June 15, 1904: NYC East River Excursion Ends in Tragedy

More than 1,000 people were killed when their riverboat caught fire on New York City’s East River on this day in 1904 – marking one of the deadliest days in U.S. maritime history.

On June 15th 1,360 children and teachers from the St. Mark’s German Lutheran Church boarded the General Solcum for their annual Sunday school picnic at Locust Point in the Bronx. Shortly after the boat left the dock a child onboard spotted smoke. By the time the crew went to investigate the whole store room was engulfed in flames and blazing out of control. The onboard hose that had never been used or inspected failed to work.

(PHOTO Below: Firefighters work to extinguish the flames.)

The boat’s captain, Van Schaik, made the fateful decision to head for a small island in the East River rather than head towards the docks where firefighters could have assisted. The captain later said that he sailed to the island to keep the fire from spreading to the city. The decision proved costly for the passengers onboard. The boat crashed into the rocks surrounding the island. Lifeboats were difficult to release and the life preservers had been made of a non-buoyant material that made them heavy causing children who had used them to sink to the bottom of the river. Other children were trampled to death in the panic onboard as the fire caused decks to collapse. Six hundred and thirty bodies were recovered and 401 were missing and presumed dead. Captain Van Schaik was sentenced to 10 years in prison but was pardoned in 1908 because of old age. President Theodore Roosevelt fired the chief inspector of the U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service following the incident. (PHOTO Above: Bodies was ashore on North Island.)

June 17, 1885: State of Liberty Arrives in New York Harbor

One this day the French frigate, Isère delivered the Statue of Liberty in 350 pieces, packed in 200 cases. The copper and iron statue took four months to reassemble.





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