Community honors Slocum victims, 9/11 heroes

Capt. James D'Avolio (l.) of Hazmat One accepts a plaque from Drew Nelson, director of engineering at All Faiths Cemetery, during the 107th-annual memorial service of the Steamship General Slocum. Photo by Christina Santucci
By Ivan Pereira

The 1904 accident of the steamship General Slocum in the waters off Astoria and the Sept. 11 attacks in Lower Manhattan claimed thousands of innocent lives, but the community’s strong sense of history has not let those events’ impact fade away, according to Dan Austin Jr., president of the All Faiths Cemetery Restoration and Beautification Program.

“We’ll be here for them. We’ll always be here for them. We will never forget,” he said.

On Saturday, under a somber, overcast sky, he and his neighbors paid tribute to the victims at the Middle Village memorial for the sinking and honored the heroes from FDNY Hazmat Co. 1 & Squad 288 who risked all to save other New Yorkers during the terrorist attacks with a special ceremony at the cemetery.

Family members who lost loved ones in the June 15, 1904, ship disaster, when the cruise ship headed to Long Island from Manhattan went up in flames and 1,021 passengers died, and others who were descendants of the 300 survivors reflected on the tragedy at a memorial site at All Faiths.

Most of the passengers were Lutheran Christian German immigrants who had just moved to Manhattan from Europe, according to Austin, and the survivors were mostly women under the age of 30 and children.

Before Sept. 11, 2001, it was the day the most New Yorkers were killed in a single incident, Austin said.

“The numbers are staggering,” he said of the deaths.

The shipwreck was caused by a number of factors, such as a lack of safety regulations and a poorly trained crew, according to Marisa Berman, executive director of the Queens Historical Society. Leaders from around the country, including President Teddy Roosevelt, led the charge for reforms to be made with the U.S. Coast Guard and maritime sailing.

“This tragedy was avoidable,” Berman said.

Aside from the changes, Austin said the community held memorial services for years to honor the event, but with the change in demographics over the years, those memorials have drawn a declining turnout. Nevertheless, he said the tragedy still holds a place in people’s hearts not only in Queens but also across the nation.

Austin said he wanted the same sentiment to be felt for the men and women who died Sept. 11 to continue for generations as well.

He awarded a plaque to the Middle Village firehouse, which lost 19 members on that day.

Capt. James D’Avolio agreed with Austin’s feelings and said the members of the Bravest who gave their lives on Sept. 11 and the victims of the Slocum should never be forgotten.

“The stories that were told here were extremely humbling,” he said.

Reach reporter Ivan Pereira by e-mail at ipereira@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4546.

Editor's note: Headline corrected.

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