Morro Castle

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George L. Lorton

Member
quote:

Hmmmm...well...improbable, but less so than the Rogers theory, if one lays them out side by side.

I was just giving a theory. I'm certain there were slow poisons that could of done the trick though the only thing any saboteurs would gain is more panic and miscommunication with Capt. Willmott's death so there is really no reason to murder him. I was just playing with a theory on how Capt. Willmott could of been poisoned.

Moving on I liked Jim's relating the theory about the fire being a cover up for that one (?boy's?) murder. It sounds like one of the more reasonable theories I've heard regarding the Morro Castle Fire.​
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
Cuban Revolutionaries with a grudge against a certain Passenger and Americans in general might of poisoned Willmott (slowly) and set the fire but it's pretty far fetched. Although I've heard of stranger stuff happening.
 
J

Jim Kalafus

Member
My own theory, in outline:

August 1933. Morro Castle met by mob of 500 in NYC, plus bomb squad and NYPD 'strong arm' squad after members of the deposed Machado regime flee north aboard her ahead of the firing squad.

September 1-10, 1933. Attempt to assasinate Machado's former Head of Secret Police on board the Morro Castle foiled.

September 1-10, 1933. US Ambassador Sumner Welles has to personally escort the general manager of United Fruit aboard the vessel, using the US Army to keep a furious mob at bay, after he is implicated in the murder of a union organizer.

First week of September 1934. Son of a United Fruit high-up transferred to the Morro Castle at the last minute, when his cabin aboard the Quirigua is not available.

I don't think that the fire was set specifically to kill Roberto Gonzales, BUT the coincidence of the first anniversary of the attempted storming of the ship; the presence of someone related to a United Fruit official on board, and the death of the captain, MIGHT have inspired someone to make a bold 'symbolic' gesture.

(Gonzales had the only cabin in first class which opened ONLY on to the open deck. Had anyone wanted merely to kill him, it would have taken exactly five steps from his door to toss him overboard. That's why I think tbe fire was symbolic)
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
quote:

That's why I think tbe fire was symbolic

Roberto Gonzales, That's the boy's name I was thinking about. Did he survive the fire and if not, were his remains never found? In other words what happened to him the night of the fire? Sounds like it plausible the fire could of been a big cover up for murder?​
 
J

Jim Kalafus

Member
Despite the fact that boat #10, one of only two port side boats lowered, was directly outside his door, 13 year old Roberto Gonzales did not survive. He died of exposure; was identified by his uncle at a morgue in New Jersey, and after a Mass in Newburgh, New York, was flown to Cuba, where he was buried at Cienfuegos on the Wednesday after the fire.

Roberto's parents wanted him educated in the United States, and so he lived with his uncle and aunt in Newburgh during the school year and would spend the summer at his family's country estate outside of Havana.

He, and his cousin, had spent the summer of 1934 at the estate, and were returning to school that first week of September. They had passage north aboard a United Fruit vessel, Quirigua, but when they arrived at the pier there was only one berth reserved for them, and no other available. So, Roberto was transfered over to the Morro Castle.

This story was not picked up on by the national papers, but the Newburgh Free Library was a wonderful help in piecing it together.
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
Was Gonzales seen by any of the other passengers the night of the fire, Jim?
 
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Jim Kalafus

Member
Questionable.

Of the children on board:

~3 year old Dickie Rueda was placed in a life ring and lowered overboard. He fell through the ring, was washed away and drowned. Body recovered.

~His older brother, Benito, was rescued by one of the Knight sisters. Is still alive.

~Robert Lione, 4 or 5, went over the side with his mother and hung on to a rope until they wre resciued by a Monarch of Bermuda lifeboat.

~His older brother, Raymond, went overboard with Mr. Lione. They were separated. Raymond drifted with George Watremez and Frank Dittman (both 18) and died of shock and exposure after being brought ashore.

~16 year old Henry Jakoby Junior was set afire while attempting to lead his parents up a staircase to the boat deck. He and his mother were together in the water with Mr. Lione, father of Raymond and Robert. Josephine Jakoby survived, but her son and Mr. Lione both died of exposure in her presense.

~8 year old Arthur Sheridan was stood on a railing by his mother, Betty, when he began to suffocate in the smoke. At the point wher conditions became intolerable, his mother pushed him off the railing and jumped after him but could not find him in the water.

Dolly Davidson, an otherwise candid survivor, never spoke of this in later years, but in an obscure 1934 interview she spoke of being with the group of 25-30 survivors who held on to one another several miles south of the burning ship. In the group was a little boy named Arthur, who was passed hand to hand; as one person grew exhausted someone else would take him. A wave broke over the group and scattered them~ Dolly and her husband saw Arthur Sheridan struggling, feebly, at a distance and then he was swept away. body recovered and buried in Wilkes-Barre PA.

~Mervin Bregstein went overboard with one of the Knight sisters. They stayed together for hours, and for a time were with a group of survivors. Miss Knight recalled someone taking Mervyn away from her before she fell unconscious from shock. His body was never recovered.

~John and Ruben Holden jumped overboard with their parents, Ruben and Grace. Grace kissed her sons before they jumped and reminded them that if they were separated in the water, the family would meet at the Roosevelt Hotel in NYC. The boys were picked up by a lifeboat and rowed ashore. Their father survived; their mother died of exposure and shock.

~15 year old Ann Stemmermann and her friend, Doris Landes, who turned 16 on the afternoon of the fire, stayed on the stern with Mrs. Stemmermann and their neighbor, Mrs. Marie Byrne, until Mrs. Byrne began to collapse from suffocation. They all jumped together, and were separated in the water. Mrs. Stemmermann survived; Marie Byrne died of shock; Doris Landes returned home to her parents with minor burns on her face but otherwise intact.

~16 year old Henry Borman, traqveling with his aunt, Edna Von Pollnitz, was in the lounge with Ann Litwak (died) Fannie Fryman (died) and Ethel Hassal until a few minutes before the fire began. He jumped from the ship, and while in the water met Ann Stemmerman who had drifted away from her mother and friends. Ann would later tell people that she 'knew' from then that he was the right one. They eventually married, with her dying in 2006 and him predeceasing her.

~16 year old Loretta Hassall jumped from the ship and was brought ashore by one of the fishing boats.

~16 year old Lucile Robinson and her mother, Mary, were guests at a cocktail party in Eleanor Brennan's stateroom when the ship caught fire. They jumped from the stern, and swam most of the eight miles to shore with one another. They were in shock by the time they entered the surf zone and were separated. Mary Robinson washed up on the beach, still alive and semi-coherent; screaming for Lucile. Lucile washed ashore, alive, further down the beach.

~Braulio Saenz burned to death; surviving a half hour aftr he was pulled out of his A Deck cabin. His sister, Marta, died of burns and exposure after daylight. Dolly Davidson, and many others in the large group of survivors, recalled that she had on a pink nightgown, had long hair, and was gruesomely burned. Caina Saenz was taken from A deck to B deck by David Schneider. She, too, was badly burned and her body was never recovered.

~16 year old Louis Perrine was at Eleanor Brennan's cocktail party with his traveling companion, Father Raymond Egan. he later claimed to have seen a man shot to death by crewmen.

~16 year old Ofelia Busquet, jumped overboard with her parents, Ofelia and Dr. Franz Busquet. Her father died of exposure as they drifted together.

~16 year old Nancy Ann Brady hated the Morro Castle and begged her parents to end the cruise early and fly home from Havana by seaplane. All three jumped from the stern with one another; Nancy Ann was separated from her parents. She survived, as did her mother. Her father died of what seems like a heart attack as he waited for rescue.

~12 year old Marta Landmann, a German who spoke only Spanish, jumped from the stern with her father and mother, Clemen and Josefa Landmann. Details of their story are sketchy, since multiple language barriers had to be overcome, but they all survived to be taken to the Hotel Alamac in NYC.
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
No Roberto seen that night then?

quote:

~3 year old Dickie Rueda was placed in a life ring and lowered overboard. He fell through the ring, was washed away and drowned.

He fell through? Well that's what you get with lowering a 3 year old in a life ring. If they were gonna do that they might as well have chucked the little guy over board. Same results. I mean really now!!! Lowering a 3 year old in a life ring and expecting him to hold on to it.
Angry
 
R

Russell Smith

Member
I'm just now finishing "The Morro Castle" by Hal Burton (as recommended by a forum member) and it seems that the whole evacuation, if that's what you want to call it, was a
cluster F%&k. There appears to have been both acts of heroism as well as cowardice, as usually happens in disasters, but Capt. Warms & Chief Engineer Abbott were both guilty of gross incompetence and cowardice. Of course the Ward Line, in it's use of non fire-retardant materials, was just a culpable.

As an aside, the vultures & gawkers at Asbury Park showed a disgusting amount of crassness. Damn landlubbers. I wonder if any of them realised, or cared, that what they were gawking at was a floating creamatorium with the still smoldering remains of men, women & children.
133586
 
G

George L. Lorton

Member
quote:

I'm just now finishing "The Morro Castle" by Hal Burton (as recommended by a forum member)

Does this person's christian name begin with a G and have a surname with an L? Hoped you got something out of it. I sure did.

quote:

was a cluster F%&k

That it was.
Sad


quote:

I wonder if any of them realised, or cared, that what they were gawking at was a floating crematorium with the still smoldering remains of men, women & children.

I wonder that myself. Probably not.
Sad


I'm still upset about them lowering a 3 year old in a life ring by himself. As a parent of a 3 yr old I can state that they just don't have the strength required to hang on.​
 
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Russell Smith

Member
quote:

Does this person's christian name begin with a G and have a surname with an L? Hoped you got something out of it. I sure did.

Oh yea.
Happy
I couldn't remember. Just call me "Mr. Short Term Memory Loss."
Proud
 
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Jim Kalafus

Member
Hey, George, Dude. Don't be too hard on Mrs. Rueda.

At the time of Dickie's...accidental... death, the entire family- none of whom had life jackets- was standing in a suffocating cloud of smoke. Mrs. Meissner later remembered that Mrs. Rueda was crying, and asking people to please help her with her children. Benito, the older boy, was also crying, and kept screaming 'I can't breathe.'

Benito was put overboard without a life jacket, and was only saved because he almost immediately drifted into the path of Miss Knight. The life ring was the only option available at the moment, and offered at least a partial chance at success.

Mrs. Rueda drifted with Jospeh and Claire Drummond, who remembered that she cried for her children all morning.

>As an aside, the vultures & gawkers at Asbury Park showed a disgusting amount of crassness. Damn landlubbers. I wonder if any of them realised, or cared, that what they were gawking at was a floating creamatorium with the still smoldering remains of men, women & children.

DUDE!
Happy
You're talking to a guy who redecorated his entire living room around a 16 foot Morro Castle oar, one of two which 'walked home' with a Spring Lake resident who went to look at the disaster. EVERY fragment that washed ashore went home with someone. The carnival atmosphere has paid dividends for generations of collectors!


>the vultures & gawkers at Asbury Park showed a disgusting amount of crassness.

Well... hmmmm...my grandparents went. EVERYONE'S grandparents went. Quite a few of the ambulatory survivors who swam ashore, or came ashore by fishing boat, detoured through Asbury Park on their way back to New York or Philadelphia. I don't recall anyone later talking about visiting the ship in terms of good or bad taste...it was just something that everyone did.

On board the ship, that morning, were only a few human remains. On A deck were found the teeth and pelvis of Catherine Cochrane; the teeth, pelvis and a few random bone fragments of Max Berliner; a handful of bones that were once Mrs. Caridad Saenz, and the pelvis of a man who was otherwise entirely cremated which was found in the starboard A deck aft corridor, in front of Mrs. Saenz' cabin.

On the B Deck promenade, starboard, and forward under the bridge, were the burned but not cremated remains of watchman Carl Foersch. He was on the bridge, with Warms, for quite a while at the outset of the fire, but no one recalled later how he ended up dying where he did.

Aft on D Deck were the burned but not cremated remains of Braulio Saenz.

Frank Tosti; Milton Klein; Mrs. Sarah Murphy and an unidentified burned female torso* that washed ashore on day #1, are the other burn fatalities. They all died of burn injuries in the water.

The rest of the 128 victims died of criminal negligence.

*I suspect that the torso was probably a drowning victim who washed ashore at a singularly dramatic moment. How one could be burned so severely that one's head, lower arms and lower legs would be gone, yet still manage to get overboard, escapes me.

One rather shocking item from September 1934, is a faded role of color home movie film which, after some random summer vacation footage, cuts to livid closeups of the faces of the Morro Castle dead laid out in Spring Lake.
 
G

George L. Lorton

Member
quote:

Just call me "Mr. Short Term Memory Loss."

Russell,
I'm "Mr. Short Term Memory Loss" )'08 and
Proud
of it sorta, you can be '09.
Proud



quote:

Hey, George, Dude. Don't be too hard on Mrs. Rueda.

Jim,
Well since you have told me the back story making me feel like an idiot like usual when I make statements like that. I take back what I said but still insist that somebody could of gone down the line with the kid or jumped with Dick but it sounds like nobody was helping Mrs. Rueda so I'll leave it alone but will have nightmares tonight where my daughter and I are trapped on the burning Morro Castle. But I'll hopefully jump with her over the side. We all know what will happen then. One of the worst thinks you could do is to jump from a moving ship with a small child but there weren't a lot of options open for those people on the Morro Castle.​
 
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Jim Kalafus

Member
>Chief Engineer Abbott ....guilty of gross incompetence and cowardice.

The book only scratches the surface. Warms, I'll give a bit of a 'pass' to. Abbott, by all means, should have done hard time.

If you have time, read up on the Mohawk. She replaced the Morro Castle on the Havava run, and on her Ward Line maiden voyage had her steering gear jam just after she passed the still-visible Morro Castle hulk. She veered in front of the freighter, Talisman, and soon sank in 70 feet of water quite close to the wreckage of the U.S.S. Akron. The ship was not heavily booked, but there was still a high percentage of fatalities....and much more bad publicity for the Ward Line.

The Mohawk remains an amazing dive site, with seemingly no end to artifacts. I have a nice silverplate filagree bowl from the wreck which comes out on holidays, plus a few mechanical components; silverware.... etc.
 
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Russell Smith

Member
quote:

The carnival atmosphere has paid dividends for generations of collectors!

It's that type of "fun" atmosphere that I find a tad repulsive. I woulda gone to see it too. We all have some morbid curiosity.​
 
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