Hoboken Pier Fire, June 30, 1900

Home- Law Land - Percy Land - Blanck - Petermann - Hoboken Photos- Hoboken Fire Story

Postcard collection of Maggie Land Blanck

My grandmother, Meta Petermann, was a young women of 14 when the Hoboken piers caught fire on June 30, 1900. At the time, her father, Berend Petermann, was a foreman on the Hoboken docks. The family lived at the corner of River and Second Street. The fire and its aftermath made a hugh impression on Meta and she often talked about it.

North German Lloyd (Norddeutscher Lloyd) Pier Fire, Hoboken, June 30, 1900

Steamships Burned
Saale, Bremen, Main, and Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse (damaged)
Piers of the North German Lloyd in Hoboken in Flames

A large and extremely destructive fire at the North German Lloyd Piers in Hoboken New Jersey on June 30, 1900 spread within minutes to consume warehouses, ships and piers at a great loss of live. The following brief description of the fire and damages is from the Graphic, July 21, 1900.
Few calamities in the States can vie with the sudden loss of life, awful scenes, and swift destruction of property which marked the last day of June in New York. In the bright summer sunshine, looking across the Hudson, a sudden whirlwind of smoke told of an immense conflagration. Great ocean liners before long were seen drifting on the river surrounded by tugs, flames piercing the smoke. In nine minutes the four piers, alongside which had been moored the pick of the North German liners, where aflame from end to end. Crowded with merchandise of every description, the dock buildings, light wooden structures, burnt like tinder. Barrels of oil and spirits exploded, and spread the fire to the shipping. One vessel, with several lighters, was destroyed on the side of the wharf. Three other great ships, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the pride of the company, the Bremen, and the Saale, by Herculean efforts were towed out into mid-stream by tugs. Fortunately, the Kaiser Wilhelm got off with comparatively little damage, and was taken across the river to the Cunard dock just opposite. Far different was the fate of the other vessels. The Saale floated down stream and is stranded on the mud of the Weehawken shore*. The Maine and the Bremen were towed up stream and are in a similar plight, dismantled wrecks. The scenes during a wild fight with the flames were horrible. So sudden and startling was the outbreak that scores of the crews were imprisoned under the decks of the burning steamers. Comparatively few escaped in a marvelous fashion after some hours. The decks were strewn with the bodies of those who succumbed to the fierce heat, which speedily made iron and steel red hot. Numbers of others leapt into the water only to meet death by drowning. As to the lost of property, this, it is conjectured, will reach at least 2,000,000 pounds. Of the north German Lloyd's piers, on which the building were erected, only charred stumps remain.
* Note: Weehawken is "upstream"

Four North German Lloyd steamships burned. They had been tied up at the pier and none of them had enough power to quickly pull away from the docks. They had to wait for tugs to come and tow them away. The best they could do until the tugs arrived was cut themselves adrift and hope to float way from the fire.

Canal boats, lighters, barges and other debris caught fire and drifted in flames into the North (Hudson) river causing concern that they would set the New york piers on fire. Consequently, two fireboats, the New Yorker and the VanWyck, called from the New York side, initially turned their attention to these drifting menaces and subsequently turned their hoses on the steamships.

The fire was reported all over the united state and in many countries abroad. Images on this page are from the Evening News (Detroit, Michigan), Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, N. Y., Munsey Magazine, the Graphic and Leslie's Weekly


THE EVENING NEWS
Detroit, Michigan, Monday July 2, 1900

Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

This diagram from the Detriot EVENING NEWS, July 2, 1900 shows where the fire started and how it spread.

The situation could not have been worse with four berths of the North German Lloyd piers taken, enabling the fire to jump from ship to ship. The ships were (from left to right); The Allers, the Saale, The Bremen, The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse and the Main.

This diagram is not completely correct: The Aller had left that morning bound for Naples, Italy.


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Detroit EVENING NEWS, July 2, 1900


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Detroit EVENING NEWS, July 2, 1900

Crew and others aboard the Saale were trapped below deck as the fire raged above and the port holes were too small to allow escape.


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Detriot EVENING NEWS, July 2, 1900


Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, N. Y. July 2, 1900

Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Buffalo Courier July 2, 1900

The Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse Towed to Mid Stream


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Buffalo Courier July 2, 1900

The Steamships Bremen and Main as They Lay Beached and Burning


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Buffalo Courier July 2, 1900

The Burning Piers and Warehouse as They Looked at 6 o'clock the Night of June 30th


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Buffalo Courier July 2, 1900

Steamship Bremen Burning


Newspaper collection Maggie Land Blanck

Buffalo Courier July 2, 1900

Towing the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse Out of the Fire Zone


Munsey's Magazine 1900

Burning of the Saale on the North river. After she had been freed from the pier, the tugs pulled her all ablaze into mid stream. She was finally grounded near Ellis Island.

To see pictures of the interior of the Saale before the fire go to Bremer/Bremenhaven/Lehe


As fast as those still alive were taken from the burning ships and piers they were hurried to hospitals. In all two hundred and fifty persons were thus cared for.


The fire occurred on a beautiful summer Saturday (which was a "half holiday") around 4'oclock in the afternoon. Hundreds of thousands of people watched from New York and New Jersey.



The burning ships, piers, and warehouses as seen from mid stream. The smoke rose high in the air and drifted in dense volume over New York City, darkening the sun. The black clouds rolled across Long Island and out to sea.


Survivors from the Bremen being picked up by tugs. Only those on the upper deck had time to escape by leaping into the water.


The faces at the portholes of the Saale. At nearly every one of the openings, eleven inches in diameter, was the head of a man or woman, and every one was doomed. Those who were not burned were drowned.


The Piers After the Fire.

There remained only charred piles and beams where there had been solid piers with warehouses filled with merchandise. The flames destroyed them all. Many bodies were found under the wreckage.


The Bremen after the fires were extinguished. She and the Main were beached side by side off Weehawken


The GRAPHIC July 21, 1900

From a Sketch by A Henry Fullwood

Burning ships piers and warehouses; the fire at its height as seen from the New York shore

Tugs giving water through the portholes of the "Saale" to the doomed men imprisoned between the burning decks.

Tugs trying to beach the SS. "Bremen" and "Maine"

The Day after the fire; all that was left of the large pier

LESLIE'S WEEKLY, Extra Fire Edition

THE HOBOKEN HOLOCAUST

THE DESTRUCTION BY FIRE OF THREE BIG OCEAN LINERS AT THE HOBOKEN PIERS - THE MOST AWFUL SHIPPING DISASTER OF THE CENTURY

There was no additional text with the images of the Hoboken pier fire.


PLAYING THE FIRE-HOSE UPON THE "MAIN", WHERE ELEVEN OF HER CREW WERE IMPRISONED

The tug closest to the ship is the Moran's Peter Cahill. Cahill can be read on the wheelhouse and Peter "Cah" can be read on her bow. Something is obstructing the "ill" on the bow. The other boat is the M Moran. See Tugboats below.

When Eugene Moran told the story of the company's involvement in the Hoboken pier fire of 1900 he said that the captain of one of the Moran tugs docked at 30th street in the North River called with word that the Hoboken docks and many ships were ablaze.

"I hurried to Pier 4 where the tug Peter Cahill was moored and ordered it also to Hoboken. My brother Bill was there and he hopped aboard still another of our tugs, the P. H. Wise, to take personal command of the four Moran tugs at the fire."

Tugboat: the Moran story, Eugene F. Moran, Louis Reid, 1956


WRECKS OF THE "MAIN" AND THE "BREMEN" LYING OFF WEEHAWKEN, THE FIRE STILL BURNING IN THE HOLD

RUINS OF THE HOBOKEN PIERS, FROM WHICH THOUSANDS HAVE DEPARTED WEEKLY FOR FOREIGN LANDS

THE BURNING WAREHOUSES FRONTING ON RIVER STREET HOBOKEN

A BURNING WAREHOUSE JUST AFTER THE WALL HAD FALLEN

SHIPS BEING TOWED FROM THIER PIERS, A FLOATING MASS OF FLAMES


VIEW OF THE "BREMEN" HEELED OVER ON THE WEEHAWKEN FLATS


PLAYING HOSE UPON THE SMOLDERING RUINS OF SHIPS AND PIERS

A WHOLE HARBOR ABLAZE

THREE GREAT OCEAN LINERS AND TWENTY-THREE SMALLER CRAFT GO UP IN FLAMES —THE RIVER COVERED WITH BURNING WRECKAGE


THE NORTH GERMAN LLOYD STEAMSHIP "BREMEN" BEACHED AT WEEHAWKEN—THE SEARCH FOR BODIES PREVENTED BY THE INTENSE HEAT IN THE HOLD OF THE WRECKED SHIP


TONS OF WATER BEING POURED INTO THE RED-HOT HULLS OF THE WRECKED "BREMEN" AND "MAIN" BY THE FIRE-BOATS AND TUGS


VIEW OF THE RIVER FRONT RAVAGED BY THE FIRE AT HOBOKEN

THE RUIN WROUGHT BY THE FIRE-FIEND AT HOBOKEN

THE SMOKING WRECKAGE OF THE PIERS AND WAREHOUSES, ALL THAT IS LEFT OF A FAMOUS AND POPULAR SHIPPING CENTER

In December 2011 Larry Von Holland a Holland American Line historian who lived in Hoboken for 40 years identified the ship in the background of this image (and the next images) as the SS Obdam. Larry says:

This was the brand new SS Obdam, arriving on July 2nd on her second voyage from Rotterdam. Holland-America rented their piers from the Hoboken Land Company (Stevens family) and were at the foot of Fifth and Sixth Streets. They were clear of the fire and had no ship in port.

VIEW OF THE BURNED PIERS AND SHIPPING DISTRICT AT HOBOKEN, AS SEEN FROM RIVER STREET

THE STEAMSHIP-FIRE HORROR AT THE HOBOKEN (N.J.) PIERS

HEMMED IN BY THE FLAMES ON THE SHIPS AND PIERS, OVER 150 OF THE CREWS AND DOCK LABORERS LOSE THEIR LIVES- ONE CREW RESCUED AFTER SEVEN HOURS OF IMPRISONMENT IN THE DEPTS OF A BURNING SHIP —OVER $10,000,000 WORTH OF PROPERTY DESTROYED

The crowd appears to be curiosity seekers.


"KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE," LARGEST AND FASTEST STEAMSHIP IN THE WORLD
"There is not in all the world a more inspiring sight than the departure or arrival of a modern ocean steamship —that triumph of science and invention, and most imposing symbol of man's conquest over forces of nature. The North German Lloyd's new twin-screw express steamship, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse (King William the Great), is the largest in the world, her dimensions being; Length, 648 feet; beam, 66 feet; depth, 43 feet; tonnage, 14,000, and displacement, 20,00 tons. Nothing could exceed the majesty of her appearance. As she moves through the water like a thing of life, with the German and American colors flying, the smoke rolling from her four gigantic yellow funnels, and her port-holes gleaming like a thousand eyes, the involuntary exclamation is, "What a glorious picture!"
The Kaiser Wilhem der Grosse was at the docks in Hoboken when the fire started. She escaped with minor damage. See next section.


Catholic world, Volume 71 By Paulist Fathers, August 1900


Catholic world, Volume 71 By Paulist Fathers, August 1900 added June 2012

WHAT OF THE CHARRED AND CHARNEL DOCKS?


Catholic world, Volume 71 By Paulist Fathers, August 1900 added June 2012

PEERING INTO THE HOLD OF THE SAALE AFTER THE FIRE


Catholic world, Volume 71 By Paulist Fathers, August 1900 added June 2012

THE MAIN AND THE BREMEN GROUNDED IN WEEHAWKEN


Post Cards

Until 1898 the U. S. Post Office had the exclusive right to print postcards. In May 1898 Congress passed the "Private Mailing Card Act" which allowed private companies and individuals to print "Private Mailing Cards". They were also as "souvenir cards". Until 1901 these cards could not be called "postcards".

"Private Mailing Cards" were printed after the fire. I have obtained the following three examples.


Postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck

The German Lloyd's Hoboken Piers and Steamships Destroyed by Fire, June 30, 1900

Campells Store House - The Main - The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse - The Saale - The Bremen


Printed on front: "The great Hoboken disaster, June 30, 1900.—The burning S. S. Saale. Capt. Mirow, who died as a hero.
Das grosse Feuer zu Hoboken, 30. June 1900.—Die brennende,, Saale, " Capt Mirow stirbt de Heldentod."
Captain C. August Johann Mirow was born 21.101854 in Lethe/Hanover Germany

Captain Mirow was reportedly one of the most popular captains in the fleet. He remained with the burning ship even as others jumped off. He was awarded a hero's death.

A service was held in the German Lutheran Church on Schermerhorn Street in Brooklyn on July 21, 1900. His ashes were sent to his widow in Bremerhaven. [Honolulu republican, July 21, 1900]

" The divers picked up what they were sure was the body of the Saale's captain. He died at his post. The cruel flames left so little of his body that it was identified only by his pocket knife and his gold watch chain melted into a shapeless lump

Boston Daily Globe, July 2, 1900



The North German Lloyd Ships in the Port of Hoboken on June 30, 1900

At the North German Lloyd docks in Hoboken on June 30, 1900 were four ships: Bremen, Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Main, & Saale. All of these ships were tied to the dock and none of them had their power up. This put all of them in a very precarious position, as they were virtually incapable of moving with any speed under their own power. They were dependent on the tug boats to get them quickly away from the burning piers.

  • The Bremen (2) threw off her lines and drifted until she was towed to mid stream by tugs. She was beached in the Weehawken flats.

    She was built in 1897 and ceded to Britain as war reparation in 1919. In 1921 to Byron Line renamed the Constantinople. The Ship List

    See also Norway-Heritage, Bremen (2)

  • The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was cut loose and towed by tugs to safety in the North River (Hudson). She was taken across the river to the Cunard Line docks. She suffer some minor damage. By July 4, 1900 her sides and deck had been painted hiding all marks of the fire. The only signs of her ordeal were an occasional scratch or cracked porthole glass. She set sail from the Cunard pier in New York for Germany at 10:30 July 3, 1900. She carried many survivors of the disaster.

    The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was built in 1897. In 1914 she became a German armed merchant cruiser. In 1914 she was sunk by HMS Highflyer at Rio de Oro, Spanish Sahara. The Ship List

    See Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse 1897 - 1914

    and Norway-Heritage, S/S Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, Norddeutscher Lloyd

  • The Main (2) which was actually furthest from the starting point of the fire was not able to get loose from her mooring. After seven hours she was towed by tug to Weehawken where she was beached. Sixteen men survived the burning of the Main.
    SIXTEEN ESCAPE BY A MIRACLE The most remarkable incident of the fire was the escape of some of the crew of the Main. The vessel lay helpless in a cauldron of fire for seven hours. Finally, at 11:30 P.M. the tugboat Edwin A. Stevens managed to make fast to the still burning hulk of the Main and towed it to Weehawken, where it was beached. The tug went next to the ship, and the crew were greatly astonished to see sixteen men crawl out of the ruin.

    FLED TO COAL BUNKER They said that when the fire started they had fled to a coal bunker in the lowest part of the vessel and had staid there until they felt the motion of the ship. Many men in the compartment above them had been suffocated, they said. The Stevens took the men to Hoboken where they went to Meyer & Stenck's Hospital on River Street. They had all suffered terribly from the heat, but after a while all revived sufficiently to go away, except Carl Mehl, who had been blinded by steam. He was taken to St. Mary's Hospital, where the doctor feared that his sight was gone forever.

    New York Times

    See Hoboken Pier Fire

    She was built in 1900 and ceded to Britain as war reparation in 1919 The Ship List

    See also Norway-Heritage, the Main

  • The Saale threw off her lines and drifted until she was towed to mid stream by tugs.

    She was built in 1886. In 1900 she was damaged in NY dock fire, sold Luckenbach SS Co., NY, renamed J.L. Luckenbach. The Ship List

    Norway Heritage, the Saale

    In 1889 the Saale hit an iceberg at sea as evidenced by an engraving for sale on ebay in July 2010: A MOMENT OF PERIL AT SEA -- THE STEAMSHIP SAALE AT MIDNIGHT, RUNS UPON AN ENORMOUS ICEBERG, IN LAT. 42 54', LONG 49 54' FRANK LESLIE'S ILLUSTRATED NEWSPAPER


Tug Boats to the Rescue, Hoboken, June 30, 1900

Several tugboats were mentioned by name in articles about the pier fire.

It seems the tugs performed three main functions during the fire: spraying waster on the burning vessels and piers, pushing or tugging the ships around, and rescuing men over board.

I have not been able to find any pictures of the tugboats with the exception of the M Moran (which is identifiable in one of the pictures from Leslie's Weekly) and the Admiral Dewey (which was identified by Norman Brouwer).

  • Edwin A Stevens

    Named for either Edwin A Stevens (1795-1868) or Edwin A Stevens, Jr (1858-1918) both of the Hoboken family of Stevens. At his death Edwin A Stevens senior left land and money to found "a institution of learning" - The Stevnes Institute of Technology. Colonel Edwin A Stevens was president of the Hoboken Ferry company in 1894. He designed the first screw propeller ferry boat.

  • George P. Cooper

    I cannot find anything on the "George P Cooper". I may be the George F Cooper. George F Cooper was a U. S. N. Captain and the "hydrographer of the navy" under President Wilson.

  • Morgan steam tug

    Man-o'-War Rock post light, East River, New York.—On May 1897, the steam tug Morgan or barge she had in tow, damaged the spindle so that a new one, at a cost of $495, was put in place of it.

    Annual report of the Light-House Board of the United States to the Secretary ... By United States. Light-House Board

    The tug Morgan, bound down the lake with a Standard Oil barge in tow, encountered the steamer Robert Rhodes in distress, make for shelter behind Pelee Island. The Rhodes had been badly battered and most of her bulwarks were gone.

    New York Times article on big storm in Lake Erie, September 13, 1900

  • Eli B. Conine a steam tug built Wilmington Delaware, 1900, home port, Albany New York

    Captain in 1900 was Capt. Eli B Conine.

    Merchant Steam Vessel of the United States, 1911

    July 18, 1901 Tug WALLACE B. FLINT was towing for the New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad last week in place of the ELI B. CONINE. The latter broke her wheel and was out on Gokey's drydock for a new Sullivan wheel. She also received a new plank on her port side.

    Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas 1900-1911,

    The Eli B Conine was involved in an accident in New York Harbor on May 20,1902. She was towing a float carrying sixteen railroad cars when she collided with the Central Railroad of New Jersey's ferry boat, Mauch Chunk. The collision occurred in dense fog. No one was hurt.

  • Despatch

  • Cornelius Van Cott

    January 31, 1901 J. H. McConnell's Harlem River Towing Line now have tug CORNELIUS VAN COTT

    Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas 1900-1911

  • James D. Leary

    June 12, 1902 The tugs CHARLES F. HARRIS and JAMES D. LEARY are towing ice barges on the Hudson. Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas 1900-1911

    August 14, 1902 Tug JAS. D. LEARY arrived from Albany on Monday with half-a-dozen deeply-laden canal boats. Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas 1900-1911

  • De Witt C. Ivins

    The De Witt C Ivins was an ocean going steel tug and one of the "best tugs on the Atlantic Coast". She was bought by the US government from Morgan Towing in March 1898. She was built in 1897 by Neafie & Levy of Philadelphia and cost #30,000. [New York Times, March 24, 1898]

    Boston, Dec 12. Capt. Charles Olsen of the Standard dOil Company's Barge No. 48 and his crew of three men were bought to this port to-day by the fishing schooner Gertrude, the barge having been abandoned off Chatham Tuesday.
    The barge, with No. 75, was in tow of tug De Witt C Ivins, and both were anchored off Chatham Light, while the tug ran up to Provincetown to get coal. On Barge 48 the anchos could not would not hold and the barge drifted seaward. Barge 75 also drifted, and the barges staid together while their towing hawser held. Capt. Olsen lost sight of Barge 75 at 6 o'clock Tuesday night, when about thirty miles southeast of Chatham. At noon Wednesday the schooner Gertrude sighted Barge 48 and took off the crew.
    The whereabouts of Barge 75 is not known but a tug will be sent out to find her. Capt. Charles Peterson is in command, and she carries a crew of four men.
    New York Times, December 13, 1902
    The De Witt C Ivins listed as owned by M Moran by the tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas 1900-1911, although it was not listed at Tugboat Information.com; Moran Towing

  • M. Moran

    Moran Towing was established by Irish immigrant Michael Moran. See Moran Towing Corporation,Inc.

    The Moran Tugs were named for family members and a large white M was painted on the smokestacks.The M Moran was sold to the British Admiralty in 1916 but Moran Towing later bought it back at the end of World War I. Moran Towing is the biggest towing service in the US.

    April 16. — About 3:30 p.m. steamer lighter Long Island coollided of Fulton Ferry, East River, with towing steamer M Moran, causing very slight damage. Both steamers had tows. No one hurt. Investigated May 5, decision May 20 suspending license of Peter Cherry, master of the tug M Moran, for 21 days. Annual report of the Supervising Inspector General, Steamboat Inspection ... By United States. Steamboat Inspection Service, 1903

    December 3—About 4 a.m. Albert Johnson, Captain, of a scow in tow of tug M Moran, while in the East channel, New York Harbor, fell overboard and drown. Annual report of the Supervising Inspector General, Steamboat Inspection ... By United States. Steamboat Inspection Service, 1903

    Built in 1900 by Neafie & Levy Ship & Engine Building Company of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania as the M. Moran for the Moran Towing Company. Her final disposition is unknown. Tugboat Information.com; Moran Towing

  • Eugene Grasselli, Captain in 1900, Capt. James A Cox

  • Champion

  • Arnott, Capt. Eldridge was near the burning Bremen from 5 o'clock on Saturday to 1 o'clock Sunday [NY Times, July 4, 1900]

  • W F Daizell rescued 70 people after the fire. Captain of the same name [NY Times July 4, 1900]

  • Mary L Tyson rescued 75 people after the fire [NY times July 4, 1900]

  • John Tracy, Capt Daniel Flannery, rescued 20 men

Tugboat Enthusiasts Society of the Americas


The tug HELEN McALLISTER, ex-ADMIRAL DEWEY and The Great Hoboken Pier Fire By Norman Brouwer

In October 2010 Norman Brouwer generously shared the following story of the roll of the tug boat, ADMIRAL DEWEY, and other tugs on that fateful day in June 1900:

(Based on U.S. District Court records held by the Manhattan Branch of the National Archives; including court testimony of Captain George Belgarde of the ADMIRAL DEWEY, and Chief Engineer Johann Tinken of the liner BREMEN.)

The worst disaster in the history of New York Harbor involving ocean shipping took place on the waterfront of Hoboken, New Jersey in the summer of 1900. At the time there were seven covered piers between the ferry terminal in South Hoboken and Stevens Point. The two southernmost were occupied by the Hamburg-American Line, and the two northernmost by the Scandinavian-American Line. The three remaining piers were used by the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, also known as "The Bremen Line." On June 30, 1900 there were four passenger liners lying at the North German Lloyd Piers. The MAIN was on the north side of the north pier and the KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE was on its south side. The BREMEN was across the slip from the KAISER WILHELM on the north side of the middle pier, and the SAALE was on the south side. There was no ship at the southernmost pier. In addition to the liners, the slips were filled with barges and lighters carrying cargo, or coal to fuel the ships. More cargo was stacked in the pier sheds. There were no passengers on the ships, but most crew members were on duty, longshoremen were at work on the piers, and there were people visiting the ships.

June 30th was a pleasant, warm summer day with few clouds in the sky, but there was a fairly brisk wind blowing from the southwest. Shortly before 4:00 in the afternoon, fire was discovered in cotton stored on the pier near the SAALE. Quickly out of control, it spread throughout the pier, to the adjacent piers, and to the ships. By the time it had run its course, the three North German Lloyd Piers and one Scandinavian Line pier were in ruins; the liners SAALE, BREMEN, and MAIN were almost totally burned out, and s omewhere between 300 and 400 people had died.

In 1900 the leading supplier of coal to fuel ocean steamships in the Port of New York was the Berwind-White Coal Mining Company. Early on June 30th the two tugboats the company was employing in the Harbor, the ADMIRAL DEWEY and EDWARD J. BERWIND, had been delivering loaded barges to the North German Lloyd ships. They had returned to the coal loading pier in Jersey City leased by the company from the Pennsylvania Railroad, but around 4:00 P.M. got underway again, probably intending to retrieve empty barges. As the lead tug ADMIRAL DEWEY came out from behind the south side of the pier at 6th Street, Jersey City, Captain George Belgarde saw billowing clouds of smoke to the north coming from the Hoboken piers, and even large flames above the roofs of the pier sheds. He headed in the direction of the fire, steaming at full speed.

Captain Belgarde had been commanding tugboats for over eight years, and had been with the ADMIRAL DEWEY since she was placed in commission that February. He had six other people on board; engineer Robert Petrie, engineroom fireman/oiler Oscar Carlson, deckhand Lawrence Hanoway, deckhand Joseph Grimes, cook John Swayne and purser George Johnson. The ADMIRAL DEWEY was one of the most admired tugs in the Port of New York. Powered by a 900 horsepower compound engine, she was a strong candidate for the fastest boat in the Harbor, and was considered one of the handsomest in appearance.

When he arrived off the Hoboken piers, Captain Belgarde stopped briefly to see where he could be of the most use. He saw the middle North German Lloyd pier completely on fire and half of the pier to the north as well. The ships at the piers were largely hidden by the smoke. The most visible stern was that of the largest ship, the 627- foot-long KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE, flagship of the North German Lloyd fleet and current holder of the North Atlantic speed record. She had been partially unmoored, and her stern was swinging across the slip toward the BREMEN, which was now well on fire. Belgarde moved the ADMIRAL DEWEY closer to the KAISER WILHELM, and an officer on her stern shouted, "For God's sake get us out of here!"

Some lower-powered tugs had been attempting to move the liner without success. The SARAH EATON had a line from the ship, and the L. PULVER had one to the EATON. Belgarde moved the ADMIRAL DEWEY under the overhanging counter of the KAISER WILHELM. He could see a half dozen men in the water there hanging onto a log used to warn tugs away from the ship's propellers. The men were hauled on board by the tug's crew, and an eight inch hawser lowered from the ship was placed over the tug's towing bitts. The ADMIRAL DEWEY was brought around to head out into the River.

For a moment the KAISER WILHELM resisted, then she began moving out of the slip. Soon after she began moving another hawser was sent over to the EDWARD J. BERWIND. The liner, with her own engines unable to assist, was towed out into the center of the Hudson, where her crew managed to bring her to anchor. While she was alongside the pier some small fires had started along her superstructure and some of her wooden lifeboats were burning. The ADMIRAL DEWEY cast off her towline and went around to the starboard side of the ship, where she used her three hoses to help extinguish these fires. At one point a burning barge drifted toward the KAISER WILHELM, and Captain Belgarde temporarily interrupted his firefighting to push it away from the ship.

Moeller, Marine Superintendent for North German Lloyd, had established a mobile command post on the tug COL. E. A. STEVENS. Once things were under control at the KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE, he came alongside the ADMIRAL DEWEY and asked Captain Belgarde to see what he could do about the BREMEN. That ship, which appeared to be on fire from bow to stern, had drifted away from Hoboken and was driven by the wind over to the Manhattan side of the River. She eventually came up against the end of Pier 31, occupied by the New York Central Railroad, where she set fire to part of the pier shed and threatened other piers in the vicinity. The ADMIRAL DEWEY was involved in getting the BREMEN away from the Manhattan piers and eventually onto the flats off Weehawken, New Jersey, where she was grounded.

Though there was no one on the decks of the BREMEN when she drifted away from Hoboken, there were still nine men in the engine and boiler rooms which had not been reached by the fire. As she drifted across the River the fireboat THE NEW YORKER, based at the Battery, arrived and attempted to fight the blaze. Johann Tinken, Chief Engineer of the BREMEN boarded the fireboat, apparently through a side port, to help direct the firefighting efforts. When the fireboat found it was having little effect on the fire it left to see where it could be of better use, after first landing Tinken in Manhattan near the Barclay Street Ferry.

Tinken took the ferry back to Hoboken and reported to Superintendent Moeller. He asked Moeller if he had a tug that could take him back to the men he had left on the BREMEN, and Moeller asked Captain Belgarde on the ADMIRAL DEWEY. Captain Belgarde took Tinken and a German assistant engineer to the BREMEN, and they went on board with lamps provided by the tug, accompanied by John Swayne, the tug's cook.

They entered through the ship's coal bunkers, and eventually, in the heat and smoke, located the eight men, some in the boiler room and some in the engineroom, where they were tending the ship's pumps and electrical system, both of which were still operating. They took the men on board the ADMIRAL DEWEY, but around ten thirty the tug put Tinken and the other engineer back on the ship to attempt to fight the fire.

They were able to board the BREMEN on the port side of the promenade deck. A fire hose was passed up to them from the tug, and they used it to extinguish fire in the area of the cabin saloon. Other tugs were pouring water on the ship from the starboard side. Some of these tugs also put men with hoses on the ship. Tinken attempted to direct the efforts of these tugs, but when the burning liner MAIN appeared to be drifting toward that side of the ship, they stowed their hoses and left. The tug captains told Tinken they were afraid of being squeezed between the two burning ships. With the fire increasing again, Tinken went back on board the ADMIRAL DEWEY. It was now around twenty minutes to midnight. At Superintendent Moeller's request, Captain Belgarde remained at the BREMEN well into the morning. It was 4:00 A.M. when he finally landed Chief Engineer Tinken on one of the undamaged Hamburg-America Line piers, twelve hours from the time he first saw the fire off Jersey City.

There were around thirty-five salvage claims as a result of the fire. Hearings were held in November 1900 by the United States District Court sitting in Admiralty. The Court announced its decision on February 16, 1901. A total of $21,449 was awarded to twenty-two tugs and one steam lighter. The highest award, over ten per cent of the total, went to the tug ADMIRAL DEWEY. $1800 went to the owners, plus $67.55 in expenses (apparently for repairs to damage the tug sustained). The remainder was divided among Captain Belgarde and his crew.

Some time in the 1980s the author, then a staff member of the South Street Seaport Museum, was notified by the Caddell Shipyard on Staten Island that they had a wooden pilothouse eagle in their loft in very poor condition, probably beyond restoration. Pilothouse eagles had been standard on New York Harbor tugboats, but had disappeared largely because they got in the way of electrified searchlights. A trip was made to Staten Island, where the author photographed the carving in its current state. Someone intending to restore it had stripped off all paint and gold leaf. Large pieces were missing, including most of one wing and the beak right back to the eyes. Paying to have it restored would have been too costly. Storing it indefinitely in that condition would have been largely pointless. Fortunately the Museum had a resident volunteer woodcarver Sal Polisi who would take on the job for the cost of materials. One of the older employees of the shipyard believed the eagle had come from a boat named ADMIRAL DEWEY.

The large eagle would eventually be restored to become one of the most dramatic artifacts in the Museum's collections. In the meantime the author did some research into the name ADMIRAL DEWEY, and found an excellent photograph showing the boat of 1900 with what was clearly this eagle on her pilothouse, identifiable not only by its form but also by the base, a dome decorated with stars ringed by a carved rope. A check on the history of the tug ran into a dead end in the 1950s when she was dropped from U.S. enrollment. She was old enough to be retired, and the author assumed this was what had happened and that she had probably been broken up.

Around the time the restoration of the eagle was completed the author happened to mention it in a conversation with tugboat owner Brian McAllister. McAllister said, "ADMIRAL DEWEY. I own that boat." It turned out the tug had been sold to owners in South Carolina, converted from steam to diesel, and enrolled again by the early 1960s. McAllister had acquired her under a later name but recalled she had once been the ADMIRAL DEWEY. She still had her classic 1900 appearance aside from the stack. Brian McAllister subsequently had her brought to New York Harbor and renamed the HELEN McALLISTER. He gave her the McAllister color scheme, put back a stack more in proportion to the original, and operated her on special occasions such as Operation Sail events and escorting vessels of the South Street Seaport Museum fleet when they were moved. After a number of years he donated the tug to the Museum, where she is currently berthed. After the HELEN McALLISTER was acquired by the South Street Seaport Museum the author successfully nominated her to the State and National registers of historic sites.

The Helen McAllister was at the South Street Seaport for a number of years. They have recently had a reorganization and Gail R. Gordon informed me that the Hellen McAllister had been returned to the McAllisters. Gail sent this new link. Tug Boat Information - Helen McAllister

Canal Boats, Lighters, Barges and Other Boats

Canal boats, lighters and barges caught fire and drifted in the river. The Fireboats, New Yorker and VanWyck, were employed to put out the fires on these boats and then turned their attention to the burning steamships.

Lighter n. A large flatbottom barge, especially one used to deliver or unload goods to or from a cargo ship or transport goods over short distances.

tr.v. lightŠered, lightŠerŠing, lightŠers

The Free Dictionary On Line by Farlex

Norman Brouwer writes:
"The term lighter goes back at least to the 1300s in the Port of London. They were craft used to move goods within a port. This was important before the development of road tunnels and road bridges, paved highways, and trucking. They moved goods by water, usually from one side of the port to another. The goods might come from ships, railway cars or warehouses. The majority were lighter barges moved by tugboats. Some were self-propelled. Some had sheds to protect perishable goods. Some had goods stowed on the open deck. Some had hoisting gear for loading and unloading. Some goods might be transferred by other derricks, on shore or on other barges. Some goods were loaded and unloaded by hand, usually by hand trucks."

Burial of Seventy Six Hoboken Fire Victims at Flower Hill

Postcard collection Maggie Land Blanck


Mass Grave Flower Hill Cemetery, Union City

Mass grave of the victims of the June 30, 1900 fire - Flower Hill Cemetery, Union City, New Jersey, Summer 2006.

The gate of the mass grave Flower Hill Cemetery, Union City, New Jersey, Summer 2006.
"Erected, North German Lloyd Steamship Co., 1900"

The S. S. Bremen

The Norddeutscher Lloyd S. S. Bremen built in 1896 was the second of that name. She made transatlantic voyages until 1914. (Norwegian Heritage - http://www.norwayheritage.com)


S. S. Bremen, North German Lloyd, circa 1905, Hoboken Pier, Library of Congress, 2013

Title: S.S. Bremen, North German Lloyde [i.e. Lloyd] Pier, Hoboken, N.J., The Related Names: Detroit Publishing Co. , copyright claimant Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher Date Created/Published: c1905. Medium: 1 negative : glass ; 8 x 10 in. Reproduction Number: LC-D4-18451 (b&w glass neg.) Call Number: LC-D4-18451 [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse

The Norddeutscher Lloyd S. S. Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse was built in 1897. She made transatlantic voyages until 1914. (Norwegian Heritage - http://www.norwayheritage.com)


Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, circa 1897, Library of Congress, 2013

Title: S.S. KAISER WILHELM DER GROSSE Date Created/Published: c1897. Medium: 1 photographic print. Summary: Full starboard view. Reproduction Number: LC-USZ62-69219 (b&w film copy neg.) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 3354 [item] [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


The smoking cabin on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, circa 1908, Library of Congress, 2013

Title: ["Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse," smoking cabin, North German Lloyd, Royal Mail Steamers Date Created/Published: [between ca. 1890 and ca. 1900]. Medium: 1 photomechanical print : photochrom, color. Reproduction Number: LC-DIG-ppmsca-02202 (digital file from original) Rights Advisory: No known restrictions on publication. Call Number: LOT 13411, no. 1202 [item] [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


The S. S. Main

The Norddeutscher Lloyd steam ship, Main built in 1900 was the second ship of the name. She made transatlantic voyages until 1914. (Norwegian Heritage - http://www.norwayheritage.com)


The SS Main, circa 1908, Library of Congress, 2013

S.S. Main Detroit Publishing Co. [1908?] 1 negative : glass ; 8 x 10 in. Reproduction Number: LC-D4-22460 (b&w glass neg.) Call Number: LC-D4-22460 [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


The S. S. Saale

The SS Saale, Photo courtesy Heather Reichert, May 2009

The SS Saale, circa 1890-1895, Library of Congress, 2013

S.S. Saale Johnston, John S., photographer Detroit Publishing Co. , publisher [between 1890 and 1895] 1 negative : glass ; 8 x 10 in. Reproduction Number: LC-D4-22383 (b&w glass neg.) Call Number: LC-D4-22383 [P&P] Repository: Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA


Story of the Hoboken Fire, 1900, with excerpts from The New York Times

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