The Circassian Story: "We'll Float Tonight or We'll Go to Hell!"

by Carolyn Erland Brower

As far as humanly possible, this is a factual account of the wreck of the Circassian. However, the last century did not have the advantages of authentic audio reports. as in the Hindenburg disaster, or analyzable video records, as in the Kennedy assassinations. Gathering information about an incident of over a hundred years ago is not without its difficulty.

In 1876 journalism itself was in a different era. Even photography was still too cumbersome a process to be the invaluable aid that we know today, and rapid communication systems were, comparatively, poor. Rivalry for readership among the many New York daily papers sometimes led to haste and human error in reporting. It also led, in some cases, to exaggeration and sensationalism when actual details were not known.

On the other hand, the official government reports of the wreck were written by capable eyewitnesses who, though necessarily subjective, endeavored to be as accurate as possible.] Those individuals directly involved never forgot the impact of the tragedy. Unofficial first-hand experiences, from varying viewpoints, were recorded not only as interviews in local and city papers, but also in private diaries and journals. And, of course, stories and experiences passed orally from person to person and then from generation to generation.

In this century, other writers have sought to preserve and clarify the story, presenting it anew to those who have yet to hear it. From all these sources, material has been gathered and carefully considered. Official reports have been favored over unofficial statements, local newspaper accounts over those in the city papers, and contemporary first-hand experiences over later articles and stories. Through all these sources. despite some apparent discrepancies, a very clear picture develops. The story of the Circassian belongs to all Long Island, and to this country. It is a story which does not deserve to be lost or diminished with time.