This Day in NY History, June 15

June 14, 2011 Updated: June 14, 2011

1904: General Slocum Disaster Claims Numerous Lives: The excursion ship General Slocum is chartered by St. Mark’s Lutheran Church to ferry over 1,300 passengers, mostly women and children, from Manhattan to Long Island. Tragedy struck when a fire, after starting in its lower portion, rapidly spread to engulf the wooden boat, with the help of its movement and the heavy wind conditions. Many of the passengers perished on board in the flames, while some drowned after jumping overboard. The tremendous loss of lives, believed to be over 1,000, made it the deadliest disaster in New York history until 9/11.

Later, it was discovered the captain did not train his crew to respond to fires, the fire hoses burst after the water was turned on, lifeboats were attached to the ship with wire rendering them useless, and the rotten life preservers were also of no use. He was convicted of negligence and served four years of a 10-year sentence before being pardoned by President William Howard Taft. The investigation into the matter spawned tougher ship regulations. A memorial fountain was built in 1906 at Tompkins Square Park to commemorate the victims.

1953: NYC Transit Authority Established:
The State Legislature formed the New York City Transit Authority, which is now the MTA New York City Transit, as a public corporation to conduct operations of all city-owned bus, trolley, and subway lines, replacing New York City’s Board of Transportation. That same year, tokens replaced tickets as the fare payment. Over the years, there have been a host of problems, such as rising crime rates and vandalism deterring citizens from utilizing public transit, which were solved with innovative ideas like removing subway cars that were tagged by graffiti immediately and quickly painting them, thus discouraging graffiti artists. Other problems that have arisen have been rising fares and high ridership numbers, putting stress on the entire public transit system.

Notable events happened on July 19, 1967, when the first successful train of air-conditioned cars went into service, and on May 14, 1997, when the entire subway system began accepting MetroCards. Currently, the MTA is working on completing modernization and repair projects faster and more efficiently. Over the last decade, it has successfully launched projects like Countdown Clocks, which alert customers when trains are arriving, and Music Under New York, which provides musical entertainment to riders waiting for trains.

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