Blog of the Collections Department

The Little Ship that Couldn’t

Last month I posted an article about a new piece to the collection, an one cent token from the Knickerbocker Steamboat Company, which had been in the pocket of a survivor of the June 15, 1904 disaster on the ship, General Slocum. (Click HERE to see that post)  I have been spent a lot of time researching the ship and the disaster in an effort to create various articles about it, including one for our Member’s Magazine, Ahoy!.  In the course of this research, I have started calling poor General Slocum the little ship that couldn’t.  Why?  Well, because she had numerous problems throughout her fairly short career.

Image found on Wikipedia

Image of General Slocum found on Wikipedia

She was built in 1891 by Devine Burtis of Brooklyn, New York (keel laid December 23, 1890) and was launched on April 18, 1891.  She was owned by the Knickerbocker Steamboat Company and was sister ship to Grand Republic.  From the beginning, General Slocum had a number of missteps:

1.  August 14, 1891 – ran aground on a mud bank at Rockaway Beach

2.  August 16, 1891 – ran into SS Menmouth off Pier 6 River and was slightly damaged

3.  July 29, 1894 – ran aground at Rockaway Inlet and there was a panic among the passengers

4.  September 1, 1894 – backed into the tugboat Robert Sayre and was disabled with 400 passengers on board.

5.  July 8, 1898 – collided with the steamer Amelia off Pier 12 East River

6.  July 14, 1902 – struck a bar in Jamaica Bay with 2000 passengers on board, all of whom had to stay the night until another boat could come get them.

7.  July 6, 1902 – collided with Thomas Patten off of the Battery

8.  June 15, 1904 – fire broke out, killing over 1000 passengers and the boat sank off of North Brother Island

General Slocum with passengers aboard

General Slocum with passengers aboard

They raised the boat from where she had sunk not long after the tragedy of 1904.  In November of 1904 the wreck was sold to Fred Craemer of Philadelphia. Craemer used the hull of General Slocum to build the barge Maryland, which was then sold to Peter Hagan in 1907.  Maryland had many of the same problems as General Slocum had, so much so that some people came to think of the ship (Slocum that is) as cursed.  It was said that she broke her tow line a number of times, ran aground twice and that a number of accidents occurred on board, including one crew member falling down a hatch.  Then, in March of 1909, she sunk at South River, New Jersey, although they raised her and patched her back up.  But she sank again in December of 1911 off Ludlam Beach, New Jersey and was lost.  Funnily enough, this sinking occurred 4 months after Captain Van Schaick (Captain of General Slocum) was pardoned from Sing Sing prison by President Taft.  The National Underwater and Marine Agency think they have found the remains of Maryland, but as far as I know, have yet to conclusively prove that.  You can read about their work HERE.

In any case, I think we can see why people thought that this boat, in either form, was cursed and why I call it the little boat that couldn’t.

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