I was sitting at a table outside of the Life Cafe when the Mayor of Avenue B waved his change cup towards Tompkins Square Park and said, “It’s just beyond those trees — a pink marble monument, written on one side: In Memory Of Those Who Lost Their Lives In The Disaster To The Steamer General Slocum, June 15th, 1904. Eleven hundred or so lost — they never did get a total — burned on board or drowned in the East River. Women and children, mostly. The heart of this neighborhood, they said.
“You go ’round to the front where a boy and a girl face away from you — lookin’ back towards the river with faces hidden by design and a century of wear. Can’t hardly read what it says anymore: They were Earth’s purest children, young and fair.
“Below that, a lion head spits water into the fountain with a stream that arcs over 100 years, as if to say ‘Here I bring you water to douse the fires in which your loved ones perished… water tamed of its currents that swept away your young. Here it flows in its simplest form as you reflect upon what has been lost.’
“But nobody reflects. ’Cuz nobody remembers. That monument — created so they would not be forgotten — has been forgotten.”