The Day | A Look Back

TowerRachel Wise

Hello, East Village.

We begin this morning with a look back.

On Friday, we wrote about the neighborhood’s history as a former enclave for German immigrants. One reader, Steve, reminds us that we would be remiss if we did not acknowledge one of the saddest chapters in neighborhood history – the fire aboard the General Slocum ferry, which killed more than 1,000 people on June 15, 1904.

The disaster, which was the deadliest in New York City until 9/11, is a well-known and heart-breaking part of neighborhood lore: members of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church boarded the steamship for a run up the East River to a church outing. A fire broke out. Many of the victims, particularly women and children, did not know how to swim. And many of the life jackets and lifeboats were ineffective.

Days after the blaze, The New York Tribune reported on the first bulletins it received about the fire. “The steamer General Slocum, carrying a Sunday school excursion from the East Side, is on fire in the East River opposite One-hundred-and-thirty-eighth-st. Women and children are jumping into the water, some with their clothing on fire.”

General Slocum MemorialSophie Hoeller The memorial to the victims of the General Slocum disaster in Tompkins Square Park.

Although determining the precise number of the dead proved elusive, it is generally agreed that 1,021 of the 1,342 of those aboard perished. A memorial to those who were lost stands in Tompkins Square Park.

In 2004, the last survivor of the disaster, 100-year-old Adella Wotherspoon, died at a New Jersey convalescent home. Mrs. Wotherspoon offered her own explanation for why the General Slocum might not be as widely remembered as other maritime disasters such as the sinking of the The Titanic, in which about 1,500 died. “The Titanic had a great many famous people on it,” she said. ”This was just a family picnic.”

In the East Village, though, the General Slocum will always sadly be remembered as so much more.

In other neighborhood news, many people are still talking about the events of this past weekend when an underground fire Saturday on East Seventh Street caused a power outage among a handful of buildings. NYU Journalism’s Amanda Blair captured several photos of attempts to put out the fires. And NYU Journalism’s Bolanle Omisore spoke with business owners who were among the roughly 300 Con Ed customers left without power for at least three hours.

Matteo Niccoli, owner of Giano on East Seventh between First and Avenue A, told Ms. Omisore that he noticed smoke pouring from manholes, then realized his building had no power.

“I opened the restaurant and there was a fire coming from the sewer,” Mr. Niccoli said. “So I called Con Ed.”

A Con Ed spokesman told Ms. Omisore that underground electric cables caught fire on East Seventh Street between First Avenue and Avenue A around 11 Saturday morning, which led to the outage. Power had been restored to most buildings by 2:30 that afternoon.

Officials said that they were still trying to determine what caused the cables to burnout. “The cables could be corroded due to exposure to rain,” Michael Clendenin, a Con Ed spokesman, told Ms. Omisore. “It could be a nick, something from construction, could be salt left over from the previous winter. We haven’t had rain in the last few days but it rained last week—all those things could build up and lead to this.”