General Slocum survivor dies

Eric Sauder

Nov 12, 2000
From the New York Times.

Eric Sauder

Catherine Connelly, 109, Who Escaped Slocum Fire, Dies

October 19, 2002

Catherine Connelly, who as an 11-year-old in 1904 escaped the inferno that burned the General Slocum, an excursion boat in the East River, died on Thursday at a nursing home in Wilton, Conn. She was 109 and was one of the last two survivors of the disaster, according to a commemorative group.

Maureen Enright, Mrs. Connelly's granddaughter, reported the death. Kenneth Leib, president of the General Slocum Memorial Association, said that only one General Slocum survivor remains alive: Adella Wotherspoon, 98, a retired teacher in Watchung, N.J.

"I'm sorry, of course," Mrs. Wotherspoon said in a phone interview. "She had a very long life. She was a very interesting person."

Mrs. Connelly treasured her family more than anything, and she is survived by her two daughters Jeanne Meehan of Goshen, N.Y., and Elizabeth Reilly of Greenwich, Conn.; 27 grandchildren; 30 great-grandchildren; and 7 great-great-grandchildren.

She had all but one of her 11 babies at home, and made her own diapers. Mother's Days meant wall-to-wall flowers in the Manhattan apartment where she lived alone until she was 102. Her pleasures included cooking rich food, and her secret for longevity was a banana a day.

But every year in the weeks leading up to June 15, the anniversary of the disaster - New York City's most lethal fire until Sept. 11, 2001 - she would become sad. She remembered the boy shouting "fire" over a brass band, mothers and children with clothing on fire leaping into the
swirling whirlpools of Hell Gate in the East River, dresses shredded in machinery. When it was all over, 1,021 of the 1,331 passengers on the Sunday School cruise on a sunny day were dead.

"Sometimes he's very cruel, the man upstairs," Mrs. Connelly said in an interview with The New York Times in 1989.

Catherine Uhlmyer was born in Manhattan on April 4, 1893. Her father died before she was a year old, and her mother married John Gallagher. His last name became hers.

She grew up in what was known as Little Germany, an enclave between Houston and 14th Streets on the East Side. Pickles were a penny each, and stacks of rye bread with apple butter were the delicacy of the day. St. Mark's Lutheran Church on East Sixth Street was the place of worship for much of the community.

The church chartered the General Slocum, a wooden sidewheel steamboat, for the outing. A grocer who belonged to the church gave the Gallaghers, who were Roman Catholics, three tickets. But they needed one more. Mr. Gallagher had to work.

"I went over to the store crying and they gave me a ticket," Mrs. Connelly said. "I was never on a boat before."

Nor did she ever set foot on one again.

The passengers boarded at 9:40 a.m. for the trip to Long Island for a picnic. After catching fire at Hell Gate, the General Slocum put ashore on North Brother Island at 10:40 and burned. Catherine Gallagher was rescued by a tugboat.

An investigation revealed that life jackets and fire hoses had fallen apart with age; lifeboats were wired in place; and the crew had never conducted a fire drill. Only the ship's captain went to prison.

In the days after the disaster, Little Germany's doorways were draped in black, and on June 18, 1904, the neighborhood saw 156 funerals. More than 600 households lost loved ones. Mrs. Connelly lost her mother, brother and sister. Mrs. Wotherspoon lost two sisters, two cousins and
two aunts.

Catherine Gallagher first lived with her grandparents, then with an aunt and uncle. She dropped out of school at 13, and at 20 she married Thomas Connelly, a truck driver.

In Mrs. Connelly's later years, she was interviewed for many articles and television documentaries on the General Slocum, but she never lost her perspective.

"You know," she said in the interview with The Times, "you don't fully grasp the meaning of everything."

Robert W. Collier

Thank you for sharing this article with us. She sounds like quite a woman. An account I read says there were 61 victims never identified, and that they, along with over 900 other victims are buried in a Lutheran Cemetary in south Queens. Now the book was published in 1983, would you happen to know if any were later identified as with the Titanic victims?
Robert W. Collier

Jim Kalafus

Dec 3, 2000
Hi, Robert: The remains of the Slocum passengers were photographed in groups of three upon recovery, and singly, if unidentified, before burial. All bodies recovered after the first week were photographed and then buried, with identifications made by effects and the pictures. This process went on well into 1904, with a "final" figure of 80 unidentified, (42 drowned, 38 burned) being issued by the Coroner later that summer. By the time the monument was unveiled in 1905 (by Adella Liebnow- Mrs. Wotherspoon) the number had dropped to 61. There may have been a few more I.D.s made after 1905, but if there were it was not heavily publicised. The breakdown of General Slocums' passengers was 938 lost, 93 missing, 179 injured, 236 uninjured and 15 orphaned. Thre is a document by an Inspector Schmittenberger, 1904, which makes reference to 7 IDs being made solely from photographs.

For a detailed article and interview with Catherine Connelly, which has photographs of her, her mother, Veronica, 34, brother Walter, 9, and sister Agnes, 9 mths (all lost) you might want to check the General Slocum issue of Seaport Magazine.

For an excellent extended interview with survivor Edna Doering, who lived until recently, check out You Must Remember This, which is an oral history of NYC done by neighborhoods.

There is a copy of the best Slocum book of them all, New York's Awful Steamboat Horror (H.D. Northrup, 1904) up for bid on eBay- still 4 days to go on the auction- which is an invaluable reference tool.

Robert W. Collier

Thank you for the details on the General Slocum. Some day Colleen and I are going to make it to New York and see some of these places, and it is nice to have the information. It makes stopping and seeing something more meaningful.
Robert W. Collier

Similar threads

Similar threads