Hoboken Pier Fire, June 30, 1900

On June 30, 1900 in Hoboken, New Jersey a fire started on Pier 3 of the North German Lloyd Line and within fifteen minutes raced a quarter mile along the piers. Within half an hour, the piers, several ocean going steamers, and multiple small boats were on fire. The fire occurred along the waterfront between 2nd Street and 4th Street. The following excerpts are from the New York Times front page story of July 1, 1900.

The New York Times for this period is available on microfilm at the New York Public Library. Unfortunately, the copy for July 1, 1900 is not the best. There are a lot of streaks running through several parts and some of the article is illegible for that and other reasons. I have, therefore, left some sections out. I also did not include the lists, which were substantial, of: ships Captains, the missing, the hospitalized, and the dead.

Note: a "lighter" is a large, flat bottomed boat used to transport goods from a boat that cannot be docked.




Victims, Imprisoned and Roasted in the Ships Blazing Holds


Calamity Overtakes North German Lloyd Line at Its Piers----The Saale, Bremen, and Main Wrecked----Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse Suffers----Ships Aflame Float Helplessly----Immense Stores Are Burned----Fire Sweeps the Great Docks Without a Moments Warning----Saale's Captain Lost.

A fire that started among the cotton stored on Pier 3 of the North German Lloyd Steamship Company, in Hoboken at 4 o'clock yesterday afternoon, in less than fifteen minutes covered an area a quarter of a mile long extending outward for the actual shore line to the bulkheads form 600 to 1,000 feet away and caught four great ocean liners and two dozen or more smaller harbor craft in its grasp putting in peril at least 1,500 lives and property worth $10,000,000.
At an early hour this morning it is impossible to estimate the loss of life with any degree of accuracy. The most conservative figures indicate that possibly 200 people have perished, though less than a score of bodies have been recovered.
Capt. J. Mirow of the Saale is believed to have been burned in his ship or else to have been drowned.
Nearly 200 of those rescued lie in hospitals or hotels suffering form painful and in some cases serious burns and bruises.
The property loss according to a conservative estimate foots up to $6,175,000.
The scene half an hour after the starting of the fire beggared all description. The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the pride of the line, was towed slowly away, afire at several places and her crew valiantly fighting to save the vessel. The Saale and the Bremen followed, drifting helplessly, flames bursting out in every part of the ship, men jumping overboard and others caught as in traps, trying in vain to force their way through the small portholes, while the flames pressed relentlessly upon them.
Pier 3, the southernmost of the Bremen piers, was filled with cotton, the bales piled high, and with barrels of turpentine and oil. Without a warning a fire started in the middle of the cotton, about one-third way out on the pier, and the strong wind instantly fanned the little sheet of flame into a roaring devouring blaze, and almost before any one could make a move the flames reached the barrels of oil and turpentine, which exploded in such rapid succession that the sound was like that of a rapid-fire gun.
So quickly had the flames taken hold of the cotton and oil that these reports were the first warning of the fire received at the company's offices on Water Street. An alarm was turned in promptly by the policeman on the pier, and the Hoboken firemen were on the ground within three minutes after the discovery of the fire, but it had gained headway with such incredible rapidity that the three piers of the North German Lloyd Line were already beyond saving.
The Aller, which had been tied up at Pier 3 on the north side had sailed at 11 A.M. for Naples. Across the slip lay the Saale on the south side of Pier 2, with the Bremen on the north side. The Kaiser Wilhelm de Grosse at the south side of Pier 1 and the freighter Main on the north side of that pier.

(the following two paragraphs are illegible)

The first ship to get clear of the burning piers was the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, aboard which were many visitors, 171 cards having been issued during the day to persons who desired to inspect the vessel.
At the first cry of fire the visitors were hurried ashore by the officers of the steamship, and the crew, summoned to there posts, cut the boat loose, but there was not enough steam up to move the great vessel, and it was not until the tugs President and Sarah E. Easton made fast at the stern that the vessel began to move slowly out of its nest of fire, with its outer woodwork ablaze and moved down stream perilously close to the other burning piers, with a barge of blazing cotton cling to its prow.
The last man to escape from Pier 1 was Eric Sorenson, a seaman on the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. A single steel hawser, overlooked in the excitement, held the vessel and sliding down to the burning pier he loosened it and dashed to safety through a passageway of fire, amid the cheers of the firemen.
The Saale and Bremen lay helpless in their berths of fire. Their crews, cut off from escape by way of the piers, rapidly threw off the lines that tied the vessels and signaled for help, but there was confusion among the tugs, and no lines were thrown to the frantic seamen, who stood at their posts, the flames roaring about them, and eating rapidly in to the inner parts of the ships.
At last, slowly, they drifted out of the seething waters of the slips and floated helplessly into the North River, the flames gaining greater headway every instant and many of the crews jumped from the blazing ships, trusting to be picked up by the tugs which had flocked about the scene of the fire.
The Main, laying furthest from the starting point of the fire, was the only one of the vessels which did not get loose from its pier. The officers and crew, said to number 150, were mostly in the inner parts of the vessel.
Albert Zimmerman, the ship's carpenter was at work on the main deck when he heard the report of the exploding barrels on Pier 3, and almost in an instant he saw the flames take hold of the pier and sweep over the Main, which lay a thousand feet from where the fire started.
Giving the alarm, he closed his tool box, tossed it overboard, and jumped over, floating with his box until he was picked up by a boat sent out from the (illegible) Boat Clubhouse. He thought that Capt. B Petermann, the Paymaster, the First Steward and the Forth Steward were the only ones to escape, and said that there were 150 men on board the Main.
The vessel never got away form the pier. It lay there in a cauldron of flames with the many victims, some of whom were seen trying to get out of the port holes, when the smoke threw a curtain over the ghastly scene. Again, when it lifted for a moment, their bodies were seen hanging limp and apparently lifeless in the same port holes and later, when the fire had subsided somewhat it had removed all traces of the victims.
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.
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.
Within three-quarters of an hour the three piers of the North German Lloyd Line were a mass of blazing debris, leveled almost to the floors, the only objects rising out of the flames being the steel masts of the Main and the great pile of burning cotton bales on Pier 3 in which the fire had started.
The only hope of the firemen was to prevent the further spread of the flames, and to this end Chief Applegate disposed his (illigible) and all the water available was used to confine the fire to the piers. (rest of paragraph is illegible)
Then stopped by Forth Street, the fire turned on its tracks and directed its fury against the four large brick buildings known as the Campbell Stores, which were filled with merchandise, including many barrels of whiskey.
Leaping up the sides of the building, the flames attacked the iron shutters, at first in vain, but at length the intense heat loosened some of the shutters, and the flames crept in here and there until the volumes of smoke issuing from underneath the closed shutters told of the fire raging within.
It was a long and stubborn fight to save the stores and the fires on the piers had burned themselves out and night had fallen before the flames were got under control, after two of the stores had been entirely destroyed and two partly gutted.
In turning upon the Campbell stores the fire executed a flank movement on the United Staten Bonded Warehouse at Third Street, and the large low building, with its heavy iron shutters, was in much danger, but it was saved, as were the residences on the west side of Water Street, which were bathed for two hours in the dense smoke that issued form the Campbell stores.
To the south of the Bremen Piers, within 150 feet of the cotton in which the blaze started, a large, broad shed of the Hamburg-American Line touched pier 3 and the fire, sweeping down the pier began to eat into this shed. A stout partition, and the direction of the wind gave the firemen an advantage, and while water was played of the approaching fire, men were set at work to chop a section out of the shed.
Driven back by the flames, the firemen laid their axes into the partition at another place, and soon cut a wide gap in the shed, and tamed the flames, saving the Hamburg Line piers from all damage, save the chopping down of some of its sheds. The Phoenicia and the Kaiser Friedrich lay in berths untouched by the flames, not even a spark falling on them. Two lighters, however, were lost by the Hamburg-American Steamship Company.
Fifteen canal boats and twelve lighters which were discharging their cargoes at the Bremen piers, were caught by the fire and destroyed. As many others floated away or were pulled off by tugs.
On some of the burned lighters and canal boats the crews were caught and many jumped and were pulled aboard the tugs which flocked about the scene of the fire.
It was just as these rescues were thrilling the crowd which viewed the fire form the Hamburg pier that a man and woman jumped from one of the barges and were picked up.
Just then, fifteen minutes after the fire started, the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse got clear of the burning piers. It was twenty-five minutes before the Saale and the Bremen were out in the stream with their deckhouses and cabins ablaze, and their crews leaping overboard or struggling in vain to get out of the portholes, which were too small to admit the passage of their bodies. Men were hanging from the stern of the Saale, and more than a dozen , including one woman were seen clinging to (illegible) ropes and to the propeller.
Tugs hovered about the blazing ships and threw lines to those who jumped overboard and pulled them in. Many narrow escapes were seen form the shore, where excited crowds, cheered the rescues and (illegible) the task of small boats.
At one time as many as a score a of people could be counted in the water at one time and many of them appeared from the shore to be totally exhausted when they were pulled from the water. One man half reclining on some floating timber seemed to be badly injured.
The firemen had great difficulty in fighting the flames, as the large number of streams (illegible) the fire overtaxed the mains and those detailed to duty at the Campbell Stores were in imminent peril of their lives owing to the danger of the roaring fire within forcing the wall outward upon them, but they stuck to their post valiantly, and after the fire was under control Chief Applegate said that not a man was missing.
The seriousness of the fire dawned slowly upon the crowd in Hoboken, in fact at first only a few sore who had gotten through the fire lines to the Hamburg-American piers and who saw the people jumping from the steamships and harbor craft had any idea of the calamitous character of the fire. Presently, others who gained glimpses of the Main from the grounds of Steven's Institute saw that there was loss of life aboard that vessel.
But the persons who gathered --not a very large crowd-- generally thought that the loss was largely a property one and their chief interest was in the fight to save the Campbell stores and in the fear that the walls would topple over and the fire spread across Water Street to the row of residences, the tenants of which were greatly excited.
It was only as dusk began to fall, and the crowd was swelled by new-comers from all directions and the evening papers began to spread the news of the extent of the disaster, that the terribleness of it all dawned upon the people in the streets.

Horrors of the Hold of the Saale----Last Message from the Dying ----- The Captain Lost

As the flames plowed their way along the three German Lloyd piers and began to fasten a deadly grip on the dock of the Thingvalla Line three big steamships emerged from the smoke and moved slowly toward midstream. Two of them were spouting huge columns of fire and black smoke. The third was burning too, but the vast crowd that lined both sides of the river bank knew she was safe.
The two doomed ships were the Bremen and the Saale. They drifted with the tide, the brick sea wind fanning the hissing flames and driving them from stem to stern.
The third vessel was the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, the pride of the North German Lloyd fleet and swiftest of all ships afloat. A few filmlike clusters of fire still clung to her starboard side and bow as she was towed out into the river, but within a few minutes they had disappeared under the streams of water from many tugs and the fireboat New Yorker.
What is left of the Saale's' once graceful hull to-day lies sunken on the Jersey flats. Between her decks are the charred and twisted bodied of many men. From the best information obtained last night there were at least toe score of them, and perhaps twice that number. One woman and two small children perished with them.
Capt. Mirow, it is almost certain, either burned to death or was drowned.
Chief Officer Scheffer of the Saale said last night: "I believe that Capt. Mirow of our boat was lost. The last I saw of him he was standing at the main hatch and as he made headquarters here at the Hotel Meyer and would have shown up here if he had been saved. I am confident that he has lost his life along with the many others in our vessel"
At 4:10 P. M. the Saale began to drift from her moorings. The ropes that held her fast had been cut loose by the orders of her first officer, Herr Scheffer, and a long line had been cast from her bow in the hope that some tugs would take hold and tow her out. But no tugs came, and she was left to drift with the tide.
As she glided slowly from the dock the people who were aboard of her sent up piercing shrieks for help as they jumped overboard at every quarter or climbed down to the water's edge on ropes. Some of them sank, rose and sank again, disappearing at last under the water. Some were picked up by lighters or tugs or rowboats, and others, fearful of the flames on land swam for their lives toward the middle of the river.
Among the last were First Officer Scheffer, Second Officer Zander, and eight of the crew. They swam close to each other. One tug after another passed them by, but their cries for help at first were fruitless. At last they were hauled aboard the tug, Petty, and were later transferred from her to the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, which was by that time out of danger. In the meanwhile the doomed Saale was slowly drifting toward the New York shore.
First Officer Scheffer, who was among the last to leave his ship, told the story of the fire in the Saale last night.
"I was down in the (illegible)" he said.
" A seaman rushed down and grasped my arm and shouted.
" " We're burning up'
" Then I made for the lower deck. When I reached there I saw nothing but fire. It was raging everywhere---red, black, horrible. The smoke almost blinded me, but at last I shouted orders to cut loose the moorings. Second Officer Zander was with me, and we cut the extreme stern and bow moorings ourselves.
" By that time the fire was everywhere. It was getting too hot for us to stay aboard, so we jumped over the sides. I thought then that we had been preceded by everybody on the ship, but that was not the case for after I was in the water I looked up and saw figures moving about.
"There were several visitors with us when the fire started and some of them women. I don't know any of their names, not what became of them. All of us did the best we could to the last, but the flames drove us over the sides. As we swam out toward the river we cried for assistance to several tugs, but they left us alone, and we were nearly spent when the Petty picked us up."
When the Saale had drifted a quarter of the way across the river three tugs caught her and began to tow her to midstream. They were the Engine Grasselli, the M. Moran and the Di Witt C. Ivins. According to the Captains of these boats there was no one on the vessels decks when they took her in tow, but they say that at least a hundred were cooped in her hold and below decks.
At 5 o'clock the burning ship was brought to a standstill in the middle of the river off Chambers Street. Amid the hissing of the fires faint screams were heard coming for her lower portholes, and the crews of two dozen tugs that had clustered around her set themselves to saving the unfortunate victims. Orders were shouted through the portholes and in a few minutes men were seen escaping from the gangway to ( illegible ) decks.
But they only staid there for an instant. As each one came up he staggered to the rail and jumped over to be picked up by some of the tug men or to disappear for good under the water. A rough estimate of the number of those rescued in this way is fifty, and the different tug captains agree in saying that at least half that many jumped and perished.
Of the whole tragedy one of the most terrible scenes was witnessed through one of the ships stern portholes. Suddenly a naked are emerged from the hole and a voice shrieked something in German. None of the boatmen understood the words, but the murky red fire that formed a background to the arm told them that its owner was burning to death. The arm clutched at the empty air, waived wildly and then was drawn in, a man's face taking its place at the porthole.
On the face was wild pain. The mouth opened and (illegible) a rapid flow of talk, interspersed at intervals with piercing shrieks. All the while the bright red blazed roared behind and once a stray gust of wind blew a long streak of fire out of the very porthole. When it had passed one side of the blanched face bore a blackened scar.
Into the porthole the tugmen of the Grasselli pushed the nozzle of one of their long hoses. This was grasped by the man and as he moved from his position for a second it was seen that there were many people with him. The hose did no good, and a wail arose from the dying as they saw the hopelessness of the situation.
Half an hour had elapsed. The face of the man appeared at the porthole again, and his shrieks and wild talk continued. Then the tugs began to tow the vessel towards the Jersey Flats, the Captains seeing she was about to sink.
From stem to stern she was now a mass of flames. Her sides were paintless, her rigging gone, her smokestacks warped like twisted reeds, and her long decks bereft of every vestige of their former ornamental woodwork.
From every gangway, out of the big ventilators, and through the portholes for and aft poured smoke and fire. The possibility of the captives escaping by way of the decks was rapidly growing less, and every minute brought fewer and fewer leaping overboard. The Saale was at last doomed beyond recall, and the only hope of saving even her hulk, depended on reaching the shallow water of the Jersey Flats.
Slowly the tugs carried her downstream, until they beached her off Communipaw. The man at the stern porthole held to his place until his outer skin was burned almost black by the flames. Just before he collapsed, Port Captain Maller of the North German Lloyd Company pulled alongside close enough to say a few words to him. The man told him that there were forty-four others behind him and that a woman and two children were among them.
Hardly had he made this statement when he fell backward without a groan. No sound came from within, and it seemed that all of the man's companions had perished before him. He had been at the porthole for fully an hour, although it looked to those out side as if the flames were brushing against his body during the whole time.
When the vessel was finally beached on the flats there was no sound within her to indicate that she still sheltered any living being, though several were rescued as late as five minutes before she reached there.
The tugs that assisted in the work of rescuing and towing were the George P. Cooper, Morgan, Eli B. Conine, Despatch, Cornellus Van Cott, James D. Leary, De Witt C. Ivins, M. Moran, Eugene Grasse III, Champion, and Hustler (Wrecker). The fireboat New Yorker was also on hand at intervals, but part of their time was taken up with the Bremen.
Capt. James A. Cox of the Grasse III said that he estimated the dead in the ship at from forty to seventy-five, the rescued at fifty or more, the drowned at about twenty-five. He said he had heard the cries of the two children said to have perished and of the woman, presumably their mother.
As fast as the crew of tugs rescued persons they sent them ashore. One of the men picked up was John Rapps, assistant machinist. Another of the saved was a small boy, who had been among the visitors. His name was not learned before he was sent ashore. A fireman named Feis was rescued, and another fireman, who had been pulled out of the water after jumping overboard, died before he could reach land.
According to the various tug Captains several bodies were recovered. The Moran had two aboard, but no one identified them last night.
The Saale was to have sailed to-day for Boston, whence she was booked to sail on Tuesday with a section of Christian Endeavor Society delegates to the London convention.
Edward Workmann, who for the past twenty-seven years had been connected with the North German Lloyd Line in a confidential capacity made a trip through the burned district late last night at the request of Gustave Schmit speaking of his experience, Mr Workmann said:
"The actual loss of life will not be known for days, and it may take weeks before we can get a full list of those who perished. One of the saddest deaths was that of the brave Captain Mirrow of the Saale, who stood at his post and tried to get people off his ship. As to the financial loss, I would not dare to make any positive statement. If I was writing it for a newspaper I would say that the loss to the company was between six and eight millions of dollars, and I think my estimate would be very conservative."
Parker Campbell, one of the proprietors of the Campbell Stores at Forth and River Streets, which were totally destroyed by fire, himself aided in fighting the flames at that point. Late in the evening he estimated the loss on the contents of the stores conservatively at one million dollars. The loss on the building itself was forty thousand dollars, fully covered by insurance.

Although the Bremen was lying further away from the pier on which the fire began, she was loosed from her moorings before the Saale. Capt. Nierisch was not on board and Chief Officer Ahborn commanded. As soon as the flames were wafted across his decks, which was I less than five minutes after the fire alarm was turned in he ordered the stay ropes to be cut.
More than 200 people were certainly on the vessel, but all of them left her in one way or another, before she was well out into the river. The crew numbered 207, all told. Some of them were ashore, but there were many visitors on board, among them being four women. When the fire came on them and began to spread with a rapidity almost as great as it displayed on the Saale, every one either jumped to the pier before the ship began to drift or leaped into the water after the dock's stringpiece was too far separated for them to make it accessible.
Three of the women, whose names are not known, jumped into a small boat that some of the crew made ready to lower. But the davits of the boat broke as it was hanging over the water, and every one fell ten or twelve feet. The women were immediately picked up by a lighter, one of them unconscious, while the crew, composed of probably a dozen men, swam for shore. Whether or not they reached it in safety is not known, though it is though that they did.
The forth woman was last seen by Second Officer Brock. She was hanging on to a rope suspended from the vessel's port side. Black, who had jumped overboard was caught by the tide as he saw her and sunk for a minute. When he rose again she was not insight, but the officer, says that there were several tugs and lighters near enough to have rescued her easily.
The Bremen drifted out, as did the Saale, because her signals for tugs were unanswered at first. Among those who jumped into the water from her decks were besides Chief Office Block, Fourth Officer, Sehelfing and thirty of her crew. These were finally taken aboard the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, having been picked up by various harbor boats. It is supposed that practically every one on board escaped and is practically certain that no one was on her twenty minutes after she caught fire.
She was met in the river by the wrecking tug I. J. Merritt, which towed her to the New York side off Desbrosses Street. According to the Captain of the Merritt and the commanders of several other small boats which met the vessel in the stream, her decks were entirely deserted. Later in the afternoon scores of wreckers climbed in and out of her lower portholes and found no evidence that any one had perished within.
They were enabled to enter these portholes because the fire did not get a good hold below decks. On the decks it raged uncurbed, however, and at nightfall only the iron skeletons of staterooms, decks, and masts remained. If any of the officers or crew were lost it was at the Hoboken pier and not out on the river.
When the Bremen was brought to the New York shore the flames from her decks were communicated to Pier 32, occupied by the People's Line of steamships. The damage was slight, as several alarms of fire were sent in and brought out the firemen of the district in full force.
Then the vessel was towed out in the stream again, tugs and fireboats using their hoses on her all the while. She was finally brought to off Warren Street and at sunset it looked as if she was beginning to sink. Her port side listed heavily, but no one could assign a cause for it, as everyone had thought all the fires were confined to the decks and staterooms.
The tugs that rendered assistance in keeping the flames out of the hold were the Mattle, Maria Hoffman, D. S. Arnott, James A. Lawrence, Brandon, Howard, Edmund Hawley, I. J. Merritt, Komunek, Robert White, Lindhurst, El Amigo, Francisco, Theresa Verdun, Catlin, Admiral Dewey, William Walker, Charm, W. Goodwin, Eastchester, Baltic, Florence, Cerus and Annie L.
It was 5 o'clock when they finally brought her to midstream.

(At this point there is a list of officers of the Bremen, which I am omitting.)

The vessel was scheduled to sail for Bremen on next Thursday.
Many rumors were circulating last night as to what had become of the Bremen, but it was asserted on the most trustworthy authority about 1 o'clock this morning that she was off the West Shore yards at Weehawken. The police, however, could not give any information on the subject.
The first of the vessels to leave the Hoboken piers was the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse. She was more fortunate than the Saale and Bremen, and succeeded in summoning two tugs to tow her out, instead of drifting with the ebb tide. The tugs were the President and the Sarah E. Easton.
They carried her out into the river in safety, the only damage she had received from the fire being a comparatively slight scorching of the starboard side and bow and the warping of five ventilators and seven lifeboats. Never was she in any serious danger.

(At this point there is a list of officers of the Kaiser William der Grosse, which I am omitting.)

The sailing of the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse will not be delayed by the damage she received. She will leave the Carnard Line's pier No. 52 North River, at 10 A. M. on Tuesday.

Burning Vessels Drifting on the River Threatened Shipping----Firemen Stood Guard.

The burning steamers, lighters, and wreckage floating down the river furnished considerable excitement along the New York Shore, and for a time it was feared that some of the piers on this side of the river might catch fire, some of the lighters drifting along side of them. To guard against this several alarms were sent in, and the Fire Department had engines stationed at all the principle piers, and at all points where it was thought a fire would be likely to break out.
They had their hose stretched along the docks and were ready for any emergency, while they were helped in their work by the employees of the different companies along the waterfront, who kept a sharp lookout for any drifting wreckage. In some cases these companies had tugs patrolling the water front with this same object in view.
The Bremen was the most formidable enemy that the firemen over here had to contend with. When she left her moorings with flames shooting from every part of her superstructure she was a sight that fascinated all beholders. As she neared the New York shore the people who had gazed on the scene with admiration began to think of the danger, for it was seen that she was bearing down on Pier 32, at the foot of Desbrosses Street.
The firemen took up the post of danger, doing everything possible with the assistance of tugs to keep her from striking, but the burning ship, verging slightly from her course, rubbed up against the side of the pier, scorching it severely, as well as the piers below it, and the firemen played their hoses on the scorched portions of the piers immediately preventing a fire. By this time the tugs had succeeded in attaching lines to the steamer, and taking her in tow, brought her to midstream, where they left her, and she drifted down the river.
One lighter with flames shooting up form every portion banged into Baltimore and Ohio Pier 22, and before she could be towed out, succeeded in setting it on fire. The damage, however, was slight, the firemen who were stationed near the pier having their hose playing on it before it succeeded in getting headway, putting it out in short order. At about the same time another lighter, also in flames, drifted across the river, and before her progress could be checked or diverted in some other direction, it crashed into a pier below the Baltimore and Ohio, this time doing no damage except that caused by apprehension.
The fireboat, New Yorker, which was in the vicinity at the time, towed her out into midstream, and then left her to attend to more pressing matters. The patrol was kept up along the water front until all danger of fire from drifting wreckage had passed, this side of the river front assuming its usual aspect shortly after 6 o'clock.

Sixteen Men Taken from Vessel After Spending Seven Hours in a Veritable Oven
During all the time the steamship Main lay at the burning docks, with the fierce flames playing all about her, the flames from the docks licking her sides and warping her plates and the flames in her cargo eating away her inerform, sixteen men lived aboard her.

When she was hauled out from between the burning docks at 11 o'clock last night these men were still alive. They made themselves known a half hour later when the wreck of the ship was beached at Shadyside.
How they could have survived in that furnace seems impossible, but they emerged from the burned and warped hull and were taken on board the tug Henry A. Stevens. One of them is blinded by the heat they underwent, but the rest, although badly heated and all thoroughly frightened, and bordering upon insanity in two cases, are alive and as well as can be expected.
These sixteen were all coal passers. When the fire broke out they were trimming coal in the bunkers. They all made a dash for the upper decks when they became aware of the danger which threatened them. They found their escape cut off. These was no venturing into the seething flame which already was roaring down the hatchway.
They tried to pass to another compartment and found it as dangerous as the one with the flames about them. They soon found it too hot to remain above and descended. They passed down to the lowest deck and there entered one of the coal bunkers. There was no coal in it. The door was closed behind them and they were safe for a time. That they eventually escaped was wonderful.
When the fire was at its hottest the steel plates above their heads was too hot to allow them to even touch it. These men are all used to a great deal of heat and their hands are callused to its touch, but the plate above them was more than they could touch.

In this little space with all air shut off and the furnace above them they remained for over seven hours. They were below the water line and thus safe from fire on one side, but on three sides they were in danger, and also from above.
Those who stood the ordeal best say that some of the companions became at times raving maniacs for the heat and the mental agony. When the fireboats began to pour their big streams of water into the steamer the men heard hissing of the water as it fell on their prison. they waited long for that welcome motion which told them they were at last afloat. They remained in their retreat, confident that if it had stood them until then, it would last now that their release seemed to promise.
Finally after a half hour, during which the tugs had been hurrying up the river with the boat, they felt the jar of the grounding and then the grating as the tugs labored to push the ship into a position from which she could not slide, and thus go into deep water. Then they ventured for the first time to make and effort to get out. The door was opened and the men struggled out into debris which choked the gangway.
They then found that their egress by the companion ladder was cut off by debris which was piled above it. They then had recourse to one of the coal ports. This was reached with difficulty. They then banged upon it, and with the aid of the astonished crew of the Stevensm which happened to be close to it, it was forced open. The men were taken out, and then it was found that Carl Mell was blind.
The Stevens hurried with the men to Hoboken and Mell was transferred to St. Mary's Hospital. The other men went to a sailors boarding house.

(At this point there is a list of officers of the Main, which I am omitting.)

(This ends the main article and is followed by a list of the dead, the wounded and the missing, which I am omitting.)

Descriptions of the Main, Saale, Bremen and Kaiser Wilhelm Der Grosse
The Main left Bremen on her first trip on April 28, and arrived in this city Saturday May 12. She left here May 17. She reached New York on her second trip to this port on Monday last. The Main is a sister ship of the Rhine. She was built by Blohm A. Voss of Hamburg, and registers 6,300 tons. She has accommodation for 300 cabin and 1,800 steerage passengers , besides large cargo-carrying capacity. She is commanded by Capt. Petermann, formerly of the steamer Aller.
The Saale was constructed in 1886 by the Fairfield Shipbuilding and Engineering Company of Glasgow. She was 455 feet in length, 48 feet in beam and 36 feet in depth. She was 5,267 tons register, and her engines, which were of the triple-expansion type, developing 8,000 horse power, were the largest that had been build up to that time. The vessel had accommodation for 224 first class, 94 second-class and 850 steerage passengers, besides a crew of 170 officers and men. She was divided into nine compartments by bulkhead, with watertight steel and iron doors, and was full equipped with pumps. There were twenty-six places at which hose could be attached to fight fire aboard the vessel. Her first visit to this port wad on August 27, 1886 .
The Bremen was built in 1896 in the yards of F. Schichau, Dantsic, Germany. She was one of four vessels built with the special view of carrying great quantities of cargo, as well as a large number of passengers. Her length over all was 550 feet, her beam 60 feet, and her draught 28 feet. She was 10,000 tons register and had engines of 8,000 indicated horse power, capable of developing a speed of fifteen knots. She had accommodations for 100 first-class passengers and 76 second-class passengers, and on the steerage deck, when none was used for cargo, there was room for 2,300 steerage passengers. In carrying out the plan of accommodating many passengers, as well as large cargo, and of separating cargo and passengers, the cabins and saloons were placed in a three story superstructure. The main deck was arranged for either cargo or steerage passengers. For protection the vessel was divided by twelve heavy bulkheads into thirteen water-tight compartments, so arranged that any two contingent compartments could be filled with out danger to the steamer. The Bremen was scheduled to sail for Southampton and Bremen next Thursday.
The Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse, is the fastest vessel sailing from this port. Her record eastward to Southampton is 5 days 17 hours and 3 minutes and west bound from the same port 5 days 20 hours and 10 minutes. She was built in 1897 at the yards of the Vulcan Shipping company of Stetin. She registers 14,349 tons gross and 5,521 tons net. Her displacement is 20,000 tons and she measures 643 feet in length and 66 feet in beam and 43 feet in depth. The motive power consists of two triple expansion engines capable of developing 27,000 horse power. Each engine is in a separate water tight compartment and the whole vessel is divided into eighteen watertight compartments, sixteen transverse and one longitudinal bulkheads. The hull is protected from injury by a double bottom divided into twenty-two subdivision.
An idea of the enormous size of the vessel may be had from the fact that the top of the smokestacks is 105 feet above the keel. The vessel carries 330 first-class passengers, 370 second-class passengers and 900 steerage passengers. The crew numbers (Illegible). the Kaiser Wilhelm der Grosse is to sail as scheduled next Tuesday.

Petermans, Lands and Blancks in Hoboken in June 1900

The Petermans

Bernard Petermann and his children, Johann, age 20, Christian, age 17, Meta, age 14, and Anna, age 12, plus the housekeeper, Mrs. Herrmann and her daughter, Clara, were living at 36 Second Street on June 30, 1900. The building they lived in has been torn down and today a high rise apartment stands in its place. This address, however, was once at or near the corner of River and 2nd Street. Water Street which is mentioned several times in the news paper accounts, does not appear on my copy of the 1906 map. River Street is currently the closest street to the waterfront. I don't know if there was once another street named Water Street closer to the river, or if the name Water Street has been changed to River Street. In any event, the Petermanns were quite close (within one or two short blocks) to the fire.

The Lands

Bud Land always said that the Lands moved to Hoboken to work on the rebuilding of the piers. The problem is that the Lands moved to Hoboken sometime between the birth of Ruth in 1894 and the birth of Joseph in 1897. By 1898 they were living in Jersey City and by the January 1900 they were living in Hauppaugue, Long Island. However, it does appear that Law and Percy returned to Hoboken to work. Law applied to become a citizen of the United States in Jersey City on September 23, 1901 when he gave his address as 213 14th Street, Hoboken. Percy was living in Hoboken in 1906 when his mother sent him a postcard. See Postcards. Percy was only 15 when the Lands moved to Hauppaugue. Although the date that Percy Land met Meta Petermann is not known, it most likely occurred after 1900. Meta sent a post card to her sister, Annie, from Hauppaugue that was postmarked, December 31, 1906 and January 1, 1907. This was a year before Percy and Meta were married on Long Island in January, 1908. See Postcards.

The Blancks, Erxmeyers and Kettlers

Henry Blanck, his wife, Melusine Erxmeyer and their children were at 215 Willow Street. Melosine's sisters, Julia Erxmeyer Lehaman and Mary Erxmeyer Rosenthal, were at 213 Willow Street. Fred Erxmeyer was at 237 3rd Street and brother, Henry Erxmeyer, was at 214 Park.

Hannah Peter Kettler Jensen was at 113 Monroe Street with her husband and two of their children. Two of her children, Gertrude and Frederick were in an orphanage in Brooklyn.


Photos of the Hoboken Fire, June 1900


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© Maggie Land Blanck - page created 2004 - latest update, June 2020