Morro Castle

In 1934, the liner MORRO CASTLE ran into a storm and a fire broke out; it drifted ashore at Asbury Park, NJ
Wreck of the MORRO CASTLE at Asbury Park, NJ – 1934  Greetings from Asbury Park!   On September 8, 1934, the 11,500-ton passenger liner "MORRO CASTLE" was returning to New York City from Havana, Cuba.   She ran into a nor'easter storm off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ when a fire broke out.  The fire destroyed the ship and after several failed attempts to tow the vessel; it eventually drifted ashore at Asbury Park, NJ.   More than 130 passengers and crew lost their lives.   The Bogan family's party fishing boat "PARAMOUNT" from Brielle, NJ was one of the vessels that sped to the scene and she rescued 67 passengers.  The wreck of the 11,500-ton passenger liner "MORRO CASTLE" circa 1934 as she lay beached just north of Convention Hall in Asbury Park, NJ.   The disaster was the biggest event of the day and throngs of onlookers crowded the boardwalk and beach to get a look at the burned out hulk.  On September 8, 1934, she was returning to New York City from Havana, Cuba.   She ran into a nor'easter storm off the coast of Atlantic City, NJ on the night of September 7, but continued pushing through the 40-plus knot winds and heavy seas towards New York.   Just after midnight on September 8, a fire broke out and the heavy winds soon spread the fire to the point where the crew could no longer contain it.   The fire destroyed the ship and after several failed attempts to tow the vessel; it eventually drifted ashore at Asbury Park, NJ.   Many of the crew deserted the ship in lifeboats and left the passengers to fend for themselves.   At dawn, the remaining passengers started jumping off the boat into the storm tossed ocean.   Some of them died when they hit the water; the poorly designed hard cork life jackets broke their necks on impact.   More than 130 passengers and crew lost their lives in the disaster.   The Bogan family's party fishing boat "PARAMOUNT" from Brielle, NJ was one of the vessels that sped to the scene and she rescued 67 passengers.  Like all great tragedies, the "MORRO CASTLE" disaster was shrouded in mystery, intrigue and innuendo.   Circumstances surrounding the event included allegations of arson, mutiny, delayed SOS calls, smuggling, negligence by the officers and misconduct by the crew.   Strangely, the captain, Robert R. Wilmott was found dead mysteriously, and the origin of the fire was never determined.   Authorities initially suspected that the chief radioman, George Rogers killed the captain, but they couldn't prove it.   (Interestingly, a jury convicted the man of several murders in a later crime.)   The first officer, William F. Warms and the chief engineer, Eban S. Abbot of the "MORRO CASTLE" were charged and convicted of negligence, but a higher court reversed the decision and the pair never went to jail.  The tragedy spurred the U.S. Congress to pass various maritime laws designed to prevent future disasters and to U.S. acceptance of the International Convention for the Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) treaty, which is generally regarded as the most important of all international treaties concerning the safety of merchant ships.  One of the rescue boats... The PARAMOUNT from Brielle, NJ – 1934  A postcard of the "PARAMOUNT" from Brielle, NJ circa 1934.   These rare postcards were made soon after the "PARAMOUNT" rescued victims from the burning liner "MORRO CASTLE" on September 8, 1934.   The rescue story goes like this… The Bogan family was living in Lakewood, NJ at the time when a phone call woke them at 2:00 AM in the morning on September 8.   The caller told them that a big ship was afire off Sea Girt, NJ.   The Bogan clan went down to the dock in Brielle and learned that the Coast Guard was unwilling to send out their 40-foot patrol boat out into the raging storm with its 40-plus knot winds and wild seas.   They decided to go out to the scene in the 57-foot "PARAMOUNT" and rounded up several other men that were at the docks.   It was daybreak when they left and they almost turned around in the inlet after seeing the terrible sea conditions, but decided to press on.  After reaching the burning liner, they spent the next four hours plucking victims from the rough seas and eventually came back to the dock with 67 survivors aboard the 57-foot boat.   The "PARAMOUNT" also managed to tow a lifeboat back to another rescue ship, the "ANDREA S. LUCKENBACH".   Not a bad day's catch by anyone's standards!  Other mini-sagas were also happening during the disaster… During the morning hours of September 8, then New Jersey Governor A. Harry Moore braved the storm winds in a small airplane to survey the disaster scene.   Whenever they spotted survivors floating in the ocean, they would signal the rescue vessels.   Captain Bob Ziegler's party boat "DIANA" from Brielle, NJ came out to the scene when weather conditions improved later in the day and recovered twelve bodies.   Captain Ziegler mentioned seeing several sharks cruising the area.  PARAMOUNT Rescue Crew, Brielle, NJ – 1934  A picture of the "PARAMOUNT" crew taken on September 8, 1934 immediately after they returned to the dock from rescuing 67 survivors from the burning liner "MORRO CASTLE".   Pictured from left to right is Charles Gifford, Everett Eberhardt, Knute Lovgren, John Bogan Jr., James Bogan Sr., John Bogan Sr., William Firman, Clayton Weller and Thomas McDowell.   Yes, these brave men were truly heroes.   Picture courtesy of Captain Dave Bogan Sr.