Visitors to the Asbury Park boardwalk may be unaware that in the 1930s the greatest attraction was the charred wreckage of a cruise ship on which 137 lives were lost.
The SS Morro Castle went up in flames early in the morning of September 8, 1934. The ship was a popular vacation transport for jaunts to Havana, Cuba, from New York City. The captain had mysteriously died the day before, and the disorganization due to the leadership scrambling after the discovery of the fire is part of what made the fire so disastrous. It was first detected, perhaps ironically, by a passenger in the Smoking Room. Then over in the Writing Room someone opened a locker to find not a minor blaze, but an out-of-control fire.
Within 15 minutes, the entire ship was in flames and many of the lifeboats were inaccessible. The crew had unfortunately not been trained for the event of a fire, and passengers, with few options, started to jump into the thrashing ocean. By the time rescue arrived, bodies surrounded a glowing ship.
While a rescue boat was attempting to tow the wreck to shore it broke loose into the waves. The hulk of the ship eventually washed up on the Asbury Park coast and remained there until the following March, drawing curious tourists and vendors who sold commemorative postcards.
The monument, engraved with the story of the SS Morro Castle, was installed in 2009 for the 75th anniversary of the disaster and can be found just south of the Asbury Park Convention Hall.