Other disasters of Titanic's proportions


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Apr 11, 2001
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While thinking about the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire, other disasters of Titanic's proportions come to mind-some may interest you. Johnstown Pennsylvania's dam burst in 1889 drowned over 2,000-most bodies were never found-the town was completely complacent about the rising water and was caught by surprise. There are several memorial books like the Titanic volumes which came after the disaster- am lucky to have one. For photos and more on this tragedy go to
http://www.nps.gov/jofl/home.htm
 

Jim Kalafus

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Another obsession of mine since youth, and probably the first major disaster to be widely photographed in 3-D, Victorian squeamishness about such things being largely a myth. David McCullough's book is about the best there is on the subject. As I recall, there is an interactive flood exhibit either at Johnstown or St. Michaels PA (where the dam once stood) which consists, in part, of a mound of rubble. I've not been there since my youth and haven't seen it. There was a very nice photo spread in American Heritage some time ago about life at the club before the dam burst which I made a point of saving only to lose somewhere in my library. To go back to the 3-D thing- there were seemingly a million stereo views made of the aftermath, some quite gruesome, which were mass produced well into the last century and are hardly rare BUT which command prices totally disproportionate to their availability. Go figure.

And while not a Victorian disaster by any means, how about the Boston Molasses Flood of the 1920's? Sounds like joke, but wasn't.......for those who are not familiar, a molasses storage tank (and evidently a very big one) ruptured, sending a tidal wave of molasses into the streets and drowning a fair number of people. All but forgotten outside of Boston, it seems to me to be the makings of an ideal Made For TV movie starring David Hasselhoff; Audrey Landers, and that husky girl from The Facts Of Life.
 
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The Molasses Flood! Yes indeed- had not thought of that since 1959 when we were shown sad photos of poor horses caught in the sticky tidal wave of syrup. No Gilded Age Disaster discussion would be complete, though without a tribute to the Great San Francisco Earth quake of 1906- a good site for this is
http: //www.eas.slu.edu/Earthquake_Center/1906EQ/#Photog
What WAS that movie about it with Clark Gable? Postcards of the aftermath are still relatively inexpensive.
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Shelley,

There's some stuff on the San Francisco quake at my site, "San Francisco Titanica": http://communities.msn.com/jshomispictures

including some links. Also, there are many present day photographs of Market Street, which the firestorm devastated.

An even worse disaster, in terms of lives lost, is the 1900 Galveston hurricane. If you've been to that city, which is basically situated on an island, it has today a seawall to protect it from the storm surge --but it didn't in 1900. Also, there weren't any warnings back then. As such, it was a terrible disaster. A lighthouse, some old brick buildings survived --but not much else.

Also, in nearby Texas City, a huge refinery explosion devastated that area in the 1940s.

There are also a lot of photographs on the above site about the July 24, 1915 Eastland disaster, in Chicago, where 844 people died when a passenger steamer turned on its side.
 
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Bob Cruise

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Hello Jan - I once visited Galveston and attended a lecture on the Great Hurricane of 1900.

The purpose? I was studying geology - and - it turns out - Galveston Island is where it is precisely because of hurricanes. It is only during massive, powerful storms like these, you see, that enough energy gets going to move sand and pile it high above the normal sea level. "Barrier Islands" are what such sand outposts are properly called. (And - when buried for millions of years - very often such deposits make great oil reservoirs).

For the rest of you - here's a Gilded Age disaster which, although it precedes the sinking of RMS Titanic and took more lives (mostly women and children), has since become all but forgotten - the fire and subsequent sinking of the passenger ferry "General Slocum", right here in NYC's East River:

http://www.queenscourier.com/spclissue/slocum/slocum1.htm

The maritime tragedy has many other parallels to the Titanic, including the "immigrant" aspect - which is probably why the disaster has never gained ongoing infamy (the victims were exclusively German immigrants living in New York City). Unlike Titanic, however, the ordeal was by fire instead of ice.

The historic event was brought to my attention through a friend of mine who's part German who grew up near New York City. Seems that ethnic group is the only one who commemmorates the sad occasion.

I was also told that the fire's toll virtually devastated one German neighborhood in old New York, so much so that the church serving the community closed shortly thereafter.

Bob
 
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For those interested in the General Slocum disaster, look for the book "The Burning Of The General Slocum" by Claude Rust, ISBN 0-525-66715-6, Elsevier-Dutton Pub Co, NY, 1981. Good narrative with some period photos. Author's grandmother died in the disaster.

-- David G. Brown
 
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Not quite Gilded Age was the Sultana disaster of April, 1865- a steamer which suffered a boiler explosion and sank near Memphis Tenn. -1,547 (Titanic numbers)
March 5, 1912 Principe de Asturias -a Spanish steamer struck a rock off Sebastien Point- 500 drowned
Dec 6 ,1917 the Mont Blanc hit the Imo- carrying war explosives in Halifax Nova Scotia harbor- blew the town to bits- the largest explosion up until Hiroshima memorials right alongside Titanic victims in city graveyards
1902 Mount Pelee erupted killing 40,000 in St. Pierre
1903 The Iroquois Theatre Fire killed 602
1908 an earthquake killed 75,000-100,000 in Sicily and Southern Italy.
So many worse disasters than Titanic which have gone forgotten-I wonder why?...

1908
 

Jim Kalafus

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GENERAL SLOCUM- The best book on this disaster is "New York's Awful Steam Boat Horror and Other Dreadful Tragedies" (by H.D. Northrop- "the well known author")which is a better-than-average "quicky" account written back in 1904 (and unlike those exploiting Johnstown, Galveston, the Iroquois Theatre and San Francisco, it actually seems to have been edited and shows signs of structuring) complete with illustrations and a list, with home addresses, of survivors, victims and "missing." The Church, which was St Marks' Lutheran, DID close after the German community moved up to Yorkville- the building still stands and has been a synagogue since, I believe, 1939. My great-grandmother (maternal) and one of her friends (both German) would occasionally speak of this disaster when I was a kid- and I'm glad to say that neither of them told the "I almost went but cancelled at the last minute" story. They mostly remembered the devastation in the neighborhood.

BTW- The General Slocum burned to the waterline, but was salvaged and returned to service as a barge named "Maryland." Some time later she foundered in shallow water off of Atlantic City. I can supply directions to those who wish an easy- but still kind of disturbing- dive site.

For a bizarre late Victorian age disaster, one might look no farther than the NYC Windsor Hotel fire of March 17, 1899. Virtually NO two accounts of this one match (were there 15 victims? 45? 70? ) except for the possibly untrue detail that it burned at the height of the St. Patrick's Day Parade.

ST PIERRE: Major vacation letdown.
 
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The General Slocum's wreck was recently discovered by Clive Cussler (check out: http://www.numa.net). In San Francisco here, there was a fire aboard the ferry Peralta in 1933. Like the Slocum, the ferry burned to the waterline. It was sold, and rebuilt as the famous Kalakala (a really cool-looking, streamlined, art deco style ship), see: http://www.kalakala.com).

Incidently, Cussler has quite a list of historic wrecks to investigate, that are listed on his site. He was trying to find a steam locomotive that was lost in the Kiowa Creek flood, and found that it was recovered previously, and put into service under a different name. Thus, he uncovered a 120 year old insurance scam!
 
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So with all the Gilded Age Disasters with FAR more devastating losses- why does Titanic get the lion's share of attention? Theories? I say in order:
1. Maiden Voyage
2. Passenger List
3. Media Hype
4. "Unsinkability"
 
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Bob Cruise

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I'd say it's more a case of all those millionaires against what was truly a spectacle.

Also - the notion of "unsinkability" embodied the predominant mindset of the times - namely: "Look how far we've come - with all this technology, life can only get better." For those back then, the sinking subsequently shook the foundation of contemporary society.

For those of us today, Titanic's become a historic metaphor for the end of an era.

William McQuitty ("ANTR" director) once compared a Titanic memorial in England to a nearby WWI memorial. The first, he explained, listed names in the order of class, while the second listed all names alphabetically.

Somewhere in those intervening seven years, the Gilded Age bit the dust. What better symbol, then, than a luxurious ship filled with millionaires?

Bob
 
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Naive?! I'll say! Just think how we buy into "New and Improved" or "Lite, Fat-Free, Fireproof, Childproof, Age-Defying (a new Revlon make-up), Fat-Burning, Free, "etc. etc. etc. People believe what they want to believe and if the package is presented attractively by someone impressive the public trusts, we STILL will believe it. We are only marginally more savvy about these things than the average man on the street in 1912- thanks to investigative journalism and exposee television programs which educate the public on unreasonable and fraudulent claims. There are today some really frightening cases involving quack medical cures and weightloss cures which would rival 1800's Traveling Medicine Men. And some of the ads for the new cruise ships would have one believe that there are no worries out there in the middle of the ocean.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Lets not forget the "all natural" herbal cures for everything in sight from overweight and being flat chested to baldness, to say nothing of the really dangerous "alternatives" for cancer you see on the web. They don't claim a cure directly, but they certainly hint at it.

And this "all natural" thing as if natural is gauranteed safe.

Yeah, right! Have a cuppa hemlock! All natural, safe and effective. (Ask Socrates!)
lame.gif


But people beleive it!

Makes you wonder whatever happened to critical thinking!

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
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Bob Cruise

Guest
One has to wonder about this new Age of Information Dissemination.

Is it really to everyone's benefit - and the benefit of civilization overall - to have so much information in the blink of an eye?

The gut reaction is to say of "Of course! Why not?"

But everything has a dark underside to it - including having access to too much knowledge (e.g., knowing enough to get yourself in trouble, not knowing enough to get you out).

Bob
 
Dec 2, 2000
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The darkside to the information age is that it makes it possible to spread some real whoppers of lies, falsehoods and disinformation. The upside is that with the whole world looking in, it's rather tougher to get away with it. Sooner or later, somebody spots it and challanges it.

Cordially,
Michael H. Standart
 
Dec 12, 1999
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Today is the anniversary of the 1906 earthquake, the "Big One," that struck San Francisco. Survivors celebrated it with a meeting at Lotta Crabtree's fountain on Market Street. Then, they have lunch and take a tour. The quake hit at approximately 5:00 a.m. Later, a firestorm developed that devastated most of the downtown area. Several people who later traveled on the Titanic were in town to hear Enrico Caruso's performance, and stayed at the St. Francis Hotel. Caruso himself stayed at the Palace Hotel, which later burned. He ran out into the street with his luggage. Eventually he got a ride to Oakland. Author Jack London was hired to write an article about the event. He went down to Market and Kearney Streets just before the fire hit --it was all deserted, a couple of soldiers were there. The buildings were all locked up. The San Francisco Public Library has a card file on every one of the deaths from the quake.
 
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The anniversary of the Eastland disaster in coming up on July 24th. Does anyone know if any ceremonies take place in Chicago, on the anniversary? It was a horrible disaster. An estimated 844 people died when this passenger ship went over on its side, at 8:00 a.m. on a Saturday morning. However, by way of quick action by the Chicago health authorities, a worse disaster (an outbreak of Cholera, or some such disease) was averted when victims and survivors' clothes, and the floor at the morgue, etc., were sterilized. Here's an early pre-disaster postcard of the Eastland where you can readily see how overloaded the ship would be.
6830.jpg
 
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