Time and History 2:50 A.M. Fire on the Morro Castle

About major and minor historical events around the clock such as the fire aboard the Morro Castle passenger ship at 2:50 in the morning.


2:50 in the Morning

Sept. 8, 1934. Smoke was discovered pouring from a ventilator aboard the passenger liner Morro Castle as it steamed back to New York after a pleasure cruise to Havana. In the subsequent panic 137 people died.

It was an ill-fated journey. Earlier Capt. Robert Wilmott died of a heart attack. George Rogers, the liner's radio officer, sat with wet towels around his head as he tapped out SOS messages while the radio room exploded and sulfuric acid burned his feet. Many of the passengers were drunk after a party and did not take advantage of the lifeboats. Fortunately, other ships came to the rescue.

The cause of the fire was never fully established. After the disaster, George Rogers briefly made a living recounting his heroism in lecture halls. He subsequently opened a radio repair shop, which burned to the ground, but Rogers collected the insurance money. In 1936 he joined the Bayonne, N.J., Police Force and worked in the radio department. Coveting his superior's job, Rogers tried to murder him with a bomb made from a fish-tank heater. Before he was sent to prison, Rogers was questioned about the Morro Castle and suggested the suspiciously imaginative idea that the fire was started by an incendiary fountain pen, rigged with a delayed-action device, which had been left in the writing room. He refused to say anything else, and the disaster of the Morro Castle remains a mystery. (In 1942 Rogers was paroled, but in 1954 he was convicted of murdering an elderly couple. Four years later he died in the New Jersey State Penitentiary, remaining stubbornly mute about the Morro Castle.)

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