Derek Coleman: Titanic wasn't the only disaster at sea 100 years ago | Putnam News

There cannot be many people who don't know something about the sinking of the Titanic, 106 years ago this coming Sunday. More than 1,500 people lost their lives in the freezing North Atlantic and there have been several movies and dozens of books written about the night the ship, on her maiden voyage, struck an iceberg. What is less well known is that the Titanic catastrophe was just the second of three major incidents involving ships in a 10-year period.

The first of these occurred on June 15, 1904, and was watched by hundreds of horrified witnesses. The ship was the PS General Slocum, a sidewheel passenger ship operating chartered cruises out of New York City. For her last voyage she was chartered by the members of St. Mark's Evangelical Lutheran Church of Manhattan for $350 to take the congregation on a church picnic on Long Island. The church was a popular place to worship among German-Americans, this was their 17th annual picnic and on that morning more than 1,400 of them crowded on board the vessel.

The outing began at 9 a.m. when the General Slocum, under the command of Captain Van Shaick, slipped her moorings and began to move downriver. Thirty minutes later, a fire, possibly started by a cigarette or discarded match, began in the lamp room as the ship was passing East 90th Street in New York City. This room had straw on the floor and was stacked with oily rags and cans of lamp oil.

From the accounts of survivors, it seemed a young boy saw the blaze and tried to warn the....

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