenue.

He was buried in Green-Wood Cemetery unaware of the horror that occurred aboard his namesake ship. 

North Brother Island’s tragic past

July 8, 2009

North Brother Island is a 13-acre spit of land in the East River, between the Bronx and Riker’s Island. Unlike bigger Roosevelt Island nearby, it’s never been developed.

RiversidehospitalnobrotherBut it has been inhabited by people—sick people. Acquired by the city in 1885, officials built Riverside Hospital (at right) there, a place to quarantine New Yorkers who suffered from potentially deadly and easily communicable diseases such as typhus and smallpox. It also housed drug addicts until the 1960s.

North Brother’s most famous resident? Mary Mallon, aka Typhoid Mary. The Irish immigrant cook, a carrier of typhus, was committed there in 1908 and died 30 years later. 

The island has another connection to a tragic New York event: the General Slocum disaster. After this steamship caught fire near the island in 1904, hundreds of passengers—mostly German immigrant women and children enjoying an annual church boat trip—jumped into the East River to escape the flames.

Nobrotherislandgeneralslocum

The General Slocum finally beached on North Brother, and many passenger bodies washed up on its shore. All told, an estimated 1,021 people perished—the greatest loss of life in New York City until the September 11th terrorist attacks.

Today North Brother is inhabited mainly by birds; it’s a protected bird sanctuary. The latest episode of the web-only PBS show The City Concealed can take you there.