Search for the steamship General Slocum off Corson’s Inlet, New Jersey. September 12, 1994.
I contracted with Ralph Wilbanks and Wes Hall to search for the General Slocum, the paddlewheel steamer that burned and sank in the Hudson River off New York on June 15, 1904, while carrying 1500 passengers on an weekend excursion. As high as 1200 hundred were reported dead, mostly women and children.
After studying the reports on the sinking of the General Slocum, after she was raised and refitted into a barge called the Maryland, I decided highest probability area stemmed from the report of the Army Corp of Engineers who placed it a mile off shore abreast of Corson’s Inlet. Without going into a lengthy description of the
The search, using sidescan sonar and proton magnetometer, turned up nothing that indicated the remains of the General Slocum/Maryland. Perhaps we might make another attempt someday, working further south toward Ludlam’s Beach.
- Built: 1891
- Sunk: December 4, 1911
- Previous names: Sank as Maryland
- Depth: 24 feet
- Gross Tonnage: 1,284
- Dimensions: 236′ x 38′ x 7′
- Type of vessel: Paddle wheel steamship converted into barge
- Builder: Devine & Burtis, Brooklyn, NY
- Owner: Knickerbocker Steamboat Co.
- Port of Registry: New York, NY
- Cause of sinking: Foundered
- Location: Ludlam Beach, NJ
Contrary to the procedure of this book, although this barge sank under the name Maryland, I have listed it under the name for which it is notorious. So much has been written about the disaster at Hell Gate that I will give it only a short recounting.
The General Slocum was an excursion steamer, reminiscent of lazy days on the Mississippi when side paddle wheelers were the most modern mode of river travel. The Hudson River
was her route, and the morning of June 15, 1904, dawned like many others for the Slocum. Nearly 1500 people crowded her three tiered decks; all but a hundred were women and children.
The vessel was only a few hundred feet from shore when fire broke out and, fanned by the wind, quickly spread through the wooden superstructure. Captain William van Schaick found his craft dangerously close to the oil tanks on shore, and was forced to run full speed ahead toward North Brother Island.
As the heat and flames became intolerable the crowd jammed up against the rails and broke through, depositing scores of women and children into the water. The Slocum ran aground on a rocky shore with a steep slope. A river tug came to the rescue and tied itself to the Slocum’s paddle box. The captain, some of the crew, and as many passengers as the cramped deck space could fit, got aboard before the tug itself caught fire and was forced to cast off.
The Slocum’s upper deck collapsed, dropping people and burning timbers into the water. Fire boats steamed into the melee, and poured water on the raging conflagration. Then the hurricane deck disintegrated into fiery splinters. Hundreds oaf people were either burned to death, or were knocked into the water to drown. The ship eventually burned right to the waterline.
Contemporary accounts hawked the death hall. at anywhere between 833 and 1,200, with something like 250 survivors. President Theodore Roosevelt ordered an investigation, which eventually returned a verdict of improper storage of flammable materials, rotted fire hose, old and substandard life preservers, insufficient crew training.
Captain van Schaick was charged with manslaughter and criminal negligence, and sentenced to 10 years at hard labor in Sing Sing. The sentence was commuted after 2 years. The real culprit was determined to be the Slocum’s operators. According try the law, their liability was limited to the value of the vessel. The burned out hulk was raised and sold for $1,800.
The General Slocum was sold to Peter Hagen, converted into a barge, and renamed Maryland. Laden with coke, and bound from Camden, NJ, to Newark, NJ, the old hull sprung a leak off Atlantic City. Captain Robert Moon, master of the tug Hudson, cast off the tow line after the Maryland slipped beneath the waves, and turned back to rescue the three men tending the barge. Despite high seas he got them all off. The wreck lay in shallow water, just off Ludlam Beach. By now it is probably sanded in, or torn apart by the surf.