Mervyn Bregstein, 8 – Cruise Ship Fire, SS Morro Castle Passenger, September 8, 1934, Time of Death 2:50-6:00.
On September 8, 1934, Mervyn Bregstein, age 8, a student at Public School #185 in Brooklyn, New York, son of Brooklyn Doctor S. Joseph Bregstein were aboard the Ward Line, SS Morro Castle on September 7, when a strange sequence of events combined, to end with the Morro Castle ablaze, shipwrecked in New J, ersey.
When the blaze on the ship was out of control, Doctor Bregstein had young Mervyn, who had been a sleep in his bed, and was dressed in his pajamas, go with another passenger named Florence, to attempt a swim to a rescue ship. Neither young Bregstein nor Miss Florence made it to the rescue ship, though Doctor Bregstein did. Doctor Bregstein died in 1972.
The SS Morro Castle left Havana, Cuba on her typical voyage with 318 passengers and 231 crew members, steaming to New York. The ship made the run twice a week, leaving New York City on Wednesdays and Sundays.
The ship had been knicknamed “The Floating Whorehouse”, as rumors were told of women not on the passenger lists, aboard just to please men with money to spend.
On the last evening of the cruise, Captain Robert Wilmott was complaining of a stomach ache, and retired to his cabin. Later, he was found dead in the cabin bathroom. That event lead to raging rumors that the captain had been murdered.
As the ship sailed into a gale, and was tossed so severely, nearly every passenger was seasick, rumors flew and passengers tried to comfort each other, as the crew speculated at the captain’s fate.
The primary rumor was the captain was murdered, and Chief Radio Operator George Rogers set the fire afterward.
It was an easy stretch of the imagination given Rogers was convicted of attempting to murder his police colleague Vincent ‘Bud’ Doyle, who survived and testified against him.
Then, in 1954, Rogers was convicted of murdering a neighboring couple for money. He died three and a half years later in prison.
With gale force winds, as the fire started, shortly before 0300 hours with most passengers asleep, a fire was detected in a storage locker within the First Class Writing Room on B Deck. Within the next 30 minutes, the Morro Castle became engulfed in flames, due largely to the strong winds fanning the flames. A total of 137 passengers and crew members died in the fire, several of the passengers were children including:
- Master Arthur Sheridan, age 7, of Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania
- Master Raymond Lione, age 8, of Sunnyside, Queens New York
- Miss Marta Saenz y Aguilera, age 11, of New York City, New York
- Master Roberto Gonzalez, age 13, of Newburgh, New York
- Master Henry Jakoby Jr, age 16, of Brooklyn, New York
Only six of the ship’s 12 lifeboats were launched — boats 1, 3, 5, 9 and 11 on the starboard side and boat 10 on the port side. In the photo above, the port side lifeboats can be seen, still attached to the ship.
Although the combined capacity of these boats was 408, they carried only 85 people, most of whom were crew members.
The ship eventually beached herself near Asbury Park, New Jersey and remained there for several months until she was eventually towed away and sold for scrap. The New York Times reported the end of the inquiry on 27 March 1937 with an order by Federal Judge John C. Knox affixing liability at $890,000, an average of $2,225 per victim.
To see the entire passenger list for the SS Morro Castle see: SS Morro Castle SS Morro Castle Fire Deaths