The General Slocum or How My Great Grandmother Missed the Boat [HISTORY]

Posted on: June 12th, 2014 at 11:14 am by

This image has been archived or removed.

The PS General Slocum, Photo: Wikipedia

With June 15 being the 110th anniversary of the sinking of the PS General Slocum in the East River, I thought it appropriate to share a personal snippet about a young Lower East Side girl who “missed the boat,” so to speak. The story of the General Slocum passenger boat is certainly a sad one, but nevertheless an intergral part of city history; it was the single worst loss of life around the city until 9/11. An article in The New York Times described the incident a day after its occurrence:

An estimated total of a thousand dead, besides several hundred injured, is the record of the fire disaster which yesterday destroyed the big excursion steamer General Slocum, which was burned to the water’s edge before her Captain succeeded in beaching her on North Brother Island. Nearly all the dead and missing are women and children and were members of an excursion party taken out by St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church of 323 East Sixth Street. The estimate that the number of lives lost will be found to reach 1,000 was given by Police Inspector Brooks at an early hour this morning. Fire Chief Croker shared his view, saying that at least 900 persons must have perished.

Survivors say the life preservers were worthless and rotted away in the hands of those who attempted to use them.

Gertrude Gollardt (my great grandmother) was born on October 24, 1887 in Berlin, Germany. She lived at 220 East 13th street with her parents when the General Slocum sank in 1904. Luckily for Gertrude, she was not aboard the ship, but only because her parents refused to let her go. Her son later recounted in his memoir:

This image has been archived or removed.

Gertrude Gollardt

One day My Mother started to tell us about 
her youth. She spent at least two hours talking. She told how when she was sixteen she 
would spend her summers at her Uncle’s hotel in Newark, N.J. She would leave her home
 in the East Village on a bike, cross-town, take a ferry and then on to her uncle’s. In about
 two weeks a note would arrive in the mail saying that she had arrived safely – and later on
 in the summer, back again. No telephones in those days! Her Uncle Hertzog had a restaurant in
 the hotel at Hoboken. He also owned a restaurant in Harlem. My Mother said he bragged 
about how he would take the scraps of steak from the Hoboken restaurant and send them
 to Harlem where the customers thought that this was the best-chopped meat ever!

Since my Mother’s parents ran a rooming house, my mother ran into midgets from
 the circus, the conductor of the New York Philharmonic, and lots of theatrical people. In
 the East Village my Mother’s family had joined the Lutheran Church. Together with 
other churches, they arranged a pleasure day trip on the boat, The General Slocum, up the
 East River. My Mother was not allowed to go. She was really disappointed. But the
 boat caught on fire and 1,100 people were killed, devastating the whole Community. There is a cemetery in Queens that has a memorial to those killed on The General
 Slocum. We used to drive past it on our way to NYC and my Father pointed it out. Had
 my Mother gone I probably would not be here today.

The neighborhood still commemorates the loss of life with both a memorial plaque and fountain for the General Slocum (est. 1906) in Tompkins Square Park.

This image has been archived or removed.

General Slocum Memorial Plaque in Tompkins Square Park

This image has been archived or removed.

General Slocum Memorial Fountain in Tompkins Square Park

Recent Stories

‘Caribea’ Grill Readies Space Left Vacant by Domino’s on Allen Street

Ever since Domino’s ditched its decades-old Allen Street location three years ago, the commercial space has been a vacancy consistently peddled on the market. Now, a new concept is a-knockin. Caribea is as it sounds – a fast casual pan-Caribbean grill. The restaurant at 203 Allen will seat fourteen tables and a stand-up bar, for […]

The Projects Jockeying for the $20M Chinatown Revitalization Funds

Several months ago, Governor Hochul announced a $20 million grant in the form of the Downtown Revitalization initiative (DRI).  Some forty sites around Chinatown were identified during the DRI process, which is led by a Local Planning Committee of community representatives and supported by State agency staff and a consultant team. That list was ultimately […]

Displaced Chinatown Business Returns Months After Devastating Fire

Four months after a deadly fire knocked out 78 Mulberry Street, one of its businesses returned to the scene. Ewa Trading Company reopened in its former Chinatown home earlier this week. The store had spent some of the interim displacement period selling from a shuttered Vietnamese restaurant a few paces north. The two-alarm fire broke […]

EDC Sues Essex Restaurant for Back Rent over Former Essex Market Lease

Three years removed from its relocation across Rivington Street, the city filed suit against the Essex restaurant for alleged unpaid rent. The Economic Development Corporation (EDC) sued Essex for nearly $60,000 in unpaid back rent on the former Essex Market building it previously occupied, according to the lawsuit filed Monday. The city entity claims that […]

Exile on Orchard Street: Tenement Museum Recreates Exhibits During Renovations

The Tenement Museum is amidst a preservation project at 97 Orchard Street, but will continue its programming with replicas not too far away. The 1863-era tenement this past Sunday embarked on “vital” restoration work to preserve its walls, floors, roof, as well as the installation of a new HVAC system that will provide improved climate […]