Oct. 1, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
After being obscured by graffiti, a commemorative sign to a tragedy on the East River at Astoria Park has been replaced by the Parks Department.
The sign tells the story of the General Slocum disaster, a steamboat fire on June 15, 1904. It describes a harrowing sequence of misfortunes that led to more than 1,000 deaths – the highest death toll of any disaster in New York City before the Sept. 11 attacks.
The sign’s removal was noticed by the blog Glimpses of Paradise.
On the day it sank, the General Slocum traveled up the East River from the Lower East Side, carrying about 1,300 people, including many children. By the time it reached Astoria, a fire had broken out.
An untrained crew was unable to properly alert the captain and passengers of the fire or manage the chaos. Many were jumping from the boat by the time it passed through Hell Gate. Those who wore life preservers were not saved – the boat’s preservers were rotted and pulled wearers underwater rather than buoying them.
Hundreds of bodies washed up on Astoria’s shoreline.
As the Slocum passed Randall’s Island, the captain was finally alerted of the fire, which had begun to consume the boat. Ultimately, it was beached and burned to the waterline.
As part of the Parks Department’s Historical Signs Project, the sign at Astoria Park was installed in 2004 on Shore Boulevard across from the World War 1 memorial.
However, after collecting spray paint and marker graffiti that could not be removed by hand, the Parks Department decided to replace the sign, spokesperson Meghan Lalor said.
The sign was removed in August and a new one was installed on Thursday.
Reach reporter Jackie Strawbridge at [email protected]