On this day, Dec. 19, in 1912, William H. Van Schaick, captain of the General Slocum, which caught fire and sank, killing 1,021 people, was pardoned by President Taft after three and a half years in prison.

On June 15, 1904, the excursion ship caught fire in New York's East River. The crew had never practiced a fire drill and made crucial mistakes.

The life jackets had been tied down with wires to prevent theft. Passengers who managed to free the preservers found they crumbled in their hands when they hit the water.

Van Schaick was convicted of criminal negligence, failing to maintain proper fire drills and fire extinguishers. He was sentenced to 10 years.

The disaster was the New York area's deadliest until the Sept. 11 attacks.

- Scott McCabe