Morro Castle, Mohawk and the end of the Ward Line : Part 3

We’ll all meet at the Roosevelt Hotel

17 year old Ethel Hassal of Forest Hills, Queens, New York entered her neighborhood druggist’s store on the afternoon of September 8th, intent on quickly completing an errand. The proprietor greeted the normally cheerful young girl with enthusiasm, jibing “Guess you’re overjoyed to be going back to school!” When Miss Hassal muttered a brief response, the puzzled shopkeeper tried again with “Guess your sister will be going back to college soon.” Ethel bit her lip before quietly replying “My sister may never go anywhere again. We were passengers on the Morro Castle.” The druggist later recalled “You could have knocked me over. I knew something was wrong with her, because she was normally so full of fun, but I had no idea they’d been on the Morro Castle.”

The ‘full of fun’ Ethel would later be remembered as having been the girl who after joining a group of survivors clinging to one another in the water spent the next few hours joking and keeping up the spirits of those who seemed about to give up. But Ethel Hassal would never remember anything amusing about the time she spent struggling for her life n the storm. “Yes, I suppose I did”, she would say when asked about her efforts to buoy up the others. “I can’t remember anything I said during those hours, but I do remember talking as hard and as fast as I could to keep two of the women who were with me from drowning.”

I jumped from the boat when the deck got so hot, and the smoke got so bad I couldn’t stand it anymore. It was pitch dark and at first I couldn’t see anybody. Then I swam into a man of about 23 or 24 who said his name was John. Presently we met two women. They had lifebelts on, but they couldn’t swim and they were scared. So, I tried to think of things to say to keep their minds off themselves. I told them to keep kicking and I told them that maybe we’d all lose a little weight in the water. I asked them first, of course, what their names were so everyone could be introduced. One woman was named Klintberg. (Caroline Klintberg) I don’t remember what the other one’s name was. I have no idea who John was. It was the first time any of us had met.

Ethel had boarded the Morro Castle with her father, James Hassal, her mother, and her sister Loretta, 20. She became separated from them in the struggle, and did not see any member of her family again until she witnessed her mother being carried off a fishing boat on a stretcher, at Spring Lake, New Jersey. Mrs. Hassal was admitted to Fitkin Hospital suffering from exposure and exhaustion, and Ethel returned alone to Forest Hills where she was reunited with her father who had been rescued by the Monarch of Bermuda. It was not until the following day that 20 year old Loretta, who had been brought back to New York aboard the City of Savannah reached home. The Hassals were one of only a handful of larger families to survive intact.

 

“Now, remember, if we get separated in the water we’ll all meet at the Roosevelt Hotel in New York” said Mrs. Grace Holden of Cincinnati , Ohio, before she, her two sons John (1922-1995) and Reuben, (1918-1995) and husband, Yale tennis player Reuben A. Holden (1890-1967) jumped from the ship together. An article in the Brooklyn Eagle described how they were parted in the water, and how the males of the family were put to bed in three separate locations, none at the Roosevelt Hotel, not knowing that Mrs. Holden’s body had already been identified in New Jersey by the manager of the Monmouth Hotel. Mr. Holden later gave this brief account:

My wife and I were awakened by the commotion in the hallway outside our cabin. Looking out our porthole, we could see the flames. Mrs. Holden and I went across the passageway and got our two sons out of their cabin. We went out on deck and found groups of people huddled about the deck rails by the stern

Reuben Andrus Holden IV graduated from Yale University, Class of 1940. He served as Secretary of Yale during the 1960s, authored several books, and married the cousin of U.S. President George Bush, senior.

 

Marjorie Budlong, 18, the daughter of the Vice-president of Central Vacuum Products Inc., and a student at Greenbriar Junior College later recalled:

Marjorie Budlong“My friend, Doris Wacker, and I were up until 3 O’clock, visiting the stateroom of a shipboard friend, Miss Rosario Camacho. As we left for our own stateroom, we saw flames in the passageway. Doris rushed to her parents (Mr. and Mrs. Herman Wacker) and wakened them. They came back buckling their lifebelts and bringing one for me.

We all went up on C Deck. Everything was confusion there. We couldn’t see to get into a lifeboat. The flames kept advancing toward us. A little knot of people clustered around us. Then I hear a steward say; ’We’d better jump. We’ll all hold hands and jump together.’

We started to go over together, but my foot slipped on the rail and I fell alone. I came up dazed but unhurt and started to swim. The water seemed filled with bodies. They were always bumping into me.

Then after a while I found a young man swimming beside me. He didn’t have any life preserver and he gasped out that he was tiring. I told him to hang on to mine. He did. It dragged me down a little, but I could still keep my head above the water.

I guess that it was about two hours that he clung to me. He kept saying ‘I can’t hold out much longer.’ I kept telling him to hold on- we’d surely be picked up soon.

Lifeboats were passing us. I shouted to those which passed nearest. Most of them kept on going- I guess they couldn’t hear. One came so close that I talked to the people in it and asked them to take us aboard- the man, anyway. But they said they were filled up. They promised to come back.

It was 4 O’clock when we went over the side. It was about six I guess- dawn was just breaking- when the young man, a Cuban I believe, said ‘I’m going. Please send my love to my mother, won’t you?’ I said ‘What it your name?’ but he didn’t seem to hear me. A few minutes later his hand slipped off and down he went.

I kept paddling around. I wasn’t swimming toward any place, but I felt I had to do something to keep warm. About 8:30 a life boat stopped and picked me up, it was from the City of Savannah.”

Miss Budlong’s friends, Mr. and Mrs. Herman Wacker, and their daughter, Doris, remained together in the water, but after some time Herman said ‘Let me go. I’ve had enough,’ shortly after which he died. The two women kept him with them, but were forced to let the body drift away when they were rescued by the Paramount. His was one of the first bodies to wash ashore and be identified, appearing in the short Identifed Victims list made available to the press on the morning after the fire. Doris Wacker Manske and Marjorie Budlong remained in contact with one another for the rest of Marjorie’s life.

The young Cuban whose death Miss Budlong witnessed, was Franz Hoed de Beche, 18, of Havana who was en route to DeWitt Clinton High School in New York City with his friend Joseph Hidalgo (ca. 1916-2005). Two separate excellent accounts, apart from that of Miss Budlong, document the final hour of Hoed de Beche’s life. Joseph Hidalgo later recalled that they were awakened and looked out of their porthole to see flames pouring out of the ship above and forward of their cabin. Franz Hoed de Beche spent his last minutes aboard the liner with a friend from Havana, Miss Rosario Comacho. They were kept away from the railing by a male passenger and in Fire At Sea, (Thomas Gallagher) Miss Comacho’s 1934 account was quoted:

“Because of his height he could lean over the rail and breathe comfortably without abandoning the ship. Our coughing and desperate pulls at his shirt did not and could not dislodge him. Finally, as everything turned black before my eyes and I began losing consciousness, I did what later astounded me. With Franz pushing me and total suffocation only seconds away, I thrust my face with my mouth wide open and, before I knew what had happened, there were my teeth burying themselves in the fleshiest part of that man’s upper back. He turned, and reeled backwards with a loud scream of pain, and it was this clearance that offered us the opportunity to climb the rail, take one deep breath of fresh air and brace ourselves for the thirty foot jump.

Just as we were about to jump a gasping man lost his balance on top of the rail and, colliding with Franz, knocked us apart..I went down screaming Franz’ name…and that was the last I saw of him. “

Marjorie Budlong Vibbert died on October 16, 1998, at her home in Fayetteville, New York.

 

Franz Hoed de Beche was one of the 40 victims whose body was never recovered or identified.

Courtesy of Robert McDonnell, comes this letter written by Joseph Hidalgo a few years before his death:

“I was to return to my sophomore year in college. It was a week earlier than required; another boy, Franz, asked me to share our cabin. So we departed Havana on what was to be an unforgettable night.

I was deep sleeper in those days. At 3 a.m. I heard lots of running outside my door, so I got up to look out of the porthole and saw the sky red. I asked Franz to look out. He didn’t think it was anything. Then, someone knocked at our door. The guy said, “better dress and bring your life preservers. The ship’s on fire.”

Franz and I walked to deck A and we decided to look for Rosario Camacho who we had met the day before and was traveling alone. We found her without a life preserver. We both started to remove our preservers. Franz said, “don’t be ridiculous, you know I am the better swimmer.” I knew Franz competed in swimming races.

We were ordered by the cruise director Robert Smith to the lower deck. After Franz and Rosario passed, Smith said, “let the women and children first.” As the ship kept moving and we were on the aft deck, the smoke made us cough. After awhile, someone shouted that we were going to asphyxiate. This created a panic. Then, “let’s jump.” Before I knew it, my chest was against the rail. Then I saw Franz and Rosario holding hands and jumped from the deck above. I thought I could find them if I jumped about 60 ft.

I swam away from the propellors towards a group that was holding pieces of wood. After 7 hours my eyes started to close. I thought I saw a row boat approaching. I was too weak. I was picked up by the freighter, The City of Savannah. I was unconscious. I was taken to the steamship company in New York City. I was taken by ambulance to the New Yorker hotel. I could not eat. My throat was very sore and my stomach was affected by all the salt water.

I found out that Rosario was in the hospital with thigh burns from the ropes. I went to see her. She talked to me. That Franz tied her to a heavy rope hanging from one of the upper decks and then Franz left to look for help. He never came back and never found his body. Sad to lose such a boy of my age”

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