Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Ancestor profile: Hulda Lindemann and the General Slocum disaster

Hulda Lindemann is not a direct ancestor of mine. She is the sister of my 2nd great grandmother, Augusta Lindemann Stutzmann, but her story, what I can discern of it, is an interesting though tragic one.

Hulda, like her parents and siblings, was born in Germany. She was born about July 1876 and emigrated to the United States about 1891. The family settled in Queens and Brooklyn, New York.

Her sister and my 2nd great-grandmother, Augusta, married very well, marrying Rudolph Stutzmann, a successful funeral home director and later founder and president of Ridgewood Savings Bank, and it's possible that prior to her marriage she worked as a servant but she married in 1899, so there are no records of her prior to her married life. There are records, though, that her sisters, including Hulda, found work as servants in other people's homes.

In 1900, Hulda was working as a serving for the Feldhusen family: patriarch George, a saloon manager; his wife Maria; and their son, Nicholas. They lived a couple blocks north of Washington Square Park in Manhattan.

On June 15, 1904, St. Mark's Lutheran Church in Little Germany chartered the General Slocum, a passenger ship, for an annual trip that included sailing up the East River before heading to Long Island for a picnic. They had been doing this for 17 years. From maps, it seems the Feldhusens lived just outside Little Germany, but being German immigrants, perhaps they were parishioners at St. Mark's, or had family and friends who were members. Whatever the case, Maria and Nicholas Feldhusen were among the more than 1,300 passengers (most of whom were women and children) who boarded the General Slocum that day, accompanied by the family servant, Hulda Lindemann.

Now, in June of 1904, Hulda was almost 28 years old. All three of her sisters and both her brothers were married (3 of those siblings being younger than her). Not judging, since I am 28 and unmarried, but in 1904, when all her siblings had managed to be married off, I have to wonder why Hulda was not. Her sisters had stopped serving others and started families of their own, but Hulda remained in the Feldhusen house. What was it that kept her there? Whatever it was, it killed her.

The General Slocum caught fire by 10 a.m. that day. Most of the lifevests and lifeboats on board were useless. Instead of running the ship aground (and possibly spreading the fire on shore), the captain of the General Slocum stayed on course. Most of the passengers were unable to swim. Besides those that succumbed to the flames, many drowned, and some were crushed when the upper levels of the ship collapsed. In all, an estimated 1,021 people died, with 321 survivors. Prior to the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the General Slocum disaster was the worst loss-of-life disaster in New York City.

I've read Brooklyn newspaper accounts of the disaster in the days that followed it, and they are devastating - a child who watched his whole family die, a mother who can't find any of her children, countless fathers who spent a last normal day at work only to come home and hear what had happened to their wives and children. There's a list of victims' names, identified from their remains, and the names Maria and Nicholas Feldhusen (age 12) are on it. In the 1910 census, George Feldhusen is a widower and living alone.

There's no Hulda Lindemann on the list. Like with 9/11, a lot of the victims just weren't able to be identified. But her family knows that after that day, she never came home. Her parents, Casper and Eva, are buried in Lutheran Cemetery in Middle Village, Queens, and though Hulda has no resting place, Lutheran Cemetery is where many of the General Slocum victims were buried, and where a monument was erected in 1905 to honor the unidentified dead.

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