General Slocum Monument


A Memorial to the German History of the East Village

General Slocum memorial fountain carpe city east village

About General Slocum Monument

 & why it made the Carpe City list

Note: Located inside the park just off of 10th Street.

She was cursed from the beginning, doomed, destined for despair, a dramatic Titanic-esque disaster that changed the course of history.

But we’ll get to that sad story in a minute.

First, who was General Slocum?  We think it sounds like a southern restaurant, General Slocum’s Fried Chicken or General Slocum’s Homespun BBQ.  Alas, no.

Henry Warner Slocum was a Civil War hero, a New York-born Union Army general and, later, Congressman.  He fought at Gettysburg, marched to the sea with Sherman, and died in Brooklyn in 1894.

But this monument is not dedicated to Hank “I’m not Colonel Sanders” Slocum; it’s a memorial to the PS General Slocum, a steamboat that ferried passengers along the East River in the late 1800’s, until her tragic demise in 1904.

General Slocum 1

She was cursed from the beginning. Just four months after Champagne burst on her bow, the Slocum ran aground off Rockaway.

Doomed. Shortly thereafter, she rammed a sandbar and the next month, ran aground off Coney Island.

Destined for despair. Two months later, she collided with a tug boat. Other mishaps followed, collisions, groundings, and even a riot, until that fateful day in 1904, when all was lost.

Every year, a German church group chartered a boat to ferry them up the East River to a picnic site on Long Island.  On Wednesday, June 15, 1904, over 1,400 congregants, residents of the East Village’s Little Germany, cheerfully boarded the Slocum for the ride north.

The fire started in the lamp room, fueled by straw, oily rags and lamp oil.  The fire hoses were rotted, useless. The lifeboats were chained up, inaccessible. The antique life jackets did not float.

When it was over, the tragedy was truly of Titanic proportions: 1,021 people perished, burned or drowned, the most in a New York disaster until 9/11.  (Titanic deaths totaled 1,503.)

And, yes, the disaster changed the history of the East Village and Lower East Side of New York.

General Slocum Disaster

You might have read in one of our previous posts that in the late 1800’s this area, referred to as Little Germany or Kleindeutchland, contained the third largest German speaking population in the world, just after Berlin and Vienna.  There were so many German immigrants at this time that 30% of NYC’s population was of German descent.  The area on Avenue B near Tompkins Square Park was known as German Broadway and was an important commercial center in the city.   Sadly, after the General Slocum disaster, the neighborhood literally disappeared.  The tight-knit community was so devastated that the surviving Germans moved uptown en masse to Yorkville, now part of the Upper East Side.  The church associated with the Slocum disaster closed and later became a synagogue. The vibrant community of Kleindeutchland is no more, but you can still see some remaining elements from the era at the Ottendorfer Library, the German-American Shooting Society and the Germania Bank Building.  Unfortunately the grand bierhauses on the Bowery have closed, but you can still pick up a stein and a schnitzel at Zum Schneider on Avenue C.

By: Ted Scofield
Photography by:

Anne Crays

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