TopicEngaging the Audience With Extra Trivia
Captain Van Schaick later said at his trial, "I started to head for One Hundred and Thirty-fourth Street, but was warned off by the captain of a tugboat, who shouted to me that the boat would set fire to the lumber yards and oil tanks there. Besides, I knew that the shore was lined with rocks and the boat would founder if I put in there. I then fixed upon North Brother Island."
As the boat chugged onward, passengers ran in panic around the deck. Mothers were looking for their children. Father's were looking for their families. Young boys and girls scrambled onto the deck chairs, waving frantically for help at the crowds who had assembled on the shore. The flames increased by the second, accelerated by the boat's fresh coat of highly flammable paint.
At this point, overcome by smoke inhalation, and with the flames flickering at their torsos, feet and faces, people began jumping into the water. Some were rescued by boats which had rushed near the fiery General Slocum. But most of the woman and girls, because of the bulky woman's clothing of that era, quickly drowned. Some people died when the floors of the boat collapsed. Others were beaten to death by the still churning paddles, as they flung themselves over the sides of the boat towards the water.
People that tried to use the life jackets on board were in for a horrible surprise. Although there were 3000 life jackets available, they were all but useless. The vast majority were rotted out, with the cork inside the jackets used for buoyancy almost entirely disintegrated. The people who did don the life jacked and plunged into the water, immediately sank like a rock. Some people tried to dislodge the emergency lifeboats, but they failed to do so because the lifeboats were firmly wired in place.
People from the shore saw a girl in a blue dress jump off the side of the boat. They watched in horror as the girl hit the wooded paddle wheel. The wheel churned violently, dragging the girl under it. The people on shore could hear the screaming girl's frail body being threshed about like a rag doll by the paddle wheel, before her screaming stopped and she disappeared into the murky waters. A little boy, clutching his stuffed toy dog, was thrown into the river by his weeping mother. The boy was fished from the river alive, still squeezing his precious toy dog.