The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Slocum Disaster

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SLOCUM DISASTER, the burning of the excursion steamboat General Slocum on the East River, 15 July 1904, in which about 1,000 lives were lost. The General Slocum left her pier in the East River with about 1,800 persons on board, most of them members of Saint Mark's Lutheran Church, New York. She had proceeded but a short distance up the river when fire was discovered on board, and in the panic ensuing, as the flames spread rapidly, many passengers threw themselves overboard and were drowned. Delay in beaching the boat was charged, but it was finally grounded on North Brother Island. Many more lives were lost even than through fire or drowning, owing to the panic which seized crew as well as passengers, and to the fact that the life-preservers were old and worthless. The United States Steamboat Inspection Service placed the number of lives lost at 938, while the New York police estimate was 1,031. Official investigation showed that the steamboat had not been carefully inspected, that the crew was practically untrained for an emergency and that the life-preservers were of absolutely no value through deterioration due to age. The captain, William H. Van Shaick, was in 1906 sentenced by the United States District Court to 10 years' imprisonment on a charge of criminal negligence; but the steamboat company evaded legal responsibility for the tragedy.