9. The East River Was the Site of One of the Greatest Disasters in NYC

The General Slocum slowly sinks in the East River. Image via Wikimedia Commons 

On June 15, 1904, over 1,300 passengers boarded the General Slocum for a Sunday church picnic on Long Island. The outing turned into a tragedy when the steamship caught fire shortly after it set sail. In less than 15 minutes, the ship burned and sank just off North Brother Island, killing over 1,000 members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church. The origin of the fire is unknown, but it’s thought to have been a discarded cigarette or match. The event was the deadliest naval tragedy until the Titanic, and the deadliest disaster in New York City until September 11th. The huge death toll also contributed to the decline of New York’s Little Germany community.