Morro Castle / Mohawk Article

Hello Jim,

Most all have seen one of these but for those who have not, a "crushed penny" or elongated cent souvenir available at Asbury Park during that summer:


Hi again,

I certainly did not mean to trivialize the respectful and memorial nature of this anniversary thread by posting a cheap boardwalk souvenir. I was just thinking it was something neat to look at and maybe some had not seen one. My apologies.

Eric Longo
No need to apologise, Eric. It was an interesting contribution and, as you said, many have not seen one!

For myself- I've been trying to locate the actual penny press mold used to make these. In an example of "No point is too low for us," check out these two 1934 postcards, one of which was mailed three days after the fire was extinguished:



The Morro Castle almost took a large chunk of downtown Asbury Park with her in her death throes. I have the original 1934 FD Report (On file at the Luce Library at SUNY Maritime) which details the 5 day effort to extinguish the burning liner after she beached on the 9th. On the Tuesday after the fire began, the blaze suddenly picked up again and began to approach the ship's refrigeration rooms ~which were sizeable~ and the ammonia which functioned as a coolant within. The firefighters were withdrawn from the wreck, and a two block swath of Asbury Park evacuated so that if MC went up, Texas City style, casualties would be minimised. But, in this case, the fireproofing worked and a second disaster averted.
>>and the ammonia which functioned as a coolant within.<<

I'll bet that information cured a few people of their constipation. Anybody interested can read the full MSDS for ammonia HERE Lovely stuff...not!

I see the entrepreneurs wasted no time coming out with the trinkets and the postcards. The one above with the covered bodies is pretty grim. Were there any cries of outrage at that one? (If so, such protests probably helped the sales!)
Hello Jim and Michael,

Yes, I've seen some of that stuff. That postcard does not really make me want salt water taffy! Grim indeed. I once sold some photographs of her taken from the beach - maybe to you Jim? I don't recall. It was several years ago but I recall your interest in her.

Hey Jim (or anyone else of course who might know), Was the Morro Castle fire the impetus to install fire sprinklers on the then-building Queen Mary? Or was it always the plan to have sprinklers on the Queen Mary?
I don't know- but given the grand finale of the Queen Elizabeth a generation later, I'd venture a guess that any design changes in either QM or QE, brought about by the Morro Castle disaster, were superficial. Her direct legacy was the stringent emphasis on 'fireproof' aboard the United States.

Pen and Ink I did during my hiatus from writing, ca 1998. But, I digress....

The ammonia was one of several "hazards" presented by the Morro Castle after she came to rest. The hazard best remembered is the hundreds of untanned cow hides in the hold- they did not burn, and soon the Morro Castle began to give off a stench that all but ruined the late fall tourist business.

Here is one to ponder- the FBI,of course, investigated the disaster. What is less well known is the fact that the Ward Line had spies monitoring the FBI while they were aboard the ship and reporting back to company headquarters, via notarized letters, about where the FBI was searching and what they were removing from the wreck. What exactly did the Ward Line fear the FBI would stumble across, and more important, did they? (Foreshadowing of future article?

Another less known fact ~ The Morro Castle and Oriente were key players in the smuggling of wealthy, illegal, European Jews into the U.S. They used a very sophisticated set-up, nearly foolproof. Mr. and Mrs. X would travel from, say, Berlin, to Havana. Money (a nice sum) would be deposited by them, in their name, in a Havana bank. Crew members would get them aboard the ship where they would, essentially, hide out in the open. There had to have been MUCH collusion on a high level aboard the ship to make this work. Since no money changed hands until the wealthy Europeans were safely ashore in NYC, it was in the crew's vested interest to make sure that they arrived unmolested. Once ashore, the bank in Havana would be "wired" and the funds released to the runner who arranged the deal.

The weekend/midweek schedule of departure (Morro Castle left NYC every Saturday, Oriente every Tuesday or Wednesday) made the ships popular among girls who..ahem...were in trouble and needed to have it "fixed" in Havana. Not legal there, but one could arrange to get "fixed" in a hospital for a fair sum of money that seemed a bargain compared to taking one's chances in the US. For a minimal fee, one could sail down on the Morro Castle, take the Ward Line up on their "extend your vacation by three days" deal, and depart for home, no longer pregnant, aboard her sister ship. (BTW- the first homicide of 1933, in NYC, took place one minute after midnight Dec 31/ Jan 1, when a housewife from Queens died of a septic abortion in a hospital in Harlem. The knitting-needle wielding abortionist, a woman, was nearly 80 and BLIND! Released in custody of her daughter. Ahh...the Good Old Days.)

The final voyage of the Morro Castle was fairly on the level. The majority of the passengers were either "20-something" Jewish honeymoon couples from NYC and Philadelphia returning home to their families in time for Rosh Hashanah, or upper middle aged German-Americans. Very little scandalous was revealed after the fire which, by Morro Castle standards, is a big surprise.