More on the General Slocum

Another resource

After today’s blog post on Boards of Inquiry, The Legal Genealogist was reminded that any major tragedy may well prove to be the kind of magnet that attracts writers of all kinds — not just those who have to write an official report.

And one of the tragedies mentioned was written up in a book of unique genealogical interest — a good read for anybody, a must-have resource for anybody whose family was in any way touched by the 1904 fire aboard the steamship General Slocum.

The General Slocum, remember, was the steamship that set out into New York waters on a bright June day, having been chartered by St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church in New York for an excursion. There were 1,358 passengers on board, 90 percent of them women and children. A fire on board and the subsequent beaching of the ship resulted in the deaths of 955 people — 745 of them children. A special federal commission was appointed to investigate, and issued a 72-page report into the disaster.1

But in addition to that official report, there’s Angels in the Gate: New York City and the General Slocum Disaster, a book by Karen T. Lamberton2 — an intensely personal account of the General Slocum tragedy, family by family of many of those affected, written by a genealogist.

Here’s the description:

On June 15, 1904, a disastrous fire aboard the steamboat, General Slocum, devastated the largest German ethnic population in the United States in a matter of two hours. Close to two thousand people, mostly women and children, were on board the General Slocum, bound for a picnic on Long Island Sound. A carelessly tossed cigarette butt turned this pleasant excursion into a raging inferno that claimed over a thousand lives.

This book contains the uniquely personal recollections of the survivors and their families, the good Samaritans, the heroes, the caregivers, and the passers-by whose families where touched by the largest maritime disaster, and most deadly fire, in New York’s history prior to September 11, 2001. Each family’s experience has been compiled separately and is augmented by a descendants’ family tree. In some cases, the family tree begins with the original immigrant ancestor of the family. The stories are presented in the descendant’s own words and (as available) photos of their ancestors have been included. Appendices include the most complete listing of victims, survivors, and their families ever compiled. A wealth of illustrations enhance the text.

The book is available from its publisher, Heritage Books; the price is $36.00.


  1. Report of the United States Commission of Investigation upon the Disaster to the Steamer “General Slocum” (Washington D.C : U.S. Govt. Printing Office, 1904); PDF version, digitized by U.S. Coast Guard, 2003 ( : accessed 6 Dec 2012).
  2. Karen T. Lamberton, Angels in the Gate: New York City and the General Slocum Disaster (Westminster, Md. : Heritage Books, 2006).
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12 Responses to More on the General Slocum

  1. Mary Trogg says:

    Another forgotten disaster was the sinking of the Eastland in the Chicago River in 1915. A list of the 844 victims in “Eastland: Legacy of the Titanic” by George Hilton led me to the family of my grandmother-in-law. Since that find, many more books have been written about the Eastland. is a wonderful reference.

  2. Ruth Wiginton says:

    While working on my family tree, I spoke to my Mom’s cousin on the phone about my great grandpa, her grandpa. My great grandfather, Herman Hunzinger, was sponsored to the United States from Germany as a Clergyman(student) fresh out of the seminary at Kropp, Germany by a pastor Ernst Tappert, of New York City.
    My great grandfather arrived in the United States, via Ellis Island on June 16, 1904, the day after the General Slocum Disaster.
    According to my Mom’s cousin, her grandfather was never the same after assisting with the funerals for the victims of the General Slocum Disaster.
    My great grandfather did end up marrying the love of his life, his reason for coming to America in the first place and then went on to become ordained as a minister through the New York Ministerium of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America in October 1904, serving in several posts in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut areas, until his retirement.
    I had been in touch with Karen Lamberton when she was writing this book, but due to life events, I lost touch with her. I am trying to find my own copy of this book, because I would like to know more about what my great grandfather and the rest of the world went through with this disaster at the time. The only way I can “Walk a Mile in their shoes.”

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I can’t imagine what your great grandfather saw, Ruth. It must have been appalling, to put it mildly. The Lamberton book is available through Heritage Books, so you should have no trouble getting a copy for yourself. You can order it at this link.

  3. Shirley Joiner says:

    I came across this post today by accident. My husband’s paternal grandmother, Louise Gailing Joiner, was a survivor of this disaster. She was a girl of 15 at the time and she saved the life of the little child who was in her care. According to my father-in-law, she never spoke of her ordeal. At the time of his death, we found a news article he had kept of when they interviewed her for the 50th anniversary of the sinking. The article has since seemed to disappear, and I’ve been unable to locate it. I’m not even sure which paper published the account. I would love to find it because it included a photograph of her. I never had the honor of meeting her, but I do know she raised a lovely family of 5 children of her own.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I couldn’t find that article anywhere online, Shirley, but there is a paragraph in an article in a 1907 newspaper in New York City that mentions your husband’s grandmother. Do you subscribe to GenealogyBank? It’s available there.

    • GR Gordon says:

      New York City had many newspapers in 1954, including the Times, the Herald Tribune, the Journal (or Journal-American), the Post, the Daily News and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, among others.

      Among those still publishing today, the Daily News was noted for its use of photography and some of its archiival information is available on the paper’s website . The News also ran two series of special features circa 1998-2000 covering the history of New York City, which may still be available on the website. I’m pretty sure one of them covered the Slocum disaster. The Long Island newspaper, Newsday, ran a similar set of specials around the time of the US Bicentennial which also covered famous shipwrecks, including the Slocum disaster. Newsday kept the series on-line for a long time afterwards because it was attracting a lot of usage from the local schools, but I’m not sure whether or not it is still on-line,and if so, whether it is now behind the paywall. You might be able to get a reprint.

      ProQuest has digitized the archives of the Times and the Brooklyn Daily Eagle (and possibly some of the others as well). Check with your local public library to find out whether they have a subscription to ProQuest. The Brooklyn Historical Society and the NY Historical Society may also have information on the Slocum disaster.

      • Judy G. Russell says:

        Great suggestions, thanks!

        • GR Gordon says:

          Hello again. I’ve just learned that:–

          1. Newsday is currently working on the site mentioned in my first post, so the site is down right now. They expect to have it up and running again in a month or two.

          2. The first newspaper to have reporters on the scene of the General Slocum disaster was the NY World (not mentioned in my post). The paper received an anonymous phone call from an eyewitness and quickly phoned the Moran company to see if they could get a reporter aboard any of Moran’s tugboats. Moran had already been asked to assist with the rescue and knew that none of their tugs was anywhere close enough to be able to catch up to the General Slocum in time, so they suggested the World’s reporters would get to the scene faster by taking the subway to northern Manhattan, which is how the World got one of the most famous “scoops” in NY City newspaper history. (The World eventually merged with the Journal American and the Herald Trubune to form the World Journal Tribune (WJT) which subsequently ceased publication, but the New York Public Library might possibly have access to some back issues.)

  4. Shirley Joiner says:

    Hi Judy! Thank you for trying to find that particular article. Yes, I do subscribe to GenealogyBank. I will log in and look for that article. It sounds like a different article than the one I previously found. I appreciate your help.

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