THE SLOCUM INQUEST.

THE SLOCUM INQUEST.

The further trend of the coroner’s inquest on the Slocum tragedy was to confirm all the more the evidence of neglect on the part of the Knickerbocker company that owns the ship to have her properly found in men, fire apparatus and the means of escaping from death by fire or water. It has, also, been shown that the crew was not drilled for service in firefighting, and that, when the supreme moment arose, they were utterly helpless through lack of training, numbers and proper apparatus to do anything towards quelling the progress of the flames, while, through lack of adequate facilities for escape, it was impossible for more than a very small minority to escape injury or death. As to the conduct of the chief engineer, whether he ever really attempted to perform his duties in the way of fighting the fire, or whether he stuck to his post or deserted it, opinions are at variance, and he, of course, will not condemn himself. In the same way, from the testimony of others, as adduced at the inquest, it is equally impossible to pass judgment on Captain Van Schaick, whether or not he could have beached the boat sooner or in a better place, or whether he acted wisely in going full speed up Hell Gate, with the fire blazing forward, thereby driving the flames aft upon the passengers crowded round the paddleboxes and stern. At present there seems an inclination to hold the captain guiltless of even an error of judgment, and to claim that he did the best that could be done under the awful conditions. What the coroner and jury, who have personally gone over the scene of the disaster, and examined the hull of the Slocum, now in the Erie basin, wish to know, is, whether there was a fire abroad the ship during an excursion party on the day or a day or two before the disaster, and where and how the fire started. Except such as vague rumors and anonymous letters afford, there is at present no evidence of any previous fire having broken out. As to the origin: There seems to be no doubt that the fire started in a barrel of salt hay that -stood in a store room forward. But whether it was due to spontaneous combustion or to the carelessness of some smoker cannot be at present (is not likely to be) ascertained. Former Fire Marshal Freel, of the New York city fire department, as an expert witness, testified on board the burned hull that, after examining the compartment in which the fire started, he found three barrels of straw, in some of which glasses were packed, a number of barrels and cans of oil and a partly burned barrel the size of an ordinary flour barrel, which contained salt hay, and in which the fire started. He showed that the staves were charred at the lower ends, and that their charred stumos still remained a part of the barrel; also, that both these parts of the staves, as well as the stumps, were charred only on the inside, and not burned through. Furthermore, the bottom of the barrel was burned only on the inside. None of the other barrels were burned at all, and of the great mass of stuff in the compartment little, if any was damaged by fire at all. He decided, therefore, that the fire started in the hay in that barrel, that it smouldered for awhile, then blazed up and burned until whatever dry hay there might have been in the barrel was consumed. The hatch to. the compartment being open, and there being a strong head wind, the flames were drawn up through the hatchway and communicated to other parts of the boat, without spreading in the compartment where the fire started. Commander Cameron Winslow, U. S. A., one of the government’s commission appointed to investigate the Slocum disaster, visited the wreck, accompanied by a stenographer, Inspector General George Uhler of the United States Steamboat Inspection Bureau, and Robert S. Rodie supervising inspector of the port of New York. Commander Winslow inspected the wreck from stem to stern, and then said there was no evidence of any explosion. The verdict of the coroner’s jury in the Slocum case is one of manslaughter against the directors of the Knickerbocker company, the owners of the boat. Captain Van Schaick, Mate Flanagan, and Federal Inspector Lundberg. The dominant idea in the verdict is that of neglect of duty, carelessness as to the findings of the ship, incompetency, and general neglect of duty so far as regards inspection, etc. The Knickerbocker officials specially named are Frank A. Barnaby, president, James K. Atkinson, secretary and general passenger and traffic manager, and both of them managing directors, and Captain John A. Pease, of the Grand Republic, who, as commodore of the fleet, with the others, should have seen to the equipment of the Slocum with a “proper and suitable fire extinguishing equipment, and an efficient and well-drilled complement of disciplined men to operate the same in case of emergency, and, also, to have provided the said steamboat with such number and character of good, efficient, and available lifepreservers, and with other life-saving appliances as w’ould best secure the safety of all persons on board in case of fire or other disaster.” Instead of so doing, “they and each of them did not only wholly neglect and omit so to do, but, on the contrary, supplied and had on board of the said steamboat on June 15, 1904, a wholly improper and unsuitable fire extinguishing equipment, and a wholly inefficient and undrilled complement of men, all of whom were undisciplined, as well as an insufficient number of good and available life-preservers and other life-saving appliances to secure properly the safety of the persons on board the said vessel in case of disaster.” All were arrested and held in bail. The assistant engineer and some of the crew were committed to the House of Detention and held as witnesses. In his evidence before the coroner Captain Van Schaick practically admitted that the life-preservers were old, that the inspection by Lundberg both of these and the hose (some of which had never been detached from the standpipe since it was attached to it) was virtually a farce. He swore that he had had three fre drills since the boat had gone into commission, but could not remember the dates. Flanagan, the mate, had no license. One witness saw the crew trying to uncoil the hose without success, and no water came throught it or the standpipe. 1 hen the crew jumped overboard. One boy swore that, when he told the captain that the ship was on fire, the latter told him to go to hell cut of that and mind his own business. Supervising Inspector General Dumont, the superior of Inspector Lundberg, said that the latter was only a probationer and learning the work. He added that, technically, the Slocum had no hold and that it was no part of the duty of an assistant inspector to test life-preservers for contents or buoyancy, this being done before they left the manufacturers’ shops. He said an inspector would assume prima facie that the life-preservers were all right if they had the government stamp on them. Lundberg testified that he found the hose all right, but had not tested it, although the regulations say: “Fire hose tested for pressure of — pounds.” He had answered that question: “Good order.” as all others had done. He had never been told to test the hose in any other way. He, like other inspectors, had never lowered the life-boats, which looked all right, and he had so certified. He turned the valve on the standpipe, but no water came through. Still he had certified that the valves were all right, and that the hose would stand a pressure of 150 pounds. He said there was 100 feet of hose on some standpipes and fifty feet on others. He knew, also, that the law requires that fire hose shall stretch from the pipe to which it is attached to all parts of the ship. On being asked how fifty feet of hose would stretch all over a 255-foot boat, he said: “Well, there were other sections that could be coupled to it in case of emergency.” He “just looked to see that the couplings were the same size. They were all right.”

From all accounts the Hale Firefighters’ exhibit at the St. Louis Fair takes in more money than any other show on the Pike.

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THE SLOCUM INQUEST.

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THE SLOCUM INQUEST.

The inquest on those lost in the burning of the General Slocum excursion steamer in Hell Gate, New York, last week, developed several important facts. It was morally proved that no new life-preservers had been purchased for the ship since 1895, and that for unexplained reasons the bookkeeper had confessedly made erasures in her books, substituting the name of the General Slocum for that of the Grand Republic, a sister ship owned by the same company, the Knickerbocker company. Most of the old ledgers, it appeared, had been destroyed, and those of the past two years contained no entry of any purchase of life-preservers for the Slocum. The council for the company undertook to produce an older ledger, hut would not allow its contents to be made public. There were no life-preserver bills at all for 1904. A deckhand on the Slocum swore that, although he had been employed on her ever since she had been put in commission this year, he had never witnessed a fire drill. Men whom he took to he government inspectors had not inspected any lifepreservers on the hurricane deck, because there were none there. He had no knowledge of any new lifepreservers having been purchased, nor had he seen any new hose on deck. Oscar Kahnweller, who had sold the General Slocum her original outfit of 2,250 life-preservers, testified that since 1895 he had sold no new equipment for the ship, but that he had seen life-preservers twenty-eight years old as good as any his firm was putting out today, while some ought to have been thrown away in less than ten years. Here the assistant district attorney showed the witness a dilapidated-looking life-belt, to which the witness said he would trust himself then “with hands and feet tied,” on which the law officer tore the rotten arm strips off the belt, and returned to his seat with a disgusted “That will do.” O’Neill, another witness, professed ignorance as to there having been a fire in the Slocum’s storeroom on the day before the disaster, and had no knowledge of burned sticks and wood having been thrown overboard. But he corroborated the testimony already given that the storeroom held paint, oil, old canvas, and a lot of other dunnage beside the lamp. He said sometimes the room was lighted by a swinging lamp, and sometimes there was no light. He first learned of the fire when he heard the people shouting. Then he ran to the hose. It kinked, and burst when the water presstirc reached it. He then got the rubber washing hose, but the coupling would not fit the standpipe. The flames prevented the crew from getting to the deck the washing hose after the coiled fire hose had burst. Brandow, assistant engineer of the Slocum, had worked six seasons with Conklin, the chief engineer. They had a donkey engine for supplying the fire hose. He never had any other hose than was used on that day. He first heard of the fire from the first mate. They then went full speed to Hell Gate, where they slowed up a little. He could not or would not say if they were through the gate when he first heard of the fire. As soon as Chief Engineer Conklin heard of it, he went to the crank room where the donkey engine stood. They ran at full speed only a few minutes. He thought there had been two fire drills last year. John J. Coakley, one of the deckhands, said he served on the Slocum in previous seasons, and declared there had never been a fire drill on board. No instructions as to what to do in case of fire were ever given. He calculated that there were about 1,100 passengers aboard the boat. He lowered a lifeboat, but it was filled with people before it reached the water, and was immediately swamped. Another deckhand declared that no boats were lowered, and that there was a false washer in the coupling of the hose, so that the hose had to be uncoupled and the washer removed before the stream could be turned on. The mate, Flanagan, contradicted a previous statement that the fire had broken out in a barrel of hay. and further said there was no charcoal used to smother any such fire, because there was no such stuff on board. He said that the inspectors spent most of one day aboard, and finally picked out ten or twenty life-preservers, which they said were no good. Assistant Pilot Weaver knew nothing of the steam equipment of the boat in case of fire. The forward cabin could not he entered save by the stairway leading to the main deck. A sliding door guarded it. He did not know if it was kept locked. The mate had charge of it. He did not know of any life-preservers below the main deck except what were in the forward cabin. The life-preservers on the main deck were held up by annealed wire. There were no life-preservers on the hurricane deck, but there were three lifeboats and two life-rafts, two on each side. The hose forward was not new; the hose aft he had bought—about 100 feet of two-thirds linen hose. He did not see it, but had been sent by the captain with a piece, and ordered fo get the same. The bill showed that forty cents a foot was paid for it, with a sixty per cent, reduction—net, sixteen cents. He knew nothing about hose, and had never seen any fire drills on board. Second Engineer Randolph had worked six years on the Slocum. The apparatus for throwing water consisted of a donkey engine. There was one valve for pumping steam, but steam could not be turned into the forward cabin. They went full speed about Hell Gate, but he could not say that they were through the Gate when he was notified of the fire. He was first ordered to slow, then in about four seconds to go full speed. There seemed to be great doubt in the minds of several of the crew as to whether or not Chief Engineer Conklin stuck by the boat, or even “got his feet wet.” The hose “contained not a suspicion of rubber.” Hose of the same size in use in the fire department of this city costs at lease $1.50 a foot, and even this is not considered the top-notch quality. On being asked what he thought of fire hose at sixteen cents a foot, Fire Chief Croker said: “I’d hate to have to put out a fire with it. I don’t believe that water could run through it without having it all leak out.” The hose on the boat had never been used for any purpose, and much that was on board had been there for a number of years. The greatest sensation of the inquest was the refusal to testify of Henry Lundberg, an assistant steamboat inspector, who examined the Slocum on May 6. His lawyers said that he might incriminate himself. His action was called “unparalleled” by Assistant District Attorney Garvan. The coroner committed him to Ludlow street jail for contempt of court, but afterwards released him on $500 bail.