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General Slocum Steamboat Tragedy: Topics in Chronicling America

In 1904, over 1,000 people died when a fire broke out on the SS General Slocum. This guide provides access to materials related to the “General Slocum Steamboat Tragedy” in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"The burning of the excursion boat General Slocum." June 16, 1904. New-York Tribune (New York, NY), Image 1. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

St. Mark’s Lutheran Church charters the SS General Slocum for its annual outing. A fire breaks out and is soon exacerbated by a strong headwind that fanned the flames, the failure of the captain to reach shore, faulty life preservers, inaccessible life boats, and a pervasive lack of preparedness. Over 1,000 people—mostly women and children—perish in the worst disaster in New York history prior to 9/11. The tragedy devastates the German community and shocks the nation. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

June 15, 1904 SS General Slocum catches fire and sinks in East River; over 1,000 people die, mostly women and children.
June 21, 1904 Sec. of Commerce and Labor George Cortelyou announces federal commission to investigate sinking.
June 23, 1904 Slocum relief fund treasuser announces that nearly $97,000 has already been raised; discourages further funding.
June 24, 1904 A major benefit at the Grand Opera House raised $3,000 for the relief fund.
July 29, 1904 Grand jury returns indictments against several key players of the tragedy.
January 27, 1906 Jury finds Captain Van Schaick guilty of criminal negligence and gives the maximum sentence—ten years.
July 1906 Sculptor Bruno Zim begins preparation for a marble fountain memorial in Tompkins Square Park.