Morro Castle

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Jim Kalafus

Member
Here are profiles of one of the more appealing couples on board; Abraham and Harriet Cohen, of Hartford CT.

Harriet, who turned 21 on September 9,1934, was the daughter of Austrian immigrants who had done well for themselves in the grocery business. She was the saluditorian of her high school class; graduated from college; was active in Jewish community groups and worked in the finance department at the G. Fox department store.

Abraham Cohen, 31, was the son of a second generation Jewish family, which owned department stores in Hartford. He was well remembered, locally, as a high school sports hero, and had graduated from Dartmouth.

Their accounts of swimming six miles to shore, on Harriet's birthday, are among the more endearing generated by the disaster.

The story has a bittersweet ending. Abraham, the star athlete, had a heart condition of which he was not aware. His exertions on September 8, 1934, apparently induced a heart attack soon after. According to an article which appeared after his death, he never really recovered and was "not the same" afterward.

He died in the late 1940s or early 1950s of another heart attack. Harriet never remarried; raised their children; returned to work in banking, and was involved with many charities. She died in late 2002.

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Mr. Abraham Cohen. 31. Cabin 215. 11 Keney Terrace, Hartford, CT. Mr. and Mrs. Cohen had married on August 28, 1934; the Morro Castle cruise was their honeymoon. They survived the six mile swim to shore, and gave several excellent accounts:

“ I went out into the Purser’s Lobby. There were members of the crew in the four corners of it squirting water against the ceiling. There didn’t seem to be much pressure, but if there had been all the pressure in the world it would not have made any difference. I spoke to one of them and he swore.

Then we went toward the stern of the ship. The corridor was full of people all moving toward the stern. It wasn’t crowded and the fire seemed all above us, on the upper decks. No one jostled or hurried.

We went back to the open part of B Deck. We couldn’t move around. Someone began to sing “Hail Hail the Gang’s All Here” and someone else said they ought to say their prayers. Some woman said, ‘Yes, that’s right. Prayers.’ There were two members of the crew huddled with the rest. They were sobbing, with tears streaming down their faces.

Everyone was excited, but some big stocky fellow seemed to have them well under control. Then the lights went out. The big fellow said it was all right, that the ship was steel and guaranteed not to sink, that people would get to us right away. A little while later the fire began to increase. The smoke began to pour back. People were choking and the women began to scream again. I wet the shoulders of my wife’s gown and buried my face in it.

People were crying out that we would suffocate. It couldn’t last long. Some of the passengers tried to go up to A Deck but were apparently warned not to. People on the inboard edge of the crowd around us were pushing and screaming for those near the rail to jump. They were afraid to, and we who were quite far from the rail were suffocating. I took my wife’s shoulders and pushed her through the crowd until we reached the rail. All we wanted was to get to the water. We both had life belts on. Anything was better than this.

I put my arm around Harriet after we climbed over the rail. We said ‘Let’s go’ and jumped. I hit the water flat on my back and it knocked the wind out of me. Harriet hit feet first. When we recovered from the shock, Harriet said ‘The water’s fine!’

There was some sort of light like a tin can with a flare on it that was floating in the water. Some of the people called out to stay near the light. Then a funny thing happened. The lifebelt my wife had tied on me was a little loose and we called out to some people who seemed good natured and went over to them. I turned around and one of them fixed it.

It was a long time, and it wasn’t pleasant. We swallowed water. I was sick. We began to get cold. It must have been 9 O’clock when we first saw the houses at Point Pleasant. We said ‘Take it easy’ and talked about a lot of things. We talked abiout the people back at home, and how important it was for us to return to them..."

Mrs. Harriet Bachrach Cohen. 21. Cabin 215. 11 Keney Terrace, Hartford CT:

"I heard screaming outside our cabin. I rushed to the door, opened it- flames filled the hallway. My husband awakened and we put on our bathrobes. We went out through the flames and finally made our way to B Deck.

The decks were filled with people- everyone seemed excited. The smoke hung low and the fumes almost suffocated us.

People were milling and jammed close together. There didn’t seem to be anyone who could keep the people quiet.

My husband and I made our way to the railing and decided the best thing to do was to jump. We did. I guess we were scared, but there wasn’t time to think about it.

Once in the water our first thought was to get away from the boat. There were other struggling around us in the water, but after we got started and swam a while we didn’t see any more. We saw no lifeboats around us. We saw the lights on the shore.

We struck out for shore. The water was warm. The waves seemed to help us along towards shore. Best of all, we kept side by side all the way. We’d help one another keep afloat now and then, one of us taking it easy for a while.

Sometimes we thought we were getting nearer shore, then we didn’t know. Then we knew we were getting nearer and soon saw a tremendous crowd on the beach. When the waves lifted us on their crests, we waved. Then we were able to see that the people were waving back to us. There were no other swimmers near us. We couldn’t understand why they didn’t come out to get us. The surf must have been too high.

The last quarter mile was the worst of the six hours. There was a bathing beach there and some sort of wooden things holding up a barrier. It was about 100 yards from shore. My husband and I were thrown against it. Still no one came out. We were tangled in the ropes. My husband was thrown clear after swinging around them and then someone swam out and got him. Then they got me. He was pretty sick and the men, big ones, I don’t know who they were, were almost tired out with taking us in.

Sep 9,1912 - Nov 25, 2002
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J

Jim Kalafus

Member
The hospital and inbound ships lists are useful, because one can generally tell what a person's experiences were by the ship on which they came home.

Those who were aboard the Monarch of Bermuda had stayed with the ship until after daylight, and were either still aboard the burning liner or in the water next to her.

The City of Savannah or Andrea Luchenbach survivors were generally from the second wave of people to go overboard. They were further from the ship, and a higher percentage of them had lost relatives or friends to exposure or drowning, having been in the water at least four hours.

Those in the New Jersey Hospitals were generally in the worst shape, having either swam the six miles to shore, or been rescued from the waters off the beach by fishing boats. In the water 5, 6, 7 or more hours, nearly all of them were in shock and suffering from dehydration and from having inhaled or swallowed water.

Subsequent to compiling the list, I found out that Miss Fannie Fryman, 22, had died of severe shock at Point Pleasant Hospital late that morning.

Mrs. Mary Robinson and her daughter, Lucile, swam to shore and were hospitalized for shock, but I still have not determined in which hospital.
 
D

Deborah Kogan

Member
Jim: Thank you for your report. I think it is especially important to recall those who died with few to remember them... I have mentioned that my parents were given an oil painting of the Morro Castle as a gift from a friend named Landes or Landis. Hmm.
 
J

Jim Kalafus

Member
Mrs. Ofelia Hernandez Saladrigas Busquet. 34. Cabin 203.

“My daughter Ofelia was awakened by an explosion. And while I was standing on deck with my husband watching the storm play on the horizon, the whole ship was rocked by an explosion which seemed to be almost underneath us. There were lightning flashes far away, but I am sure no bolt hit the ship. The three of us jumped together, Dr. Busquet, I and Ofelia. We hit the water so hard that the lifebelts smashed against our heads with such force that we were practically knocked out for several minutes. When it was obvious we'd be in the water a long time we held hands. After riding the waves together for many hours, my husband suddenly gasped "I can't go on!" It was terrible. Shortly after he was swallowed up by the sea, the City of Savannah loomed upon the horizon.
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
Thanks indeed Jim! Interesting and yet sad story about Miss "Louise" Overgene, the Teacher. Sounds to me like she was getting ready to or already retired too.
Sad
 
J

Jim Kalafus

Member
DEATH TAKES HALF A FAMILY

Ship Fire Victims' Coffins Tragic Anniversary Finale

Two flower-bedecked coffins side by side in the living room of their home in Sunnyside Queens yesterday were the mute finale to a joyous wedding anniversary that ended in the flaming ruins of the Morro Castle.

For ten years, Anthony and Mary Lione had worked hard to maintain their home and bring up two husky boys. They decided to take a vacation: they and the children, Raymond, 9, and Robert, 4.

Two of them came back from that trip - Bobby who still prattles innocently at the home of a relative, unmindful of the tragedy, and the mother, suffering the pain of a flame seared body at Flower Hospital, and the deeper anguish of her double loss. Her husband and other son will be buried tomorrow.

Mrs. Lione's story vividly caught the horror of it all. "We rose at the sounds of alarm” she said. "I did not stop to dress, but clothed the two boys. We were on deck about an hour and a half. Then I saw my husband and Raymond lowered over the side. They let Bobby down next, and I lost sight of him until we were carried aboard the Monarch of Bermuda.” The last the mother heard of any of them was the voice of Raymond crying as he went over the side. "They've got to save me! I don't want to die!"

But his body was one of those taken ashore at Sea Girt. He was to have entered school yesterday as a fourth grade student. His father, Anthony, 34, a year older than his wife, was a salesman in the Jamaica office of an insurance company. He had been an architect and previous to that an orchestra leader. The two will be buried in Calvary Cemetery tomorrow, following a mass in St. Teresa's Church where Lione was an usher.

Meanwhile, the bodies lay together at home, lights from candles in front of the crucifixes flickering on the faces of the father and of Raymond, the boy who did not want to die
 
J

Jim Kalafus

Member
>Thanks indeed Jim! Interesting and yet sad story about Miss "Louise" Overgene, the Teacher. Sounds to me like she was getting ready to or already retired...

I don't think that there was a mandatory retirement age for teachers in 1934!
Happy


What I found interesting about Miss Overgene is that she was a school teacher, 58, unmarried, and on a romantic cruise to Havana. The 1934 school term began that Monday morning. Since she taught K-4, at least a few of her former students are still alive...I've often wondered about tracking them down via adverts, to see what the impact of learning on the first day of school that your teacher had died aboard the Morro Castle was like. And, doubtlessly, there are surviving class photos of this most elusive of victims, if someone takes the time to look for them.

Formality, as practiced in 1934, made tracking down several of the married female survivors and victims difficult. Mrs. James Dillon of Brooklyn, mother of survivor Mae Maloney went STRICTLY by that name. Even the Ward Line apparently had only her married name and not her first name....every last document in their archive; every last newspaper article or list; and every last book that told her story refered to her simply as "Mrs. James Dillon." The 1910, 20 and 30 censuses were no help at all.

Mrs. Dillon; her daughter; and several friends swam and drifted most of the way to shore. At some point, after sweveral hours of exertion, she smiled and her head went limp. Mae Maloney, her daughter, kept saying "I hope that mother will wake up" but the others in the group knew she was dead. They were rescued, and Mrs. Dillon's body recovered, 100 yards off the beach at Spring Lake.

I am 99% certain that her first name was Lulu. A "Lulu Dillon" of the exactly the same age as the Morro Castle victim, was buried in Green-wood Cemetery in Brooklyn two or three days after the disaster. She is the only female Dillon buried in Green-wood for a couple of years on either side of the fire. There is room for coincidence there, of course, but the age; hometown; date; and rarity of that surname in Green-wood during the mid-1930s indicate that this probably the right woman.

Several other women remain nameless in the same way. "Mrs. Dr. Harry Brinkmann," for instance, remains just that.
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
Hello Jim,

quote:

I don't think that there was a mandatory retirement age for teachers in 1934!
No and with the depression on she might of decided to keep working. It seems though that she was getting up there for 1934 to keep on Teaching but that's me.

quote:

to see what the impact of learning on the first day of school that your teacher had died aboard the Morro Castle was like.
Were they even told what had happened to Miss Overgene? If I lived back then I wouldn't be telling any of those kids that their Teacher had died like that. I'd leave it to the parents discretion to tell their kids about Miss Overgene.

quote:

Formality, as practiced in 1934, made tracking down several of the married female survivors and victims difficult.
Too bad the Census wasn't any help to you. That would be hard to find out what happened to those married ladies or even what their christian name was. Yet you don't want to call them Mrs. Married Name either. Although I should say that's better then nothing.​
 
P

Paul Williams

Member
My sisters - and a lot of other women - don't like the "Mrs His name" thing - it takes away a womans identity and treats her as an appendage to a man
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
My sisters and even my ex don't like it either. But I guess back in the 30's and before and after Women felt different.
 
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Member
From the Asbury Park Press:

Mystery ship: Disaster of coastliner still unsolved
quote:

BARNEGAT LIGHT – An entire think-tank of suspense novelists could not dream up the scene aboard the burning oceanliner Morro Castle on Sept. 8, 1934, a historian told his audience Saturday during a lecture at Barnegat Lighthouse State Park.
More at http://www.app.com/article/20090121/COMMUNITY/901210454/1065

Comment: Dynamite? Where did that come from?​
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
Interesting! There is still a lot of mystery there. I hope Jim Kalafus catches this.
 
Michael H. Standart

Michael H. Standart

Member
>>I hope Jim Kalafus catches this.<<

So do I. This is the first time I've seen dynamite being referred to in this one. If it's true, I'd like to know why it was there.
 
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George L. Lorton

Member
So would I. Jim or any of the other Morro Castle Historians might know. I don't.
 
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