General slocum east village walking tour


Jim Kalafus

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To mark the coming 100th annicersary of the General Slocum fire, researcher Trent Pfeiffer spent the earlier part of today, before it hit 95F and we called it quits, seeking out and photographing as many General Slocum related spots as we could, as well as various other notorious L.E.S. sites, spanning 150 years of bizarre history. Over the next few days I will be posting photos and SLocum stories from our tour here, as a memorial to those who were lost and a testiment to those who survived the events of June 15, 1904.
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Here we see Henry Seigwalt and his daughters Carrie and Phoebe posed in front of his grocery store at 225 East 5th Street. Phoebe and Carrie perished in the fire. Mrs. Seigwalt does not appear on the list of dead, missing, injured or uninjured and the family's story appears to have been "lost."
 

Jim Kalafus

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And 225 East 5th Street as it appears today.
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What was once the door to Seigwalt's store is now the entry for the apartments above. His former display window has been halved behind the "riot curtains" with a second door replacing the nearer half of the window. Still, the site is in an excellent state of preservation.

Will be back later to get the tour properly started.
 

Jim Kalafus

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We began the tour at Broadway and Great Jones Street, former site of the Grand Central Hotel and one of NY's most famed 19th Century crimes- the shooting of financial giant Jim Fisk, on a private staricase, by Edward R. Stokes as the culmination of a triangle involving both men and actress Josie Mansfield. The hotel went from "Grand" to "family plan accomodation" by the Titanic era, and in 1973 was a giant Second Empire flophouse which, dramatically, collapsed into the center of Broadway. The scar of it's upper floor mansard outline can still be seen on the building next door. We headed east on Great Jones, paying a distant homage to one of the shrines of my youth, CBGBs, and entered 'Little Germany.' A few doors past the Hell's Angels headquarters, at 77 East 3rd, we came to our first Slocum site- a multi story tenement which, in 1904, was the home of the passenger who discovered the fire and attempted, unsuccessfully, to alert the captain. Frank Prawdziki (often spelled "Perditsky" in post 1904 accounts) was 12, and travelling with his mother and siblings to the picnic at Locust Grove. He saw the smoke and flames coming up the forward staircase, and the crew's efforts at controlling the blaze. He later testified that he called up to the captain, who at that point had not been alerted, "the ship's on fire" and received the reply "get the hell out of here and mind your own business." Frank's mother and family were driven overboard in the stampede a few minutes later. The toll for 85 East 3rd street: Mary Prawdziki, 38, survived with burn injuries; Frank survived with minor injuries; sisters Annie(15) Henrietta(13) and Gertrude (3) drowned, and infant Johanna (1 yr) lost and never recovered. The house, in ill repair during my college years has been "gentrified" and is in excellent condition.
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Jim Kalafus

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HERO AND LOSERS: Moving a bit further down E 3rd, we came to the site of the home of one of the Slocum's acknowledged heros, Charles Schwartz. Schwartz, a teenager, possessed the rare (in 1904) talent of being able to swim. He and his family went overboard with the final rush of passengers after the ship had grounded at North Brother Island. He located first his mother and then his grandnmother in the water, but both died before he pulled them to shore. Undaunted, he continued to swim into the crowd of the drowning until he had saved 22 people- some by swimming them to shore, others by hauling them towards rescue boats. Amongst those he saved were family members of Reverend Haas. His former home, at 141 East 3rd has been demolished.
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A few brief steps from the site of the Schwartz home takes us to the site of one of those "beatiful events" which typified the swinging 1960s. 171 East 2nd Street February 7, 1966, and the grandson of media mogul Moe Annenberg was arrested in his parked car. Resplendant with contracted pupils and track marks, the police initially assumed he was just another junkie. Then they found the body of a woman hidden under a blanket in the car and the case took a whole new turn. She was his 19 year old girlfriend, Celeste Crenshaw. Two weeks earlier he had helped her to shoot up, she overdosed, and he nodded off before he could summon help. He kept her in their apartment for 13 days, with the air conditioning on, and was in the process of taking her upstate to 'dump' her when arrested. Eventually sentenced to 2 1/2 to 5 years. A few steps further down into Alphabet City takes one to the site of child actor Bobby Driscoll's au revoir. After his heyday as a Disney Star (Song of the South, being his best known film) Bobby drifted into the world of hard drugs and some time around 1966 dropped from sight. Years later, one of his parents was dying and a private investigator was hired to track B.D. down. What was learned was that Bobby had been found dead in an abandoned building, fingerprinted, and then buried as an unidentified junkie, ca 1968. Backtracking to 67 E Second WOULD have taken us to the site of one of the many bomb factories which proliferated during the "Peace and Love Generation" (the lovable occupants were responsible for the bombing of the General Motors Building, the RCA Building, the Chase Manahttan Building amongst others) but the temperature was climbing towards 95 at that point and we decided to concentrate more on the Slocum.
 

Inger Sheil

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The General Slocum is one of those unbearably tragic stories, with so many of the victims children and families. Thank you for the posts - it is to be hoped that the anniversary will lead to higher recognition for this personally - and socially - devestating event.

The NYC history is a bonus!
 

Jim Kalafus

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The online tour will continue later today, passing more Slocum sites and crime scenes. NYC has been an interest of mine almost as long as shipwrecks have been, and I spent most of my rebellious teen years and early 20s 'hanging' on the LES, so I can pretty much rattle off facts about each block incessantly.

East 3rd Street, which I covered yesterday online, highlights one of the ironies of ca 1965 urban planning. Everything east of First Avenue was demolished then, and replaced with high rise affordable housing. The blocks between First and the Bowery were left as they were- down at the heels nineteenth century tenements, and single family Greek Revival rowhouses from the 1830 and 40s. When I hung out there, the neighborhood was still a fairly tough and ugly place, but in the intervening years gentrification has happened in a big way, and the nineteenth century buildings have, by and large, been restored and look beautiful- particularly on the tree lined streets. The "improved housing" east of First Avenue, one time symbol of the "revival" of the Lower East Side, on the other hand looks irredeemably bleak, dated, and somewhat barren of hope.

3rd Street was where the General Slocum was moored on her last day. It is easy to imagine what it must have been like that morning on the intact blocks, particularly on a bright June day and if one knows who occupied which house back in 1904, and rather disappointing to hit the line of Urban Renewal demarkation, beyond which nothing original has survived.
 
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Thanks for these, New York is so rich in maritime history, nothing drives it home as much as these poignant visits to places from the past. Considering the heat yesterday, this armchair trip you give us in comfort, is especially appreciated. Hope you and Trent got over to South Street.
 

Jim Kalafus

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The tour continues with one last look into Alphabet City before heading north. Henry Heinz was the proprietor of an "Oyster House" at 97 Avenue A. He was luckier than most; his sons George (17) and Henry (12) survived 'though suffering from burns and immersion. His wife, Johanna (44) and daughter, Louisa (20) were seen being swept overboard with the panicked crowd- both were lost. Louisa Heinz is seen in this circa 1903 portrait.
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Jim Kalafus

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We then headed west on East 4th Street, and paused to recall Mr Ansel of #103. June 15th 1904 was a work day, and like most men in Little Germany Mr Ansel remained behind at his store while his wife Louisa (28) and sons Alfred (4) and Eugene (6) embarked on the excursion. A telegram was delivered to Mr. Ansel at the store, announcing the death of his father in Germany. Before the end of the day, he had lost his entire immediate family in America, as well.

Ansel, like Henry Heinz and many other Slocum victims and survivors, had bought an ad in the Excursion Programme compiled by Mary Abenschein(who, 70 years later, my great grandmother still remembered) and handed out to guests aboard the ship. The programme, 'though mostly in German, contains much of interest to the researcher. Unfortunately, it also contains a heaping helping of jokes so old that even in 1904 they would have rasied groans:

"Suppose" suggested the teacher, "That you take a piece of beefsteak and cut it into halves, then cut the halves into quarters, the quarters into eighths, the eighths into sixteenths, into what could the sixteenths be cut?"

"Hash" responded Tommy, whose mother kept a boarding house.

And the class in fractions was dismissed.

************

And so on.
 

Jim Kalafus

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The death toll associated with the Slocum rises with each block one gets closer to St. Mark's Lutheran Church on 6th Street. East Fifth Street was hit hard. Here we see Hedwig (11) and Henrietta (9) Trimm, of #211, lost along with their mother, Mary (36) and brother, George (11), leaving no family members on the "survivors" list.

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Jim Kalafus

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Jumping ahead eight decades, we lingered at 2nd Avenue and East Fifth to remember the notorious and tragic event which took place there on July 18, 1981.

Jack Henry Abbot was a federal prisoner who had known six months of freedom between ages 18 and 37. While in prisn, and already a murderer, he penned In the Belly of The Beast, a book hailed as a "seething indictment" of the prison sentence back in the day when books described as "seething indictments" were popular amongst the literary set. After him parole he became a protegee of Nomran Mailer and, briefly, a figure on the NY literary scene.

July 18th found him at Binibon, a small restaurant at 2nd and 5th. He asked employee Richard Aden, married five months and about to see his first play produced, where the bathroom was. Apparently not happy with the answer (there was no public bathroom) he stabbed Aden to death. He then fled. Strange to say, the New York Times for July 19th carried a glowing review of Jack Henry Abbott, written before the murder, which described him as "an exceptional man with an exceptional literary gift." Abbott's defense, little believed, was that Richard Aden was "truculent" and had pulled a knife on him. The jury did not buy it and he was sent back to prison where, as far as I know, he remains.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Jumping up a block, to 404 East 6th Street (1904 structure demolished) we come to the site of one of the most tragic, and recounted in 1904, of all of the Slocum Stories. Eight or so years previously, Amelia Richter, mother of seven, had been widowed. Left with little money, she refused offers of "assistance" and worked two full time jobs- as a cleaner of offices and a laundress- as well as whatever part time labor she could get. Amelia's goal was to allow her children to remain in school for as long as possible before entering the work force. Ina dditon to maintaining her own home, she supported her widowed mother next door. She was evidently admired in the community, for after her death, many neighbors were quoted in this vein:

"Her hands were hard, but her children were always clean."

"They never had anything to spare, but she never took a cent (of charity) from anyone."

But in 1904 things were looking up for the Richter family. Her eldest daughter, Amelia (20) was employed, her eldest son (15) had just found an entry level job in the financial world, and with three members of the family contributing to the effort it seemed as if the worst of their financial hardships were over. So, they embarked on what was probably their first 'vacation' as a family. Only daughter Frances (10) returned.

"I couldn't swim, but I tried not to swallow any water. They taught us that in school, you know. And pretty soon I caught hold of a boat...."

Charles Trowbridge, a neighbor, saved her and also Louisa Motzer of East 6th, one of a large family only partially decimated by the fire.

Lost from the Richter family were Amelia (47) Amelia (20) Lizzie (19) August (14) Ernest (12) and Annie (8).

The 15 year old son, at work on the day of the fire, was left as the sole support of Frances, and likely Mrs Henning, his grandmother. Refusing to take charity, he instead asked his boss for more hours, and disappeared from the written record at that point.

The refusal to take charity was ingrained in the character of "Little Germany." The first day relief funds were made available, no one showed up. Eventually some relatives DID take money, but the records were destroyed to prevent future embarrassment and so it is impossible at this point to determine how many took aid in secret. One thing, however, IS known- a substantial amount of the raised funds remained, and when Reverend Haas attemtped to use them for church work the community was so outraged, and so vocal in its opposition to the Lutheran Church using "charity money" that the minister was forced to leave.

One wonders what Amelia Richter, with her determination to keep her children fed, her home clean (another constant refrain in 1904 articles was that her house was worn but 'spotless') and her family together would have thought of the hordes of slovenly middle class 'dropouts" who descended on the East Village during "The Summer Of Love" and after.
 

Jim Kalafus

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East Sixth Street, along with East Seventh, is probably the least changed of the Slocum sites. Aside from the cars, and in a few cases security fences, there is little in the vicinity of the former St. Mark's Lutheran Church which would not be familiar to a visitor from 1904.
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Jim Kalafus

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St Marks, dressed in mourning during the "week of funerals." The impact of the General Slocum is hard to understate and, up until 9/11/01, even comprehend. Take, for instance the case of the family outing organised by Henry and Mary Kohler of 315 East 13th street. In addition to their twelve year old son, Henry Junior, 26 members of the extended family boarded the General Slocum, and none survived. 29 dead from one family is, I beleive, an unfortunate 'record.' Another family reunion ended almost as tragically- 18 members of the Toniport, Schnude and Kassebaum families, related by marriage, went on the excursion- only Kate Kassebaum (52) and her daughter Nettie (30) returned. When the fire became known, the Schnude, Kassebaum and Toniport families gathered together at the stern and tried to maintain order amongst themselves. They were overwhelmed by the mob fleeing from the midships area and driven apart. When the railing collapsed, Kate was thrown into the water:
"I saw scores of women and little children about me in the water. They all seemed to be drowning. I remember that I wondered, in a dreamy way, if any of my children were near me and if they would be rescued. Then my strength failed me, and I sank once more.....I stopped struggling and didn't seem to care any longer whether I ever rose to the top or not..."
 

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