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General Slocum

by Kimberly Siletti

“Before the September 11th attacks, this steamship, which caught fire and sunk near Astoria Park, on June 15, 1904, was the worst tragedy in the city’s history.”

The Courier, 20041

According to a timeline listed in Long Island’s Newsday in 2004, the ship called General Slocum passed inspection by the United States Steamboat Inspection Service in May 1904. Just a few weeks later, however, this approval was found faulty. On its way to Locust Grove for a holiday outing, on June 5, 1904, the excursion vehicle caught fire in the waters of Hell Gate. Mostly women and children comprised the 1,021 dead who floated in the river and washed up on the shore following the disaster. The Captain William Van Schaick tried to run the boat aground on North Brother Island, after departing from E. 3rd Street. On January 27, 1906, Van Schaick was convicted of criminal negligence and sentenced to ten years imprisonment. He received parole after 2 ½ years, however, and was pardoned by President William Taft in 1912. The last survivor of the wreck died at 100 in January 2004.2

The tragedy changed the character of the Lower East Side’s Little Germany. Jewish families moved into the neighborhood, healing a wound but leaving a scar on the face of Manhattan. The area had originally been a haven mostly occupied by German immigrants.3


1 The Courier. 20, no. 4, (16-22 June 2004).

2 “Smoke on the Water.” Newsday. (15 June 2004).

3 Daily News. (16 June 2004): 3.

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