Disasters

The General Slocum: With a church picnic planned, 1,342 people from Little Germany on the Lower East Side boarded the General Slocum excursion boat on Sunday afternoon, June 15, 1904. When the steamer caught fire and sank in the East River, 1,021 people drowned or died from the fire.

Many families, frightened by the disaster, stopped taking steamers for Sunday outings, causing excursion steamer companies, including John Starin’s Glen Island steamer, to go out of business within a few years. The General Slocum disaster was the largest disaster in New York history until 9/11. The story is told in Ship Ablaze: The Tragedy of the General Slocum, by Ed O’Donnell. (New York: Broadway Books, 2004). A short documentary includes pictures of the disaster: http://bessiespillow.com/slocum.