The trouble about the Slocum horror is that, as matters stand at present, New York city is absolutely powerless to protect her own citizens against such disasters. The licensing and inspection of excursion boats is altogether in the hands of the Federal government as is, also, that of pilots and all such higher officers as do business in the harbor. Why this should be so is due, I suppose, to a desire on the part of the Federal government to avoiding clash in jurisdiction, so far as concerns rivers and harbors and navigable streams, and so to diminish the chances of evils arising from a divided authority. The result is, that a cast iron code has been laid down, which is lacking in those local and other details which must vary with local circumstances, it being obvious that what may, in one case, guarantee safety, will be entirely out of place when, like the bed of Procrustes, it is made to fit all sorts and conditions of men and things. In addition to that evil, there is the other—namely, that whatever appointments the Federal government makes, even although the subordinate positions may be filled in accordance with civil service rules, those to the higher offices are more or less inspired, not by fitness so much as by pull. And the trouble of it all is, that the same is true of the minor appointments, including the inspectors, of whom too many shirk the duties of their office or perform them (if such work as they do can be dignified with the name of performance) in a thoroughly perfunctory manner. It is with them a case of getting the thing over as quickly as possible and with as little trouble to themselves as possible. Hence, instead of trusting to their own eyes and senses, they take for granted that what they are shown stands for regularity and obedience to the law throughout, and that the mere sight— say, of life-preservers, piled up on shelves, often out of the reach of grown-up people, certainly of children, or under the seats and so arranged as, when needed, not to be drawn out, or fitted on without assistance of some one of the crew or some chance person on board who knows the trick of fastening them on the wearer, or of life-buoys, lifeboats, or life-rafts, is evidence enough that the law is being complied with. But no steps are taken to see whether or not the life-preservers or buoys will perform their intended functions, or whether the boats or rafts are seaworthy or can be utilised at a moment’s notice for the benefit of a panicstricken crowd of passengers. In the same way, these inspectors take no trouble to see whether or not officers and members of the crew are accustomed to work together, or whether they are a mere scratch lot, got together anyhow and from anywhere, undrilled for fire-protective purposes, ignorant of how to use the apparatus that the law prescribes shall be provided by the owners of the vessel, and equally ignorant or careless as to whether or not that apparatus is in fit condition to render the service expected of it. Thus, on board the Gen. Slocum, the life-preservers, life-buoys and lifelines were simply shams, and destructive shams at that, inasmuch as they dragged the wearers down beneath the surface of the water, instead of buoying them up to safety. The life-rafts and lifeboats, also, supposing them to have been sound, which they may or may not have been, were (if the word of apparently credible witnesses is to be believed) so fastened down by wire and so hung from the davits, as not to be available when the unfortunate passengers stood in such dire need of their services. The crowd was too great round and on them for the twenty-three men who formed the crew to get at them and to perform the duties of firemen and guardians of those intrusted to their care at the same time. For fire-protective purposes the pumps may have been, probably were sufficient. But what service could they render, when the connections were clogged and the hose either rotten, or, if new, of the cheap and nasty description? To allow excursion or any passenger-carrying boats to be sent out, as was the General Slocum, ill-found, badly equipped, undermanned and unprovided with abundant means of escape for all on board, was as truly murder as to allow crowded business, tenement, apartment and lodging houses, hotels, factories, schools, hospitals, theatres, skyscrapers, and the like, to be built without fire escapes and those proper means of extinguishing fire which city ordinances require shall be provided, or, having been built, to stand unprotected and unequipped for years, as the General Slocum was, without a word of remonstrance from the Federal inspectors. Had she been liable to be inspected by the fire department of this city, such a condition of affairs, even under the most corrupt government possible, could hardly have existed. And that is the point I would wish to press home—namely, that no excursion steamer or ferryboat plying in New York waters should be permitted to leave her dock, till she has been pronounced safe in all such essential points by the fire department, and till, after frequent and irregular inspections from that department, it is found that her owners are not neglecting the lives of the people for the sake of saving a few dollars.


NEW YORK, June 19, 1904.

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