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HENRY CLAY 19th Century General Slocum

This discussion on "HENRY CLAY 19th Century General Slocum" is in the Other Ships and Shipwrecks section; The loss of the Henry Clay, off Riverdale N.Y. on July 28, 1852 was, in ...

      
   
  1. #1
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    The loss of the Henry Clay, off Riverdale N.Y. on July 28, 1852 was, in its day, one of the most notorious shipping disasters to take place in U.S. waters, and remains surprisingly well known regionally 'though little remembered elsewhere.

    The Henry Clay was a 198 foot long sidewheeler, and a "day boat" which operated between NYC and Albany. Launched in 1851, she was a new boat on the river and in less than a year had developed a reputation for speed and, if post disaster acccounts are to be believed, as a racer. On her final day, she departed Albany in conjunction with her principal rival, the Armenia, both bound for NYC. Although the trip started calmly enough, it soon became evident that the close-to-eight-hour journey was becoming a race. At least one irate passenger aboard the Henry Clay saw his stop, at a minor landing, passed in order to maintain maximum speed for as long as possible- he opted to remain with the ship 'through' to NYC so that he could bring suit. Passengers were concerned enough with what they considered risky and negligent navigating that some sort of confrontation developed between them and the captain and/or pilot. It was remarked by the officers that they wished the passengers would 'mind their own business.' One passenger was later quoted as saying that another irate passenger wished to throw the captain overboard. At Kingston NY, the Henry Clay veered around the Armenia to be the first ship to enter the dock, and the two vessels collided with minor damage ensuing. At least one party of socially prominent passsengers left the Clay at that point to complete the journey by rail, and the captain of the slightly damaged Armenia (wisely) chose to abort the race. Passengers boarded at Kingston and Poughkeepsie, bringing the total onboard to a possible 500 as the Henry Clay began the final leg of her passage. High speed was maintained, and some were alarmed by the sparks and cinders which rained down from the funnel onto the shade awnings along the after decks - in some places they burned through. After the main meal of the day was served, and with about an hour left of the less-than-relaxing journey, the Henry Clay was found to be afire, amidship, just south of Yonkers and about a mile offshore. A few of the passengers managed to make it to the bow section, but most ran to the stern, at first under orders and, as the fire progressed, as their only option. The voyage from midstream to the shore, took several minutes and the Clay, with a draft of only 5 feet, struck the shallows at speed high enough to allow her to run, sled style, up the beach and into a railway embankment, her bow stopping just short of the tracks. Those few who ran forward were able to drop safely onto land. The hundreds who were driven to the stern found themselves in deep water, figuratively as well as literally, as they were still perhaps 140 feet from shore. As aboard the General Slocum few knew how to swim, but the arrival of the Armenia, minutes into the disaster, kept the fatalities from hitting the 75% figure that the Slocum's did. Still, at least 80 were lost, including Stephen Allan, the ex-mayor of New York City, and Maria Hawthorne, the sister of Nathaniel.

    This view, from Gleason's Pictorial, is the best known contemporary view of the wreck and can easily be found at paper shows and flea markets. There is a second view, a painting in the Metropolitan Museum of Art collection, which differs from this view in many ways (note that the bow of the Armenia can be seen just off the Henry Clay's stern, while in the painting the Armenia is placed, more scenically, in mid-river) but agrees, with amazing fidelity, to the distance between the wreck and the railway overpass. That made it easy, 153 years later, to determine just where the wreck lay, and may still lie.

  2. #2
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    Earlier in the week, Mike and I set out to document whatever we could find of the Henry Clay disaster. For various reasons (to be related later in the narrative) it did not work out, so today I set out with my father to try again.

    First stop was the disaster site, now known as the Riverdale Yacht Club, in the elegant Riverdale section of the Bronx.

    This view was taken from the West 254th Street overpass, which replaced the stone bridge when the tracks were widened. We are looking south, with the George Washington Bridge visible in the distance and the disaster site about 200 feet from the bridge, on the right.

  3. #3
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    Driving down the hill beyond the bridge, we came to the "Private-Members Only" yacht club. My father, ex NYPD Officer (retired) views such things as a challenge or at least a minor inconvenience and soon we were standing atop the Henry Clay wreckage.

    This view corresponds. from ground level, to the view from Gleason's in post #1. If various accounts are correct regarding distance, the Clay remnants lie in the vicinity of the white building.

  4. #4
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    However, very little probably remains of the ship. Her machinery was salvaged and installed in another vessel, and her more intact forward section removed in 1852- the statue of Henry Clay from her pilot house was on display in NYC as late as the 1960s. Most of the vessel burned to the waterline, and whatever was not removed following the disaster is now buried under fill.
    Here, from near where the bow came to rest, we can see just how far out the river has been filled at this point.

  5. #5
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    And here, at Riverdale Station, just north of the bridge, once can see how close the river once ran to the tracks at the wreck site and how it was possible for the vessel to jump out of the water and nearly land atop the tracks.

    It is easy here to imagine, on a sunny day in September, what the corresponding view in 1852 must have been like. At this spot in the river the fire had been discovered, but was not yet out of control. Riverdale itself has changed a great deal but is still essentially the same as it was in the Clay era. At that time, there were only 10 or 12 huge estates in the neighborhood. The Russell Smith residence, where the Henry Clay burned herself out, featured a 600 foot long series of landscaped terraces leading down the hill from the mansion to the river- or to the railroad tracks, post Vanderbilt post New York Central. No sign of the terraces can be seen today, but the house may survive tucked back on some obscure side street. The great pre Civil War estates are gone, save for that of Edwin Forrest, but the area is home to an amazing collection of well maintained upper class homes spanning the Victorian to the Art Deco eras, and is well worth exploring if one has the time.

  6. #6
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    At least 80 people died in the disaster. Most were recovered, and returned to destinations as far flung as Ypsilanti Michigan; Iberville Louisiana; and Salem, Massachusetts where Maria Hawthorne was buried in the Howard Street Cemetery on August 3rd. Nathaniel missed her funeral by a few hours. For at least 8 of the dead, St. John's Cemetery in Yonkers became the offical end of their journies. These bodies were held until their condition became such that retaining them further became impossible. Atop a hill overlooking Nepperhan Avenue were buried:

    1) A woman, dressed in black, between 50 and 60 years of age, hair originally dark brown turning gray; black gaiter boots, prunella no tips; white cotton stockings; jet buttons on dress, open in front with frill. Supposed to be Mrs. Hill of Philadelphia, by Mr Henry C. Arnold of New-York. Mrs Hill was in company with Mr Speed and left Peekskill in the company of her sister.

    2) Boy, 20 or 22 years old, apparently Irish. Check cotton shirt, figured encktie with colored ends, brogans. In his pocket were two keys, one having a brass chain attached; a comb; a clean shirt and a cotton stamped pocket handkerchief, and a pipe. Also a slip of paper with the direction JAMES DONNAHIES, No 60 Laight-Street New-York.

    3) German woman, dark brown hair gold earrings, brown merino dreass, calf-skin brogans and worsted stockings. A card found in her pocket from Donelan's Hotel No 37 Dean-Street, Albany; blue colored round tin snuff box, comb and pocket knife and a few cents.

    4) German laborer; thick whiskers extending around under his chin; some greyb hair, brown frock coat, heavy boots, and blue overalls in front of which was a cross, stamped underneath "GLAUBER HOFFS" In his pocket was the card of a jeweler residing in Rivington-Street New-York.

    5) An old lady, apparently German, hair turning grey. Blue figured dress, black gaiter boots tipped with patent leather, and white cotton stockings.

    6) A female, apparently about 18 years of age.

    7) A woman, supposed to be Bridget Broderick, aged about 30 years. Black hair, light figured dress, on her neck was a string of white glass beads, a white paste breast pin set with seven stones, one large goldf earring crescent shape, one trunk or closet key attached to a ribbon, one large plain gold wedding ring, one pair white kid and one pair cotton gloves, one cotton purse, steel slides and tassels, containing 52 cents in specie, and a card of a window shade store at nos 175 and 177 William-Street New-York in the style of a $100 bill; also a certificate in the following words:
    "Bridget Broderick leaves with our full consent in order to be married; we have no ill will toward her whatever, sincerely wishing that in the contemplated change she may better her condition
    -C.H. Palmer
    -W.P. Palmer
    41 Irving-Place
    July 4, 1852

    8) A woman with black and white speckled muslin de laine dress, black pen work straw hat, a dark leather pocket book containing two $5 bills on the Marine Bank of Baltimore, $9 in dollar gold pieces, three slips cut from newspapers- one from the Evening Bulletin being a notice of the histoty of England in verses; another slip containing a piece of poetry styled THE WELCOME by Thomas Davis; also another piece of poetry styled THE SATISFIED and THE PRISONER'S SONG; one diamond ring; and in her pocket was one pair of black kid gloves.

    This weathered monument, at the burial plot, commemorates their commom fate.

  7. #7
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    Finding this monument proved to be one of our more difficult undertakings. St. John's does not have an entrance for cars, so one must drive into Oakland Cemetery next door. One can park at a pull-in next to the grave of Titanic victims Alexander and Charity Robins and then walk over the hill into St. John's. It is worth the walk- St. John's is a peaceful Victorian country cemetery in an urban setting, and one will NOT be bothered by hordes of other visitors. I had seen a photo in the best of the Henry Clay books (more of which later) and so I had a general idea of what to look for. We walked and walked, through the oppressive heat and humidity of mid day, cursing ourselves for leaving the water in my car at the top of the hill. Cursing, too, the ribs I had cracked the previous night which made hill climbing less than joyous. We saw obelisks, columns, plinths and allegorical statues by the dozens. What we did not see, and never did find, was the Henry Clay monument and burial site. Finally the heat, thirst, and my saying "sh*t" each time I took a step up hill and felt my ribs shift conspired to make us leave after a fruitless hour. That left me in a rather irritable mood regarding that particular wreck and so instead of driving to the site of the fire we concentrated on the Morro Castle and Lusitania for the rest of the day.

  8. #8
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    Yes, we never did find the monument and for good reason:

    It is perhaps the most miniscule memorial to a major disaster ever. If you look at my first, B&W photo (above) with nothing to give a sense of scale unless one REALLY examines the shot, it looks fairly impressive. Note what the addition of a 10"x7" paperback book does to the scale.
    Yep....the monument is less than three feet tall, and the next photo in the series shows where we were standing at the moment the "abort mission" sentiments were voiced.

  9. #9
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    Less than ten feet away from the plot. I was, in fact, looking at it when I called it 'quits.' Today I returned with Kris Hansen's excellent book Death Passage on the Hudson, and used the tree line visible in the background of her photo of the memorial to find the exact spot. Once I matched the trees it was no trick finding the right place, and my initial reaction to the size of the thing was amusement. "You've GOT to be kidding...."


    The flag wrapped around the column was once inscribed. The inscription is long gone, but Ms. Hansen found the original text:

    Here lie the bodies of Mrs. Ann Hill and her sister Miss Eliza A. Smith of () Bridget Broderick, Wm McCluskey and two women and one man whose names are unknown, all of whom were lost from the Henry Clay on the burning of that steamboat two and one half miles below the village of Yonkers on her passage from Albany to New York, July 28, 1852

  10. #10
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    The absolute best work concerning the Henry Clay is Kris Hansen's book, which can be found at Amazon

    http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/tg...books&n=507846

    and contains a wealth of great quotes, and details about the wreck and subsequent trial. Definitely on the recommended list

  11. #11
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    Sounds to me like they overstressed the boilers and paid the price for it. Unfortunately, accidents like this weren't all that uncommon in the early days of steam. That wood was still being used at the time didn't help, nor did the construction standards of the day. The Mississippi riverboats I understand had a particular notoriety as firetraps. I doubt that the steamboats on any other river were any better.

  12. #12
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    HENRY CLAY DEAD AND MISSING

    Allen, Honorable Stephen

    Bailey, Mrs Maria
    Bailey, Miss Maria
    Bancroft, Amelia C.
    Bartlett, Mrs. Emily
    Bottoms, Mr Ransom, 22
    Broderick, Bridget

    Chattilon, Mrs. Margaret (sister of Mr George Thielman).
    Chattilon, Miss Katarina, 3
    Chattilon, Miss Helena 14 m (Missing)
    Colby, Mrs Harriet, Vermont
    Cooper, Miss Mary
    Crannell, Master Matthew 13m.
    Crawford, Mrs (missing) Michigan
    Crist, Mr Abraham

    Denison, Sarah
    DeWint, Mrs Caroline
    Downing, Mr. A.J.

    Fennell, Mrs Matilda North Carolina

    Hanford, Mrs Johanna
    Hanford, Miss Joan B. M. 17 m
    Hawthorne, Miss Maria
    Hill, Mrs. Ann Pennsylvania
    Hill, Christopher Benjamin, New York
    Hillman, Miss Elizabeth, 68
    Holmes, Mrs Adeline
    Holmes, Miss (Aunt of Mrs Whitlock)
    Hosier, John
    Hoy, Mrs. Julia

    Jackson, Joseph
    Johnson, Charlotte
    Jordan, Miss Phoebe (Niece of J.S. Schoonmaker)

    Kinsley, Miss Eliza, 13
    Kinsley, Miss Harriet, 18

    Ledyard, Miss Elizabeth

    Marcher, Mrs. Anna
    Marcher, Mr. George K.
    McCluskey, Wm.
    McDaniels, Mrs Lucy Vermont
    McNally, Miss Elizabeth, 27
    Milligan, Mrs Emeline
    Moore, Miss H.W. Mississippi
    Murray, Mrs Jane, 30, Illinois
    Murray, Master John, 1 yr. Illinois

    Piersall, Miss Elizabeth, 15

    Ostrander, Mrs (Missing)

    Ray, Mr Wm. Ohio
    Ray, Mrs Abby Ann Ohio
    Ray, Miss Caroline Ohio
    Robinson, Mrs Mary Ann
    Robinson, Miss Isabella (infant)

    Sands, Mr Isaac
    Sands, Master R. A. 9m
    Schoonmaker, Mr J. S.
    Schoonmaker, Miss Catherine Ann
    Shanckey, Miss Elizabeth (Nurse of Simons family)
    Sherman, Mr Isaac (Missing)
    Simons, Mr John K.
    Simons, Master Howard H. 2.5 yr
    Smith, Miss Eliza
    Speed, Mr J. J. Maryland

    Thielman, Mr George (Brother of Margaret Chattilon)
    Thielman, Miss Teresa
    Thompson, Miss Mary Pennsylvania
    Thompson, Master Eugene (infant) Pennsylvania
    Thompson, Mrs John C.
    Thompson, Jeanie (infant)
    Truax, Mrs Henrietta, 19
    Truax, Miss Mary Francis Celia, 4
    Tuman, Wm B. 15, (Missing)

    Wadsworth, Mrs Matilda Louisiana
    Whitlock, Mr G. F.
    Whitlock, Mrs Caroline
    Whitmore, Catherine (Missing)
    Williams, Bessie (Missing)

  13. #13
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    >Sounds to me like they overstressed the boilers and paid the price for it.

    The testimony on this point was detailed, yet at the same time inconclusive, as it was on most of the technical issues raised by the fire. The passengers were, of course, not trained as engineers and did not understand what they were seeing- there was a strong feeling aboard that something unsafe was occurring, to the extent that passengers did leave the ship during its course downriver, but 'gut instincts' do not stand up in court and so the eventual verdict was not unexpected.

  14. #14
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    >>but 'gut instincts' do not stand up in court and so the eventual verdict was not unexpected.<<

    Another whitewash? That seems to be the standard operating proceedure in cases like this. (Sorry if I'm mistaken, but I'm not well educated on this event.)

  15. #15
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    >Another whitewash?

    No- the victims were too prominent. The inquest was thorough, no attempt was made to stifle the truth, but from reading the papers it seems that the testimony from the passenger side (and dozens of men and women appeared at the inquest) was inconclusive.

    There was an act passed almost immediately, barring steamboat racing, which was very effective on the Hudson but less so elsewhere. Despite the shadow cast by the General Slocum affair, it seems that NYC river boats were by and large well inspected and fairly safe. More than a generation after the Henry Clay fire, the Seawanhawka burned in the East River with almost as many fatalities as the Clay. In this case, however, the captain beached the ship in the Sunken Meadows and those who did not burn to death, or drown by jumping before the ship grounded, were able to walk through the shallow marsh to safety. Seawanhawka's remains were still there in 1904, nearly a generation later, and were probably visible to the Slocum passengers as their captain bypassed Sunken Meadows for the dubious safety of North Brother Island. Three major fire disasters over a span of 52 years is pretty good for a waterway the size of the Hudson/East River New York Harbor system, or at least by Victorian era standards.

    ...and, yes, I know that I omitted the Westfield.

  16. #16
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    Here is a bit of Clay trivia. After the deaths of Harriet and Eliza Kinsley, 18 and 13 respectively, the sole surviving member of their Landed Gentry class family attributed the deaths, and those of several other Kinsleys who died prematurely, to 'bad luck' brought on by the selling off of property. So, for the remainder of his life he did not sell any additional Kinsley land. After his death, the former estate was absorbed into West Point and the two girls who died in the fire disinterred from the family plot in Highland Falls and reburied in the West Point cemetery.

  17. #17
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    >>No- the victims were too prominent.<<

    Well, that's a refreshing change. Thanks for that information.

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    A fascinating outing-thanks for all the details. I was not aware of Maria Hawthorne being a passenger on the Clay. Nathaniel's other sister, I believe, became a Dominican nun.

  19. #19
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    One Hawthorne biography from 1884 quotes a letter from Mrs. Hawthorne to her mother in which she remarks that 'she lacked the courage to learn if Maria burned before drowning.' A damaged brooch recovered from Maria's body became a family heirloom and may still exist.

    Nathaniel intended for Maria to reside at their estate. She had been 'summering' at one of the big resorts, either Saratoga or the Catskill Mountain House I forget, and her presence on the lost ship was apparently last minute.

    >A fascinating outing-thanks for all the details.

    You are welcome, and of course are welcome to come on Part 2 if you are in the neighborhood.

  20. #20
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    Here is a letter written by Mrs Hawthorne. Turns out that Maria Louisa Hawthorne went by the name of Louisa in family circles:


    CONCORD, Friday morning, July 30, 1852.

    MY DEAREST MOTHER,--This morning we received the shocking intelligence that Louisa Hawthorne was lost in the destruction of the steamer "Henry Clay" on the Hudson, on Wednesday afternoon, July 27. She has been at Saratoga Springs and with Mr. Dike for a fortnight, and was returning by way of New York, and we expected her here for a long visit. It is difficult to realize such a sudden disaster. The news came in an appalling way. I was at the toilet-table in my chamber, before seven o'elock, when the railroad coach drove up. I was astonished to see Mr. Pike get out. He left us on Monday morning,--two days ago. It struck to my heart that he had come to inform us of some accident. I knew how impossible it was for him to leave his affairs. I called from the window, "Welcome, Mr. Pike!" He glanced up, but did not see me nor smile. I said, "Go to the western piazza, for the front door is locked." I continued to dress my hair, and it was a considerable time before I went down. When I did, there was no Mr. Pike. "Where is Mr. Pike?--I must then have seen his spirit," said I. But upon going to the piazza, there he stood unaccountably, without endeavoring to enter. Mr. Hawthorne opened the door with the strange feeling that he should grasp a hand of air. I was by his side. Mr. Pike, without a smile, deeply flushed, seemed even then not in his former body. "Your sister Louisa is dead!" I thought he meant that his own sister was dead, for she also is called Louisa. "What! Louisa?" I asked. "Yes." "What was the matter?" "She was drowned." "Where?" "On the Hudson, in the 'Henry Clay'!" He then came in, and my husband shut himself in his study.

    We were about sitting down to breakfast. We sat down. Una was in the bathroom; I went to tell her. This upset me completely. I began to weep. By and by Mr. Pike got up from the breakfast-table, and said that unless he could do something for us, he must immediately return, and he went out. At last, my mind left the terrible contemplation of Louisa's last agony and fright, and imaged her supremely happy with her mother in another world. For she was always inconsolable for her mother, and never could be really happy away from her. So I burst out, "Oh, I have thought of something beautiful, sornething that will really comfort us!" Una's face lightened, but Julian could not pay heed. But I bent over him and said, "Aunt Louisa is with her mother, and is happy to be with her. Let us think of her spirit in another world." A smile shone in his eyes for a moment, but another flood of tears immediately followed. All at once he got up and went to the study,--he had the intention of consoling his father with that idea; but his father had gone on the hill.

    Mr. Hawthorne will ask his sister Elizabeth to come here, to change the scene. It is an unmitigated loss to Elizabeth. Tell my sister Elizabeth not to stop here as she had intended. Mr. Pike said that Mrs. Dike was almost distracted,--he never saw any body so distressed. The news came by telegraph,--"Maria is lost." Mr. Pike brought us the paper. Good-by.

    Your affectionate child, SOPHIA

  21. #21
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    Hello Jim-
    I am glad you finally found the monument; Lord knows we looked hard the first time. Thank goodness for your persistence. The info on this thread is excellent. I am sorry I wasn't there for the second excursion. Great job as always
    Mike
    margot likes this.

 

 

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