The Newtown Pentacle

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Remember, remember…

– photo by Mitch Waxman

On this day, June 15th in 1904, the General Slocum excursion boat left its dock at Peck Slip in Manhattan at ten in the morning with just over 1,000 people onboard – most of whom were women and children. It caught fire as it moved north on the East River, and reports of smoke below deck reached the wheelhouse as it was passing 97th street in Manhattan. It didn’t take long for the wood hulled boat to catch fire. It was a product of Tammany’s NYC, where safety inspectors could be convinced to overlook violations for a small sum, which is why the life vests were filled with sawdust and powdered cork and the fire hoses onboard were either non existent or rotted. Most of the crew abandoned ship, leaving the passengers to fend for themselves. By the time it grounded at North Brother Island, the official death toll was 1,021. Bodies were washing onshore at Hells Gate for days.

Today is the anniversary of the day that Lassez Faire capitalism and local control of the ferry industry ended in NYC, and why the United States Coast Guard was given broad oversight powers regarding safety onboard vessels in NY Harbor.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

After the Slocum disaster, which scored the largest death toll of any single event in NYC until the September 11th attacks in 2001, the Coast Guard instituted regulations and rules for all shipping in NY Harbor which they enforce with military discipline. It’s why you hear an announcement on every ferry trip telling you where floatation devices can be found onboard, and why private pleasure and fishing vessels in the harbor are often “pulled over” by USCG for safety inspections.

It’s also one of the arguments I make when talking politics, with my friends who identify as “Conservative,” in defense of what they describe as “job killing regulatory oversight.” There is a staggering amount of inefficiency and an abundance of stupid rules in Government, but we also haven’t had anything like a General Slocum disaster in what… 114 years?

– photo by Mitch Waxman

Given the focus point of my historical interests, which can be somewhat summed up as “maritime industrial history of NYC from the colonial to WW2 periods,” there’s a lot of horror stories which I’ve stumbled across. 95% of the environmental issues in NYC were caused by unfettered and unregulated industrial operations which, prior to 1972 and the Federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, had zero obligation not to dump acid into rivers and streams or pulse metric shit tons of poison into the air. A disaster can occur in any era, but the needless deaths of 1,021 women and children onboard an excursion boat leaving from lower Manhattan to attend a picnic on Long Island? Unthinkable in the modern era.

All that is due to a regulatory regime for the maritime industry which was largely created and coded into law by Republican Party politicians led by Teddy Roosevelt. Dump acid into the water, or spew sulphur compounds into the sky? Also impossible thanks to a Republican named Richard Nixon. Give credit where credit is due, I say. I also question why the politics of the modern day has members of the same political party chipping away at the achievements of their historical forebears who ensured that you could just mindlessly walk onto a ferry without thinking about the General Slocum


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Written by Mitch Waxman

June 15, 2018 at 1:00 pm

3 Responses

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  1. The General Slocum Memorial is in Lutheran Cemetery in Middle Village, Queensm

    Maureen H

    June 15, 2018 at 1:12 pm

  2. Very, very well said! Lest we forget that those ‘job killing regulations’ often also prevent us from being killed.

    Lawrence Lambert

    June 15, 2018 at 1:35 pm

  3. Ugh, settle down there, Sparky.

    Insofar as you have accused me of simply declaring myself the winner of a debate without supplying proofs, herewith I offer the proof of my points and the length of the comment be dammed.
    Read it if you dare. Rebut it if you can. Don’t worry, I won’t hold my breath on either account.

    “Today is the anniversary of the day that Lassez Faire [sic] capitalism and local control of the ferry industry ended in NYC, and why the United States Coast Guard was given broad oversight powers regarding safety onboard vessels in NY Harbor.”

    Bullshit.
    Steamships were federally regulated in 1904 (or was it 1915?) by the federal government since the first regulatory act of 1838 and the Slocum herself was inspected and passed by two inspectors of the United States Steamship Inspections Service which was itself enacted in 1871. Look it up.

    No “Lassez Faire” [sic] capitalism there. Just good ole’ gubbermint bureaucrats here to help with the usual disastrous results.
    Nice try, though but still epic fail.

    “… there’s a lot of horror stories which I’ve stumbled across. 95% of the environmental issues in NYC were caused by unfettered and unregulated industrial operations which, prior to 1972 and the Federal Clean Water and Clean Air acts, had zero obligation not to dump acid into rivers and streams or pulse metric shit tons of poison into the air.”

    Horror stories make good novels and movies but nothing more.

    No businessman in his right mind would today dare to let a single molecule of hydroxic acid escape lest he burnt at the stake as a dirty polluter. So why are there city, state and federal environmental agencies all regulating the same thing when one is one too many? Is 3 a magic number or something?
    Besides, you know, like capitalists are like that cartoon character Scrooge McDuck with a big vault in their basements stuffed with gold bars. They can afford the regulations and would never send manufacturing and service jobs overseas. We just make them pay up with their gold bars, dude. Yeah!…..uh,… no.

    Seriously, your mission should you choose to accept it is to disprove the null hypothesis that as these chemicals are extracted from nature and refined from their natural state that they will do no lasting harm and will eventually return to the chemically stable state from which they were found.
    Physical laws rule all- no exceptions.
    Living organisms will also either adapt to the conditions or will actually in some cases consume the materials in question. Life is tough and will go on.

    So where are the casualties? How many died or got sick? Is the Newtown creek truly a death zone? It doesn’t so look dead to me but maybe my eyes are lying to me.
    Your move…

    “All that is due to a regulatory regime for the maritime industry which was largely created and coded into law by Republican Party politicians led by Teddy Roosevelt. Dump acid into the water, or spew sulphur compounds into the sky? Also impossible thanks to a Republican named Richard Nixon. Give credit where credit is due, I say. I also question why the politics of the modern day has members of the same political party chipping away at the achievements of their historical forebears who ensured that you could just mindlessly walk onto a ferry without thinking about the General Slocum”

    Yeah, businesses really do want to kill all their customers because, you know….reasons… and stuff…and besides like they’ve got closets full of cans of fresh air and water just like in Spaceballs so they will survive the apocalypse and make a profit afterwards….somehow ! It’s a tautology from the sacred progressive scriptures of the holy prophet Marx, ain’t it?

    So we need moar gubbermint to protect us ’cause the managerial state loves us donchaknow.
    The bureaucracy grows because, like cancer, it can, not because it needs to.
    Cognitive dissonance much?

    Overall, though, a funny position to take from a man who routinely rails against bureaucrats who openly acknowledge they do not respond to the general public whom they view as their incompetent charges and do not care how their policies affect them.

    Now you’re a believer in muh managerial state?
    Cognitive dissonance much?

    Don Cavaioli

    Cav

    June 15, 2018 at 4:17 pm


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