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Tompkins Square Park

The Daily Plant : Thursday, November 20, 2003

QUEENS KIDS REMEMBER GENERAL SLOCUM TRAGEDY WITH TOMPKINS SQUARE DAFFODIL PLANTINGS


The Daffodil Project began as a memorial project for the victims of September 11. Over the past two years, New Yorkers have begun to plant daffodils to honor of a variety of people and causes in a renewed blooming spirit. A few weeks ago, students from Middle Village’s I.S. 93 planted 1,000 daffodil bulbs in Tompkins Square Park to memorialize the victims of the General Slocum steamboat fire. Before September 11, 2001 the General Slocum fire was the most deadly peacetime disaster in American history.

The General Slocum tragedy occurred on June 15, 1904, when the General Slocum, a steamship traveling up the East River, burst into flames. More than 1,000 people were killed in the fire, most of them women and children from the Lower East Side neighborhood, Kleindeutchland, a thriving German enclave. The fire began in the ship’s lower deck as the steamboat passed East 90th Street; as the boat moved up the East River, the fire quickly grew out of control. The boat’s captain, wary of the oil drums on the East River piers, did not try to dock the flaming ship, but instead plowed ahead to North Brother Island. General Slocum’s crew was young and inexperienced and every safety measure failed immediately: the ship’s rotten fire hoses burst when the water was turned on; the lifejackets were filled with disintegrated cork that had lost its buoyancy; and the lifeboats could not be dislodged. The fire was further stoked by the ship’s fresh coat of highly flammable paint, and by the captain’s decision to drive the boat full speed ahead. Onlookers watched in horror as General Slocum’s passengers began to throw themselves overboard. When the ship finally beached at North Brother Island, only a few survivors were pulled from the wreckage. The General Slocum tragedy brought the decline of Kleindeutschland. With a death toll of 1,021, almost everyone in the neighborhood knew someone on the steamship and most residents found the collective grief too much to bear.

Today, the General Slocum disaster is memorialized in two places: in Tompkins Square Park, Manhattan where the General Slocum Memorial Fountain is located; and in Middle Village, Queens, where many of Kleindeutschland’s residents moved after the tragedy, a memorial service is held every year in the neighborhood’s Lutheran cemetary. Under the guidance of their teacher Pat Urevith, Middle Village’s students first began studying the steamboat tragedy in 1999, as a Social Studies project. Over the years, Urevith’s students have created a number of projects commemorating the event, including a memorial quilt, pop-up book, woodcut and full-length play. They’ve also aided in a General Slocum documentary, conducting an interview with a 100-year-old survivor and obtaining a Newsday grant. Their daffodil planting project brought together five years of Urevith’s classes and was organized by current Stuyvesant High School student Jonathan Pomboza. With the support of Parks & Recreation Commissioner Adrian Benepe and the coordination of Park Manager Elaine Crowley, the students planted over 1,000 daffodil bulbs around the General Slocum Memorial Fountain. Their springtime bloom will both beautify the memorial and draw New Yorkers to learn that story of the tragedy that transformed the Lower East Side.

QUOTATION FOR THE DAY

"He was a one-book man.

Some men have only one book in them; others, a library."

Sydney Smith

(1771-1845)

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Tompkins Square Park Weather

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