Words of Advice:

"If Something Seems To Be Too Good To Be True, It's Best To Shoot It, Just In Case." -- Fiona Glenanne

"Foreign Relations Boil Down to Two Things: Talking With People or Killing Them." -- Unknown

"Mobs Do Not Storm the Capitol to Do Good Deeds." -- not James Lee Burke

"Colt .45s; putting bad guys underground since 1873." -- Unknown

"Stay Strapped or Get Clapped." -- probably not Mr. Rogers

"Let’s eat all of these people!” — Venom

"Eck!" -- George the Cat

Monday, June 15, 2020

The Greatest Loss of Life in NYC in the 20th Century

The Paddlewheel Steamer General Slocum, an "excursion steamer", caught fire and burned in the East River on this day in 1904. There were over 1,300 passengers, mainly women and children, on the ship, possibly more. Most of them, over 1,000 died. She had been chartered for the day by the St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church, whose congregants were mainly German-Americans. Each year, they chartered an excursion steamer for a picnic on the north shore of Long Island.

For reasons good or ill, the captain didn't immediately head for shore. The lifejackets were rotted, the lifeboats had been painted into the davits and were immovable. Those who stayed on board died in the fire, those who jumped into the river drowned, as most couldn't swim and the heavy clothing worn back then worked to drag the wearers under.

Among the dead was a NYPD officer, Tom Cooney. He and his partner commandeered a tugboat to rescue people. Cooney jumped into the river and brought a lot of survivors to the tugboat. He drowned on his last rescue. Other cops in boats rescued more people, one NYPD boat put itself up against the burning ship in order to save people, but only a little over 300 survived. The NYPD's Harbor Unit and other watermen spent days pulling bodies out of the river.

Back then, immigrants lived in clusters; they stuck together for their own support and protection. The Slocum fire tore the heart out of the Lower East Side German-American community known as Kleindeutschland (Weissgarten was its central neighborhood, as it was surrounded by white wooden fences). Surviving families often fell apart. In what should come as a surprise to nobody nowadays, suicides were not uncommon. The residents eventually dispersed, many moving north to another Manhattan neighborhood, Yorkville.

The Slocum fire, though, while not exactly forgotten, never captured the popular imagination beyond New York City. Unlike the Titanic disaster some years later, there weren't famous rich victims. The victims of the Slocum fire were mainly German immigrants, a group that would not exactly be favored by the middle of the century.

The documentary Fearful Visitation was released in 2004 and posted on YT a few years ago:


It covers a bit of the history of Kleindeutschland.

4 comments:

CenterPuke88 said...

Just got kicked back into obscurity by SCOTUS. Thanks for the link, hadn’t seen that program.

Dark Avenger said...

Actually, calling Germans “the Huns” started much earlier.

You know what the problem is with German-Chinese food? Half an hour later, you’re hungry for power again.

seafury said...

Wow forgot about the General Slocum. Before I started reading I was thinking the Eastland disaster in Chicago.

Tod Germanica said...

I don't remember this one, thanks.
I was thinking this one tops it though. Via Wikipedia;
Halifax Explosion
The Halifax Explosion was a disaster that occurred in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada, on the morning of 6 December 1917. SS Mont-Blanc, a French cargo ship laden with high explosives, collided with the Norwegian vessel SS Imo in the Narrows, a strait connecting the upper Halifax Harbour to Bedford Basin. A fire on board the French ship ignited her cargo, causing a massive explosion that devastated the Richmond district of Halifax. Approximately 2,000 people were killed by the blast, debris, fires, or collapsed buildings, and an estimated 9,000 others were injured.[1] The blast was the largest man-made explosion at the time,[2] releasing the equivalent energy of roughly 2.9 kilotons of TNT (12,000 GJ).[3]