George Van Tassel 1910-1978

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"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

Abel R. Van Tassel - Hero of New York's Worst Maritime Disaster


Hero Regrets He Rescued So Few

June 18, 1904 - Policeman Van Tassel Bemoans Fact that Exhaustion Prevented Him Saving More Victims of the Disaster.

A hero of the General Slocum disaster who is still prostrated by the terrible event of Wednesday is A. R. Van Tassel, the gallant policeman who worked so bravely and heroically saving women and children and who was only stopped from his rescue work by exhaustion.
Officer Van Tassel is prostrated at his home, No. 426 Fifty-eighth street, Brooklyn.  Since he was brought home from the scene of the disaster he has been unable to sleep or erase the agonizing scenes he witnessed from his mind. “I only did my duty and I don’t think I should say anything about it,” said Officer Van Tassel to-day as he lay ill at his Brooklyn home.

Tells of His Rescue Work.

“I was detailed for duty on the General Slocum, and when the fire broke out I thought only of the best way to save the children.
“I stood on the outside of the rail passing the children into the tugs and trying to keep order.  Every time I saw a little face turning its pitiful appeal to me I thought of my own two children at home, and struggled harder than ever to save them.” Officer Van Tassel is unusually fond of children, and the sight of the little ones perishing, whom he was unable to save, is constantly before him. The heroic policeman worked at his life-saving on the outside of the rail, which was the only thing that saved his life when the deck fell. After he had been there for what seemed ages to him, he felt a terrible blow on the back of the neck and fell unconscious into the water. “I thought it was the deck that struck me, but people who saw say that it was the body of a fat woman who jumped from the deck that struck me.

Made Himself a Human Raft.

“The water, of course, revived me, and I started for the shore.  I found that I was to weak to swim so I turned over on my back to float.  I was soon surrounded by women and children, grabbing at me to save themselves.  I called to them to keep calm and I would save them.  Then I floated into North Brother Island with women and children clinging to me from head to foot.”
One couple that Officer Van Tassel says he remembers feeling so happy to have saved was a mother and her little boy.  The child had grabbed his foot and the mother seized his shoulder.  She kept telling the little fellow to be brave and not let go, and they were carried safely to land.  When the exhausted policeman reached the shore he was revived, and insisted at once on returning to the scene of the tragedy.

No Rest from Heroic Efforts.

Together with the man who had thrown a rope to him as he neared the shore with his human freight he went out in a boat to rescue the victims.  Several trips were made, when at last he fainted from the injury he had received, and the next he knew he was in the hospital at North Brother Island.
When he regained consciousness he insisted on being taken home.  As his own clothing had been torn into ribbons, he was fitted out with a suit of pajamas from the hospital and rowed to the dock, where he found some old clothes of his own.

Cried Over His Children.

“Our little girls didn’t know what had happened,” said Mrs. Van Tassel, “but when they ran to meet their father he just grabbed them in his arms and cried as if his heart would break.
“I suppose he was thinking about those other little girls who would never go home to their fathers and what a fortunate man he was to have his little Florence and Grace.” Officer Van Tassel says that at 9.50 o’clock he was talking to the captain, and took out his watch to set it, and that when the water saturated the watch and stopped it, it was just 10.25. “My husband doesn’t say a word about his injury,” said Mrs. Van Tassel, “only he can’t get over feeling bad about not having been able to continue his rescue work longer. “He has said time and again since he has been here in bed, ‘If that woman [?wouldn’t have hit me in the?] back of the neck I could have saved, oh! So many more poor little children who perished.’”

The Evening World (New York, N.Y.) – June 18,1904


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