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“It Was Not a Festive Wedding…”

May 2024
1min read

My own father was one of the many physicians who did the little they could to help that day—which was also the day he got married. In an autobiographical fragment written half a century later, he told of starting out from his home on 138th Street for a haircut, noticing a black cloud toward the east, and climbing aboard a streetcar going in that direction.

“When I got to the end of the line, “he continued, “I saw what was one of the great tragedies of our time—the steamboat Slocum was on the beach at North Brother Island about Hof a mile from me—burning from stem to stern. There was a tug which had just tied up near me—the deck was piled three or four deep with dead women and children and I jumped aboard & tried to find any one who might be alive. The only one I found alive was a very small boy who was crying for his mother—the boy was not wet at all—someone must have handed him from the burning boat to someone on the tug or some row boat. I was on a coal barge looking over bodies when my father found me and chased me home.

“We were married at 2. All that time and all that afternoon the street was full of police cars loaded with the dead—their feet hanging out back of the cars. By early afternoon there were thousands of people who had come by Elevated R.R. from downtown N. Y. looking for their families.

“It was not a festive wedding and I can never get the picture out of my mind—even writing this after all the years that have passed since makes me weep. I saw policemen & firemen down at the shore weeping that day. ”

Next morning he added this sentence: “After writing the above I was unable to sleep a good part of the night.”

—W.P.R.

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