Near century-old house has grisly past as impromptu morgue
BRIELLE, N.J. (AP) — A near century-old, three-story house on Ashley Avenue has a morbid connection to the S.S. Morro Castle.
The house, owned by long-time fishing boat operators the Bogan family, was used by the U.S. Coast Guard as an impromptu morgue for dead bodies that came from the burning luxury ocean liner on Sept. 8, 1934.
Greg Bogan said people pass by the house all the time and don’t realize it was once on the Manasquan River. In the 1940s his family put the house on logs and rolled it up to the street to where it is now.
“The Coast Guard boat came by and piled the bodies on the deck and put sheets over them,” said Greg Bogan, whose relatives rescued 64 passengers that jumped from the Morro Castle as it drifted from Sea Girt to Asbury Park where it ran aground, 84 years ago this Saturday.
For years afterward, Bogan said his relatives were troubled by the memory of the people that they couldn’t retrieve from the water.
“They picked up all these people who were floating but some of them were clinging to dead loved ones. They had to tell them to ‘let them go’ because they only had room on the boat for live people,” said Bogan.
The Morro Castle was en route from Havana to New York City carrying 550 passengers and crew when a fire started minutes before 3 a.m. in a storage locker. The vessel was about 8 miles offshore of Long Beach Island.
The fire rendered the 508-foot boat powerless when it consumed the electrical cables and hydraulic lines. Many people leapt into the ocean, snapping their limbs as their bodies hit the ocean. A total of 137 people perished.
Bogan’s great-grandfather John Bogan Sr., grandfather John Bogan Jr. and Great Uncle Jim Bogan answered the Coast Guard’s distress call to rescue passengers.
The fishermen motored the Bogan’s 50-foot wooden party boat Paramount north of Manasquan Inlet to the sight of smoke billowing from the Morro Castle.
The liner was then five miles off the beach between Manasquan and Sea Girt. They didn’t stop rescuing people until “they heard no more screaming,” coming from the water, Bogan said.
The Morro Castle rescue brought the Bogan family a lot of notoriety.
“It’s one of the things our family is known for other than fishing. It was a tragedy that day but we were able to do something positive to help. It happened 84 years ago and we’re still talking about it, people still ask us about it,” said Bogan.
The cause of the fire remains unknown but historians believe the steam ship’s radioman, George W. Roger was behind it.
Rogers was first hailed as a hero for not abandoning his post but he roused suspicion years later when he spoke openly about the event.
When one of his superiors within the Bayonne Police Department where he was employed questioned him, he made an attempt at the officer’s life.
Information from: Asbury Park (N.J.) Press, http://www.app.com