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The Gen. Slocum
A 100-year-old tragedy and its devastating e ect on one family.
: I heard that 2004 marked
the 100th anniversary of the
Gen. Slocum disaster.
Apparently, a ship in New or
burned, with more than 1,000 per-
sons aboard. If it's New York, there
must be a Jewish angle. And can you
tell me more about the Gen. Slocum?
A: This past year was indeed the
100th anniversary of the tragedy —
an event which, sadly, very few
remember, despite the fact that before
the 9-11 terrorist attacks, the disaster
aboard the steamship resulted in the
greatest number of deaths in a single
event in New York history.
The Gen. Slocum, named for a Civil
War general, set out on Sunday after-
noon, June 15, 1904. Some 1,300
New Yorkers were aboard; most were
families, predominantly women and
children, from St. Marks Evangelical
Lutheran Church on Sixth Street.
It was a beautiful day. So the families,
many of whom had saved for months
to be able to afford the trip, were
delighted as the Gen. Slocum headed
from Manhattan to Long Island Sound.
The ship had traveled only 15 min-
utes when a small fire was discovered.
The fire spread quickly and fiercely.
In minutes, the ship was consumed.
Some tried to jump overboard, but
few people knew how to swim.
Besides, many of the women had lit-
tle children and babies with them.
Most of the crew made little effort
to help the passengers. Even if they
had tried, however, the Gen. Slocum
The Gen. Slocum
was poorly equipped for a disaster.
The lifeboats had been securely tied
to the ship with wire (probably to
prevent annoying banging), making
them impossible to take down.
Though an "inspector" had suppos-
edly checked the life preservers
aboard the ship before it set sail,
these were more than 13 years old,
crumbling and useless. Some even
broke apart and absorbed water,
drowning the poor souls who tried to
use them as they jumped ship.
In the end, 1,021 men, women and
children died that day. Their bodies
washed ashore or were almost com-
pletely burned or were never found.
Among the dead was 10-year-old
Sylvia Harris, the daughter of a
Jewish couple, David (nee Rosenholz)
and Lena Harris. The family lived in
lower Manhattan, an area known as
Little Germany because of its large
number of residents with German
roots. (Lena's parents were German-
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Sylvia was a friend of Agnes Bell,
who boarded with the Harris family,
where she worked as a domestic. Bell
likely was Lutheran, and apparently
David paid for both girls to take the
trip aboard the Gen. Slocum.
Mark Rosenholz of New York is a
great-great-nephew of Sylvia's father,
David, and he has done research into
the family history.
Originally, the Harris' family name
was Rosenholz, though it was
SLOCUM on page 48
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