Slocum Book Ship Ablaze by Edward ObDonnell


Apr 11, 2001
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Run right to Barnes and Noble for this one by Edward T. O'Donnell, SHIP ABLAZE, Broadway Books, New York, ISBN 0-7679-0905-4 $25.00- It's a page turner. Great photos including one of the rotten lifejackets, the burning hulk, the sad scene on the beach, the Inquiry and many others.The investigation coverage is mezmerizing and goes into detail of the altered lifejacket order, the personalities who testified, and the unbelievably clumsy attempt at cover up by the owners. This is one you will stay up all night with. O'Donnell teaches American History at Holy Cross in Worcester , Massachusetts- and I may have to go meet this guy!
 
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Trent Pheifer

Guest
Thanks Shelley for the heads up..looks like a good book. I first heard about the General Slocum when reading a history book on NYC. I have always wanted to know more about it. The book just gave the basics and summed up the story in about a paragraph. Does anyone on the boards do any research into General Slocum?

-Trent
 
Apr 11, 2001
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Trent- with the 100th anniversary of the Slocum coming up next year- this was a timely publication. The disaster has all the elements of so many other disasters we study here. A blazing inferno (shades of Morro Castle!)- crew abandonment (Andrea Doria) , inaccessible lifeboats (Lusitania) and either no lifebelts or ones that were so antiquated they failed (Titanic-esque). It was New York's deadliest tragedy prior to 9-11 with 1,021 men women and children perishing. The amazing thing is how it never achieved the status of Titanic in world attention. The saddest thing of all is that, like the Normandie Fire, had the first on the scene known how to operate the waterhose-it might never have happened. The guy on the Slocum failed to remove the rubber plug before screwing in the hose-so no water was getting through! The Normandie's firehoses were not functional where they they were needed. Slocum also failed to have regular lifeboat drills- sound familiar? ET's own Jim Kalafus has done a lot of work on the Slocum.
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Hi, Trent: I've spent 30 or so years researching General Slocum on and off, and Mr. O'Donnell's book is by far the best on the subject. I've posted some Slocum information on other threads you can find in the archive. Mr. O'Donnell is an extremely nice guy and a generous researcher, and I would recommend that after you've bought his book you contact him through his General Slocum website and let you know what you think of his work.

Mr. O'Donnell was kind enough to send me copies of a pair of interesting Slocum reports from 1904/'05. Turns out that the final death toll was considerably lower than the 1021 figure generally given. The Department of Charities did an exhaustive search after being struck by how repetitive and badly compiled the official fatalities list was- similar to a research effort Hildo Thiel and I made a while back- and determined through death certificates that only about 950+ actually died. Still an appalling figure.

The reports also point out that had not two tug captains risked their own lives, there would probably have been fewer than 100 people saved. Mr. O'Donnell is the first author to really go into detail recounting the stories of those two particular vessels

Adella Wotherspoon, the final Slocum survivor, was in fine form a few weeks back when a researcher friend of mine spoke with her.
 
Dec 2, 2000
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Easley South Carolina
Well, since I'll be hitting the bookstore tomorrow, it looks like I'll have to snag a copy for myself befor somebody else does. I'm nearly done reading Transatlantic, and this one is a good one to add to the library as well. It's good to see that some decent books on maritime history are starting to come out again.
 
Jun 6, 2003
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I bought and finished the book last month. It was an excellent read, not only of the documentation of the disaster but it also authentically document a lost German community in New York's East Village area. I would be interested in seeing a passenger list from the General Slocum. Does anyone know a site where it is available? Thanks
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Martin- if you send me your address off board I can send you a copy of the 1904 handbill distributed by the coroner's office (error laden) and the amended, illustrated, list done by the NYC department of charities. My email is jakwesternswing@yahoo.com
 
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Trent Pheifer

Guest
I finally got around to getting this book. What a wonderful read! Mr O'Donnell did an excellent job recounting the whole tragedy. I could not put the book down! I am heading soon to his website to email him. As a researcher of Titanic and NYC, I had always been curious about the General Slocum, and this was a great book to get my first major exposure to the subject. He really showed the human side of the disater. I was wondering, Does anyone know how many bodies were never recovered? Are any of you planning on attending the General Slocum Memorial this year? I would like to attend the Tompkins Square one and the one in Queens. Hopefully I can make plans to come to NYC. Hey Jim is Ms Wotherspoon still doing good? I will sending an email your way soon, I have a question.

-Trent
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Trent:
According to the Coroner's List:

93 people were missing

42 bodies of those who drowned were too decomposed or otherwise damaged to identify.
38 were too burned to identify.

Which means that at least thirteen bodies were not found.

HOWEVER

Mr O'Donnell is one of those rare researchers who shares his data. He sent me a copy of a 1905 report prepared by the NYC Department of Charities who apparently were as puzzled by all of the contradictions on the Coroner's list as I was 80 years later, and did an admittedly imperfect canvass of death certificates and, in many cases, went door to door seeking answers. Fact is, only about 950 death certificates were issued- and that includes the missing. The 1021 figure generally given is likely way too high. The Dept. of Charities List is indispensible for Slocum researcher and, a few months back, Mr. O'Donnell was offering copies of it at his website.

One odd chart in the report, BTW, is a list of the missing cross indexed to the recovered body (with brief description) most likely to be that person.

Mrs. Wotherspoon, apparently, is fine. I had put a friend of mine who is researching a book in touch with her and she sent a custom made audio tape of her memories.
 
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Trent Pheifer

Guest
Hey Jim, Thanks for the information. I just got the General Slocum book: New York's Awful Excursion Boat Horror by John Wesley and am looking forward to reading that once my homework load lightens up. Is it a good read? Thanks again.

-Trent
 

Jim Kalafus

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Dec 3, 2000
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Yes, it is a good read. There were at least three memorial books put out in 1904, which I reviewed at length somewhere in the Slocum thread- each of the three has its own particular strength. John Wesley Hanson's book has the best photo collection of the three (and certainly the most disturbing photo choices) and a very good text. Northrup's book New York's Awful Steamboat Horror contains more interviews and a much more accurate passenger list but the pictures are not as good. Ogilvie's The General Slocum Disaster contains more information than the other two books but the photo reproduction is poor.

If you can find it, the December 1904 Munsey's Magazine has a very long and very bitter article about the disaster. It comes up on eBay a lot, but comparison shop before you buy it- a lot of times the seller dioes not know that it contains something of collector's value and sells it cheap-other times it is just the opposite. It is bizarre to open up the "Christmas Special" with it's beautiful cover artwork and be greeted with the VERY unholidaylike sight of heaps of former Slocum passengers on the lawn at North Brother Island.

I meant to ask, would you like copies of any of the Slocum papers I have?
 
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Richard K. Mason

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Hi Guys; Long Time, No Post.

Well anyway, I've read Mr. O'Donnell's book 3 times since buying it in mid-August. I agree with all of you that it's excellent. Now, I loaned it to a local Fire Marshall who spent 2 weeks at Ground Zero after 9/11. He too, was thrilled with the book, so much so, that he went out and bought a copy for himself. He pointed out to me that there are some web sites that deal with Fire Prevention and they include several references to the Slocum disaster. He didn't realize the significance, though, of the tragedy until he read the book by Mr. O'Donnell. He's going to sign up soon on ET so's he can post here too. BTW, I thought the History channel was supposed to be doing a Docu. on this. What, When, and Where?

Richard
 
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Richard K. Mason

Guest
Jim;

Thanks for the info and your warm greeting. I wish I could be in NYC for the 100th annv.

Regards,
Richard
 
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Trent Pheifer

Guest
Hey Jim, thanks for the information on the books! I cannot think of any papers off the top of my head, but maybe one will pop up, thanks for the offer!

-Trent
 
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Lynda Franklin

Guest
This is one I haven't read but I thought I would post anyway since this board has been quiet.This book is about the General Slocum which burned in June 1904 .

[Moderator's Note: This message, originally posted as a new thread under a different topic, has been moved to this pre-existing thread addressing the same subject. MAB]
 

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