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Participate in the General Slocum Disaster Collaborative Tree!

Posted by Sean Daly on Oct 8, 2021

The steamer General Slocum burned in New York’s East River in 1904 with great loss of life to the German-American community there.

Do you know the story of the steamboat General Slocum? Until September 11, 2001, it was New York City’s worst disaster.

The German-American community in Kleindeutschland – Little Germany – on New York’s Lower East Side chartered a large paddle boat steamer for a picnic excursion to Long Island’s North Shore to celebrate the end of Sunday school classes. June 15, 1904, was a Wednesday and most fathers went to work; the boat was full of women and children. Fire started in a forward storage cabin and the untrained crew couldn’t put it out with defective safety equipment. In a flood tide from behind while navigating Hell Gate – New York’s most treacherous channel – the captain made full speed towards beaches in the Bronx and North Brother Island. However, a headwind fanned the flames aft. In only a few moments, 1400 passengers faced death by fire or by drowning, as few could swim, especially dressed in their Sunday best.

Geneanet has created a collaborative family tree of all of the families aboard the Slocum that day. Help us honor the memory of those who died and their bereaved survivors, many of them injured, whose descendants want this largely forgotten event to be remembered. Visit our forum thread for more information.

The paddle steamer General Slocum, named after a Civil War hero and politician, was built in Brooklyn in 1891 and was certified to carry 2,500 passengers. About 1,400 were aboard the morning of June 15, 1904.
The Slocum quickly burned to the waterline while beached on North Brother Island near the Bronx and although tugboats and other craft raced to rescue drowning passengers who had jumped to escape the flames, in just a few minutes there was no one left alive to rescue.
News of the awful disaster spread around the world, but in New York City, there was incomprehension as to why there was such loss of life. The German-American community of Kleindeutschland in the Lower East Side was shattered.
Bereaved fathers raced from hospitals to the morgue and back again. The warehouse of the East River 26th St. dock was turned into a vast morgue and workers from the coroner’s office set up tables to fill out death certificates with family members who identified their loved ones. Coroner Scholer, in the white hat, signs certificates. New York Public Library, Gustav Scholer collection
61 bodies were never identified due to their burns. All of Kleindeutschland turned out for the funeral procession; this is Avenue A at East 6th St. The unknown were buried together in Lutheran (All Faiths) Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens. New York Public Library, Gustav Scholer collection

View photos of the monument in All Faiths (formerly Lutheran) Cemetery, Middle Village, Queens.

If you are interested in participating in this project, please leave a comment below or visit our forum thread. Comments will be published, those requesting access will be answered by the project manager vie e-mail. Instructions for participating.

14 comments

My wife’s late aunt and uncle (Else and Fritz Growald) died in the disaster. However, they were jewish kids from Manhattan and apparently unescorted by other family members. We wonder why they would be at a Christian Sunday School picnic? Also, their pictures were in the newspaper. There is no family memory of why they were onboard.

Answer from Geneanet: Yes, indeed there were a few Jewish and Irish or Italian Catholic passengers aboard the Slocum! These children or teenagers were friends of the Lutheran parishioners who lived on the same streets or even in the same tenements and were permitted by their parents to go on the trip with their friends’ families. In a few cases, local merchants purchased tickets which they distributed to customers.

The block where the Growald family lived at 56 East 7th St, one street over from St. Marks Church, was decimated by the disaster. Amelia Karle from that building was injured. Next door at 54 East 7th, the Italian DeLuccia family (whose father Luigi was a fruit & produce dealer like Emil Growald) lost three children that day. The Galewski family in the same building, parents and two children, all perished. The Grewe family also at 54 lost both children, and their mother was injured. Sophia Siegel from that building was newly married and pregnant when she died. Henry Gruning at 45 East 7th lost his wife, mother-in-law, and three children. The Firneisen family at 40 East 7th — a police sergeant, his wife and three children – survived, with all but son William hospitalized. Gerald Plunket of 74 East 7th died. Henry Frey at 84 East 7th St, not aboard, lost his wife and son; Augusta Kalb at the same address died; William Bandelow in the same building lost his wife and two children. Henry Manheimer at 86, working that day, lost his wife and son (but his daughter survived). Emily Walheim at 82 East 7th was injured. Minnie Licome across the street at 83 died. Emily Rothmann at 48 1/2 East 7th perished with her two children. The extended Mundle family at 11 East 7th lost several children. Christian Schoett at 98 East 7th St lost his wife and three children. Andrew Oettinger at 91 East 7th St lost his wife and four of his children. And Pastor Haas who lived at 64 East 7th lost his wife, daughter, and sister- and mother-in-law.

At Geneanet, we are studying how to build an interactive map showing where the victims’ families lived.

If you are on Facebook, there is a a group called General Slocum where descendants of the families share information and promote the remembrance of the disaster.

By 1904, many German-American families had already started leaving Kleindeutschland for better apartments uptown in Yorkville or in Brooklyn or New Jersey; many Jewish Eastern European families from the Lower East Side below Houston St started moving in as the neighborhood was better. After the Slocum disaster, most Germans left, rents dropped and the neighborhood became predominantly Eastern European until the 1950s. St. Marks Church became a synagogue, and the congregation generously erected a plaque in memory of the victims in 2004 for the centennial of the catastrophe.


Kelly Vogel COOPER (kcooper)  

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8/11/22

Pastor George C. F. Haas, of St. Mark’s Lutheran Ch., Manhattan, his wife and one of his 2 children were aboard, and perished.
If you go to the Library of Congress, Chronicling America, go to New York, enter Haas, there are some articles on he and his family.


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