12 year old John Klenck, of 113 St. Marks Place was, if possible, even less fortunate than the surviving Richter children. His father had died some time prior to 1900, leaving the support of his family to oldest son, William, who worked as a store clerk. Bertha Klenck, 40, and two of her three children, William, 20, and Charles, 7, were lost in the disaster.
As of 1920, John Klenck was unmarried, living with his widowed aunt, Anna Eichler, and her brother in law Fred Bayer at 804 West 180th Street. He worked as a credit investigator for a Trust Company. His date of death is not listed in the Social Security Death index.
A 1904 interview with Mr. Fetzke of 211 East Fifth Street, husband of victim Gusta Fetzke, 38, and father of victims Elizabeth,14, and Herman Fetzke, 8 months. Hattie, 12, was the only survivor.
In spotless rooms lived the Rosenagel family, husband and wife, their little daughters, Lucy and Grace, and the old grandmother. Mrs. Rosenagel had promised to take the little girls on the Sunday school excursion if the day was fine. When the panic came on the boat, she was separated from her daughters and was lost.
‘She was such a good mother’ the little girls lamented, ‘always making nice things for us and giving us pleasure.’
As an evidence of her thoughtfulness, the confirmation dress that she had made for the older girl was pointed out with the remark ‘That’s all hand work. She did it.’
‘Ach, yes,’ moaned the aged mother of the dead woman. ‘I have had thirteen strong children and I have lived to see them all die but one. Who will take care of me now she is dead?’
Annie Rosenagel, of 129 East Fourth Street, was 43 when she died. Grace was 7, Lucy was 13, and her mother, Margaret Dressler, was 79. The 1910 census found the Rosenagel family living in Brooklyn. Charles Rosenagel, 38 at the time of the disaster, had remarried, and fathered two children, Margaret, 4, and Clara, 2, with his new wife, Margaret. Margaret’s aged parents, Peter and Margaret Christ were living with the Rosenagel family at that point.
Walter Peters, 50 Avenue A. Helen Peters, 28, was issued death certificate #2982. Lillian, 1, was issued #3603, so presumably she was among the last found.
Charles Schwartz, Jr., 18 year old machinist’s apprentice, was one of the few General Slocum passengers proficient at swimming. His rescue of at least twenty-two of his fellow travelers earned him much praise in the press, ‘though he took pains to downplay it.
"Mrs. Adickes" was actually Margaret Stuve (65) grandmother and chaperone of the Adickes children. John Adickes (15) and his adopted sister Margaret Heidekamp (12) were lost in the fire. Sister, Annie (8) survived. In the Slocum program for June 15th 1904, the Adickes’ business is advertised: E ADICKES Fine Confectionary and Ice Cream Saloon, 49 Avenue A, between 3rd and 4th Streets. The family lived upstairs over the store.
Despite the deaths of Louisa Schwartz (43) and her mother, Charles Schwartz' family was luckier than most, for all four children aboard the General Slocum (Emily, 20; Charles, 18; Anton, 16 and Louis, 10, survived.
14 year old John Tischner, of 404 East Fifth Street, saved the life of his companion of the voyage, neighbor Ida Wytska.
Albertina Lambeck, 33, of 427 East Ninth Street, was observed by a reporter from the New York Times, at Lincoln Hospital. Her head was bandaged, and she was shrieking with grief over the deaths of her five children. This easily found reference has made Mrs. Lambeck one of the better known survivors. Here is her less well known personal account:
Albertina was fortunate. She later learned that two of her children, Herman, 14, and Dora, 11, survived by clinging to one of the paddleboxes. However, her other children, Ernest, 9, Henry, 6, and Albert, 3, were lost. Herman Lambeck, who was rescued by the launch Kills, gave this interview:
Mrs. Lambeck died, in Queens, NY, in 1930. Dora, who gave the name of Dorothy to the 1930 census taker, was unmarried and living with her father, Henry, and mother at the time of Albertina’s death.
John Kircher, of Brooklyn, when interviewed at the morgue, angrily declared
In addition to his daughter, Elsie, 7, John Kircher lost his mother, Catherine, 62, his sister-in- law Margaret, 34, and his nephew, Harold, 3. His 7 year old niece, Stacey, survived, as did his wife, Lizzie, 37, and his sons Frederick, 9, and George, 3.
Mrs. Antoniette de Luccia, 31, of 54 East Seventh Street, and her daughter, Rose, 12, returned to their building alive and uninjured. 54 East Seventh had the grim distinction of being one of the hardest hit buildings in the East Village. Among those lost were Mrs de Luccia’s children Agnes, 6, Frank, 8, and Nicholas, 4,(Nicholas was never recovered) Mrs. Sophie Siegal, who was pregnant, Margaret Clow, 40, Flora Galewski, 36, (never recovered) and her children Helen, 6, and Morris, 3. Flora Galewski was the equivalent, in 1904, of a day care provider for the working women of her block: she would take their children to Tompkins Square Park for the day and allow them to play as their mothers worked. Frank de Luccia was identified by a metal school I.D. tag sewn into his clothing. Louis and Antoniette DeLuccia appear, along with their daughter, Rosie, in the 1910 census. Rosie, at 18, was unmarried, and the de Luccias had not had any children in the intervening six years.
Eleanor Wiedemann Reichenbach, 23, of 241 Stockholm Street, Brooklyn, was on the middle deck with her two year old son, Herman Jr., when the panic broke out. Eleanor obtained a life belt and placed it on herself:
Herman Reichenbach Jr. was lost. Eleanor’s only other child, a daughter named Madaline, was born in 1905.
Valentine and Magdalena Kolb were typical of the successful first wave of German immigrants to the US. Magdalena was born in 1832, Valentine in 1836. Both came the United States in 1853, where they met, married, and raised 5 children. By 1904 they had been married for fifty-one years. Valentine’s success as a barber had allowed them to move away from Little Germany to the solidly middle class Fordham Road section of the Bronx. But, as did most who left Little Germany for more upscale environments, the Kolbs maintained ties to the old neighborhood. The Sunday School excursion would have been a pleasant way for the old couple to catch up with friends and enjoy an atypical midweek day off. Neither survived.
Two brief accounts by passengers who owed their lives to the deaths of others:
The Ferneisen family, of 40 East Seventh Street was exceptionally lucky; Emma Ferneisen, 33, and her three children Henry, William, 8, and Marie, 7, all survived.
Catherine Jordan,20, of 37 Third Avenue, who survived with burns. Her sister Pauline (16) with whom she traveled, also survived with injuries.
One of the flotilla of small craft performing body recovery on the day of the fire, found the body of a 12 year old girl adrift in the river. It was tied to the craft, by a rope around its waist, and towed to the Bronx Shore with other bodies and brought to the Alexander Avenue Police Station, where it was tagged #24 and laid out on the floor with the bodies of other victims. That afternoon, one of the few “miracles” of the day occurred when the body convulsed, vomited up river water, and began to breath again. Clara Hartmann, 12, of 309 East Tenth Street, “Body #24” gave this widely quoted account:
The miracle did not extend to Margaret “Margery” Hartmann, 15, or her mother, Mary, 45. Both were lost. Clara’s father, Jacob, 54, and older siblings Jacob Jr., 22, and Mary, 20, did not attend the excursion.
Clara Steur, whose name cannot be matched to any on the printed survivors list, spoke of the loss of the Mannheimer family:
36 year old Mamie Mannheimer, of 87 East Seventh Street, was lost, as was 11 year old Walter Mannheimer.
Heroic work by tugboats and harbor craft of all sorts saved the vast majority of the 350- 400 General Slocum survivors. The official government investigative report states that had it not been for the appearance of this impromptu fleet, the death toll would have approached 95%, for only about 70 people were pulled, or swam, to shore on North Brother Island. Dozens of survivors wrote of the miraculous last-second arrival of tugs that appeared through the smoke, sailed up close to the side of the vessel, and allowed passengers who were fortunate enough to be in the right place to leap down to safety.
Wade ordered his tug, representing ten years of savings, grounded at an angle between the General Slocum and shore. At least 78 of the fewer than 400 survivors were able to use the badly damaged Wade as a bridge to safety.
George Gray, 13, of 309 East Fourteenth Street. His friend Albert Greenwald, also 13, of 326 East Fourteenth Street survived as well.
Mrs. White, the Superintendant of Nurses on North Brother Island, briefly described her role in the rescue efforts that morning:
I hoped to find a first person narrative by heroine Pauline Fultz. This 1904 account is the best I have read:
When Dr. Stewart, the superintendent of the hospital, sounded the alarm, Miss Fultz was among the first to reach the beach. With the other nurses and men she waded into the water and helped ashore all those within reach.
Fifty feet away the surface of the water was dotted with the heads of struggling women and children. Some were making feeble efforts to keep afloat, others drifted helplessly, kept up by their clothing.
‘I am going out to them’ cried Miss Fultz, as she pulled off her shoes and skirts.
Several nurses caught hold of the girl and tried to restrain her.
‘Let me go’ she cried. ‘I can swim; I must go to their rescue.’
She flung the nurses off, and jumped into the water. With quick, strong strokes she soon reached a little girl. Taking the child’s hair, she turned and swam to the shore, delivering her charge to the nurses who waded out to meet her.
Then she turned back. She grasped another child and took the little one to shore. Notwithstanding the pleading of the nurses, she returned again and rescued another child.
Five times she reached the shore with her human burdens.
The sixth trip almost proved her last. As she passed close by a woman, who gave no sign of life, the latter’s arms suddenly clasped around the girl’s neck. Those on shore saw a short struggle and then both disappeared. They arose again, but Miss Fultz could not break the woman’s hold. Finally, she placed her hand under the woman’s chin and pushed her off. Before the woman could recover her hold, Miss Fultz had passed around and caught her hair and started to pull her towards shore.
When they were within a few feet of solid footing the woman suddenly turned and grasped the girl again, both sinking. Soon the girl’s body appeared on the surface. Her strength had been exhausted. She was dragged ashore more dead than alive and sent to the hospital.
‘It wasn’t anything to do’ said Miss Fultz, later, ‘What could I do? I saw the women and children struggling in the water, and what could I do but go to their rescue?’
‘I was after the children. I wanted to save the women, too, but my first resolve was to bring the children ashore. The woman who got me nearly took me down with her. If she hadn’t been so excited, I would have saved her. It wasn’t much to do. I learned to swim at Asbury Park last summer.’
The children Miss Fultz brought ashore were all unconscious, but they were quickly revived and will recover.
Miss Fultz nearly fell victim to the reflexive response to grab and to climb atop, that makes rescuing people in the panic stage of drowning difficult and occasionally lethal. More than a dozen Slocum survivor accounts were given by people who admitted that, in their terror, they had possibly drowned other people. There are considerably more accounts by those who had to fight their way clear of hands that grasped their necks, their clothing and their feet, as unfortunate fellow travelers reached the blind panic stage of drowning. Eleven year old Salome Klein recalled:
Mrs. Katherine Mettler, 32, of 338 East Fifth Street lost her children Elsie, 15, Albert, 11, Robert, 10, and Fred, 8. Her 4 year old son William survived, as did her two year old, George. Catherine and Robert Mettler had another son, Theodore, in 1906 and a final child, Arthur, in 1912. In 1930 the family was living on upper First Avenue, with Catherine widowed and working as a building janitor, and George, Theodore and Arthur Mettler all unmarried and all working as machinists in a factory.
Herbert S. Nulson, who witnessed the fire from the tower of the Delavergen Refrigerator Company factory, at the foot of East 138th Street, gave this description:
When my Great-grandmother died, there were at least 10 General Slocum survivors still living. An issue of Disaster Magazine, from that era, had a surprisingly tasteful (considering the venue) recounting of the fire and interviews with four of the survivors who attended the memorial service at the Lutheran Cemetery in Queens - Minnie Muller Rolka, Martha Stricker Dietz, August Hauser and Edna Doering. A haunting view of the Slocum I’ve not seen used since appeared in an American Heritage article around the same time, but most of the coverage of the General Slocum disaster in the 1980s would come in conjunction with a survivor obituary. The best, by far, work about the Slocum during that time came in Jeff Kisselhoff’s 1989 work You Must Remember This: An Oral History of Manhattan From the 1890s to World War II. Among the book’s many highlights was an interview with survivor Edna Doering, who gave an exquisitely detailed account of the nightmare that claimed most of her family. Edna escaped easily from the General Slocum, but her brother Gustav, 9, and sister, Ida, 11, died in the river. Her badly burned mother was brought home to die a protracted death in her own apartment, during the course of which, Edna recalled, she called for the two children who died, and did not understand why they would not come to her. Gustav was recovered quickly, but Ida was missing for a time, and when she was found her body was brought back to the family apartment in a coffin.
The first truly outstanding General Slocum book, Ship Ablaze, by Ed O’Donnell, was published in 2003, to excellent reviews. The book, a well-done television documentary, and the 100th anniversary of the fire helped elevate public awareness of the disaster to the highest it had been in decades. Minnie Muller Rolka had died in 1986, Edna Doering in February 1992. Catherine Gallagher Connolly, who lost her mother, Veronica, brother, Walter, and infant sister, Agnes, in the fire, died at age 107, the next to final General Slocum survivor.
By the fall of 2003, only Adella Liebenow Wotherspoon remained of the 378 known survivors. Ed O’Donnell generously sent me copies of some fascinating Slocum reports from 1905, and even more generously, provided me with an address and phone number for Mrs.Wotherspoon after being told of a project with which I was helping my friend Anthony Cunningham. Anthony made contact with Adella, who audiotaped her Slocum-related memories for him. The tape arrived shortly before her death in early 2004, and the interview may well be the last words about the General Slocum spoken by a survivor. Excerpts from Mrs. Wotherspoon’s audiotape:
Complete interview available in:
Silver Link Publications Ltd
Thanks are extended to Ed O’Donnell for trusting us enough to provide us with Mrs. Wotherspoon’s contact information. Gratitude is extended to Craig Stringer for providing me with the "missing" name of Emilia Richter's son who did not attend the excursion. Thanks, as well, to “the usual suspects” who I can always count on for help, advise, and unbiased critique not at all hindered by the scientifically proven fact that I am always correct - even in the face of unimpeachable evidence that I am not. So, Mike, Marty, Tim, Anthony, Harald, Brian, Peter, Zoomer, Kyle, I look forward to the next installation of Gare Maritime and many more enlightening conversations.