THE MORRO CASTLE: Tragedy at Sea by Hal Burton

THE MORRO CASTLE: Tragedy at Sea

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For Hal Burton the mystery of the Morro Castle which turned into a blazing inferno on its return voyage from a Havana pleasure cruise remains unsolved. Burton covered the story as a young reporter for the New York Daily News back in 1934 when the ship made its last disastrous journey and now, based on survivor accounts and court inquiries into the gruesome events, he's produced a perfectly competent and -- given the intrinsic melodrama of the fire -- even an exciting book which focuses on the heroism and cowardice of passengers and crew. But he leaves open the question of whether or not the fire was deliberately set by the psychopathic radio operator, George Rodgers -- seemingly unaware of the Sherlockian investigations of Gordon Thomas and Max Morgan Witte (Shipwreck: The Strange Fate of the Morro Castle, KR, 1972, p. 716) which clinched (at least for us) the case against Rodgers while describing the human pathos, hysteria and ghoulish glamour of the saute qui peut scramble with equal force. Like Thomas and Witte, Burton apportions the rest of the guilt for the lives lost -- 86 passengers and 49 crewmen -- between the ship's incompetent officers who fled their posts and the owners who cared more about swanky mahogany paneling than the safety of the passengers. But Burton goes further -- he tries to make the ""whoopee cruise"" and its cataclysmic finale symbolic of America in the Jazz Age. Like the ship, the country was having a bang-up good time as it sailed into the Big Crash of 1929 and the ensuing Depression. It's a strained metaphor at best even though panic, noise and confusion certainly prevailed in both instances. And we're left wondering why there's no acknowledgment of Thomas and Witte who still have the last word.

Pub Date: June 21st, 1973
Publisher: Viking