Adella Wotherspoon, 100; Last Survivor of Ferry Disaster

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Adella Wotherspoon, believed to be the last survivor of the deadly 1904 fire and sinking of the excursion ferry General Slocum, has died. She was 100.

Wotherspoon died Jan. 26 at a convalescent home in Berkeley Heights, N.J., Julia Clevett, a close friend, told the New York Times.

Wotherspoon was 6 months old when the paddle-wheel steamboat, named for Civil War Maj. Gen. Henry Warner Slocum, caught fire below decks as it took German American church members on an outing on the East River in New York City on June 15, 1904.

The disaster reportedly killed 1,021 of the 1,300 people aboard. Wotherspoon’s parents, Anna and Paul Liebenow, survived, but she lost two sisters and other family members.


The fire and sinking was the city’s deadliest tragedy until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center, and one of the worst maritime disasters in American history.

The Titanic sinking in the Atlantic in 1912 killed 1,517 of the 2,200 people aboard.

“The Titanic had a great many famous people on it,” Wotherspoon said at a 1999 commemoration of the General Slocum fire. “This was just a family picnic.”

She was born Adele Martha Liebenow in Manhattan on Nov. 28, 1903, but her parents later changed the spelling of her name to Adella.

She was trained as a teacher at what is now Trenton State College.

She taught business administration at Plainfield High School in Watchung for most of her career, retiring in 1961.

Wotherspoon said she had no memory of the General Slocum, and went on many sea cruises with her husband, James Wotherspoon, who died in 1982. They had no children.