Archive for May, 2013

Cat ship

In January 1946, the United States partnered with the American Express Company and other shipping and custom house brokers to help American servicemen ship their European canine companions to America. By the end of February 1946, about one thousand dogs had been shipped to the states as part of the joint venture unofficially known as Operation Bow-Wow.

One lone tabby cat reportedly joined their ranks.

On February 20, 1946, the Liberty ship SS Warren P. Marks arrived at Chelsea Piers (Pier 60) on the Hudson River carrying 81 dogs and “one live cat from Bremerhaven, Germany.” The dogs and cat had all been obtained overseas during World War II by American soldiers who wanted to keep them as pets back home.

SS Warren P Marks Liberty ship

The SS Warren P. Marks was one of 2,710 Liberty ships built in the U.S. between 1941 and 1945 for the War Shipping Administration. The ship was placed in service on March 29, 1945.

According to the American Express Company, it cost the soldiers $50 to $75 to ship their pets to the United States. (That was quite a hefty sum to pay, considering some of the mixed-breed dogs were valued at less than a dollar.)

In some cases, the shipments were arranged by friends or other soldiers who were still overseas after the pets’ masters had already returned home.

The Story Behind the Ship

New Jersey resident Warren Prime “Moose” Marks was the oldest child of Sylvester Wade Marks and Arabella “Belle” Florence Prime Marks. He had one sister, Annis Jean, and a brother, Roger. Warren attended public schools in Nutley, N.J., and graduated from Nutley High School in January 1941.

Marks family photo

Warren Marks (left) and his family.

On December 11, 1942, when he was just a first-year cadet in the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, Warren signed on aboard the SS Timothy Pickering as Engine Cadet at the port of New York. He was joined by cadets Christopher C. Brennan (Deck), William L. Lyman (Deck), Lawrence D. McLaughlin (Engine), and former Cadet Officer George W. Alther, Jr. (Second Mate).

Seven months later, Marks and his fellow cadets lost their lives when their ship was attacked by German dive bombers in Avola, Sicily.

On or around July 10, 1943, the Timothy Pickering arrived off Avola after sailing in a convoy from Alexandria, Egypt, with 130 British soldiers and a cargo of munitions, TNT, high-octane gasoline, artillery pieces, and trucks. On the morning of July 13, the vessel was anchored in the harbor, where the crew had begun unloading the vessel’s cargo.

In a sudden attack, a German dive bomber dropped a 500-pound bomb on the ship at its Number 4 hold.

According to a report from Deck cadet Christopher Brennan, one of only 29 survivors, the bomb detonated in the ship’s engine room, causing a massive explosion that left a gaping hole in the starboard side and nearly sliced the ship in two. As the aft section of the ship began quickly sinking, and with no time to either launch lifeboats or be given an order to abandon ship, the crew began leaping over the side into the water or sliding down ropes and the anchor chain.

“To stunned observers nearby,” the report notes, “the doomed ship seemed to dissolve into thin air.”

Merchant Marine Warren P Marks

Merchant Marine Warren Prime Marks (1923-1943)

According to Brennan’s report, Warren Marks was in the engine room at the time of the explosion, and was killed instantly. William Lyman was in his quarters and was not seen afterward. Lawrence McLaughlin was seen jumping over the side of the ship, but drifted into the burning oil that surrounded the blazing ship.

Along with the Cadet-Midshipmen, 19 other crew members, 8 Naval Armed Guard Sailors, and 100 British soldiers died in the attack.

Second Mate George W. Alther, Jr., only 25 years old, was posthumously awarded the merchant marine’s highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, for his heroic actions during the disaster.

Cadets Lyman, Marks, and McLaughlin were awarded the Atlantic War Zone Bar, the Mediterranean-Middle East War Zone Bar, the Combat Bar, the Mariners Medal, and the Presidential Testimonial Letter. Marks, just 20 years old when he was killed, also received the Victory Medal.

The U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps
The U.S. Merchant Marine Cadet Corps was established by Congress under the Merchant Marine Act of 1936 and officially founded March 15, 1938, under the auspices of the U.S. Maritime Commission, chaired by Joseph P. Kennedy (father of President John F. Kennedy). Early training was provided at temporary facilities and aboard government-subsidized ships until the Academy’s permanent site at Kings Point, Long Island, was established in 1942 on the former Chrysler estate.

The Academy was dedicated on September 30, 1943, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who noted that “the Academy serves the Merchant Marine as West Point serves the Army and Annapolis the Navy.”

In 1941, when Warren Marks joined the Academy, the requirements for appointment as cadet were:

-American citizen between 18 and 25
-Good moral character, unmarried
-Between 5’4″ and 6’4,” in height
-Meet Navy physical requirements
-Meet requirements for sight, color perception, speech and hearing
-At least 15 high school credits
-Good teeth, good feet, good posture

From 1942 to 1945, the Academy graduated 6,895 officers. As the war came to an end, plans were made to convert the Academy’s wartime curriculum to a four-year, college-level program to meet the peacetime requirements of the merchant marine.

Forker House Wiley Hall

Forker House, originally the estate of renowned fashion designer Henri Bendel, was designed by Henry Otis Chapman in 1916. The house was sold to Walter P. Chrysler in 1923 and later acquired by the U.S. Government for $100,000 and renamed Wiley Hall, to be used as the administration building for the United States Merchant Academy. Click here to see a brochure advertising the Forker House when Walter Chrysler first put it up for sale.


Ginger the Fire Dog

This is not Ginger, but I thought this old photograph was appropriate. 


Although their names were omitted from the payrolls, the fire dogs of the Metropolitan Fire Department played some very important roles in nineteenth-century New York City. Not only were they considered pets of the firehouse and furry friends of the neighborhood, but they also worked hard barking loudly to clear the streets ahead of the horse-drawn engines, guarding the men’s equipment at the scene of a fire, spurring the horses on to greater speed by nipping at their legs, or alerting the firemen to injured fire victims.

For 16 years, Ginger did all of these things and more for Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 of Greenwich Village, New York.

Ginger, a mutt, joined the firehouse at 95 Charles Street in 1872 – just seven years after the hook and ladder company was organized. According to The New York Times, Ginger was a “fireman’s dog” who “took an almost human interest in the affairs of the company.” He would always promptly respond to fire alarms, and his short, sharp barks would mingle with the truck’s loud gong as he ran in front of the horses.

All the children in the neighborhood loved him, especially the little schoolgirls, who would often stop at the firehouse on their way to and from school to play with the friendly dog they called Ginger.

On November 16, 1888, Ginger met his demise while taking his daily walk on Bleecker Street. The old dog was reportedly injured when he was hit by a truck; a police officer used his revolver to put Ginger out of his misery. Ginger was buried in the yard of the firehouse following a visitation for the school children.

A Brief History of Hook and Ladder Company No. 5
The Metropolitan Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 was organized on September 25, 1865. It was one of the twelve hook and ladder companies organized that year under a state act titled “An Act to Create a Metropolitan Fire District.” This bill, passed into law on March 30, 1865, abolished New York’s volunteer fire department and created the Metropolitan Fire District, a Board of Commissioners, and the Metropolitan Fire Department (MFD).

The new hook and ladder company had 12 members, including Foreman Charles O’Shay, an assistant-foreman, driver, and nine privates. The combined annual salary for all the company members was $8,550.

From Harper's Weekly, official formation of New York City's Metropolitan Fire Department.

In 1866, Harper’s Weekly featured this illustrated print celebrating the official formation of New York City’s Metropolitan Fire Department. Museum of the City of New York Collections

Prior to the transition from volunteer to paid service in 1865, New York City was served by 18 hook and ladder companies as follows:

Mutual No. 1, Chelsea No. 2, Eagle No. 4, Union No. 5, Mechanics No. 7, Empire No. 8, Washington No. 9, C.V. Anderson No. 10, Harry Howard No. 11, Friendship No. 12, Columbian No. 14, Baxter No. 15, Liberty No. 16, Hibernia No. 18, Phoenix No. 3, Lafayette No. 6, Marion No. 13, John Decker No. 17.

During the transition, Columbian Hook and Ladder No. 14, which was housed at 96 Charles St., was replaced by Hook and Ladder Company No. 5. Hook and Ladder 5 occupied the Charles St. firehouse until November 25, 1975, when the company moved into its present quarters at 227 Sixth Avenue.

Columbian No. 14 — “Wide Awake”
This volunteer company was organized May 11, 1854, with Robert S. Dixon as foreman, Kinloch S. Derickson as assistant, Robert Wright as secretary, William Hutchings as treasurer, and ten other members. They worked out of a temporary location on Greenwich Street near Amos Street, which they erected at their own expense in May 1854. In January 1857 the company moved into their new Italianate-style firehouse on Charles Street and took possession of a new truck finished by Pine & Hartshorn of New York City.

April 21, 1860, Scientific American “Fire escape Hook and Ladder Truck.”

On April 21, 1860, Scientific American featured this illustration titled “Fire escape Hook and Ladder Truck.” This apparatus is probably very similar to the truck acquired by the Columbian No. 14 volunteer fire company in 1857.

The new firehouse was among the best in the city, and featured a grand meeting room and parlor, a well-appointed bunk room and truck room, and a large library. There was also a beautiful little garden attached to the house, where on summer evenings the members would gather to while away the quiet hours. One must wonder if it was in this peaceful garden that Ginger the fire dog of Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 was laid to rest.

96 Charles Street firehouse

Built in 1854 as a carriage house, 96 Charles Street was purchased by the city in 1855 and converted to a firehouse for Columbian No. 14. Hook and Ladder Company No. 5 occupied the firehouse from 1865 to 1975. Today the building houses a contemporary art gallery and two large residential duplexes.










In Memoriam

The following members from Ladder 5 and Battalion 2 made the supreme sacrifice on September 11th, 2001:

Lt. Mike Warchola
Lt. Vincent Giamonna
Lou Arena
Andy Brunn
Greg Saucedo
Paul Keating
Tommy Hannafin
John Santore

BC. William McGovern
BC. Richard Prunty
FF. Fautino Apostol, Jr.

Ladder 5 Battalion 2 memorial

Pictured here are the 11 men of Ladder 5 and Batralion 2 who lost their lives at the World Trade Center on 9/11.

If you enjoyed this story, click here to read a true tale about another Ginger — the fire cat of the Lower East Side.

Olaf, the Viking Cat

An old maritime superstition was that if a mascot was lost at sea, a member of the crew would be lost shortly thereafter. Even worse, a lost mascot on a maiden voyage spelled constant disaster for the ship in the future. That is why when Olaf the cat fell overboard on the Sud Americano’s maiden voyage from Kiel, Germany, to Brooklyn, the captain and crew did not hesitate to attempt a daring rescue.

Olaf was described in The New York Times as a “blond Viking” who attached himself to the sailors of the South American liner, Sud Americano. The twin-screw steamer was built in Kiel, and was scheduled to go into service as an express passenger and freight liner out of Brooklyn to Rio de Jeneiro, Montevideo and Buenas Aires. Sud Americano and its sister ship, Sud Expresso, were operated by Garcia & Diaz, of Pier 44 in Red Hook, Brooklyn.

Redhook, Brooklyn, Piers

The Dutch established the village of Red Hook (Roode Hoek) in 1636, making it one of the earliest areas in Brooklyn to be settled. The area was named for its red clay soil and the hook shape of its peninsular corner that projects into the East River. By the 1850s, Red Hook was one of the busiest ports in the country.

On the morning of July 2, 1929, Olaf fell overboard while sunning himself amidships. According to the August 1929 issue of The Lookout, which was published by Seaman’s Church Institute of New York, the watchman cried out, “Cat overboard!” and Captain Boettger ordered an immediate rescue. The chief officer and six seamen manned a lifeboat in record time and pulled at the oars hard, turning the boat toward the small dark object bobbing up and down in the waves.

In spite of the heavy seas, Olaf swam courageously until his rescue. Upon returning the waterlogged Olaf to the ship, two “hefty Norwegian sailors,” under the direction of the second mate, T. Anderson, started pumping air into his lungs and salt water out, following instructions for humans in the ship’s first-aid manual. After resuscitating the cat, the sailors wrapped Olaf in a blanket and brought him to the engine room to dry out.

International Lifeboat Race New York

The annual International Lifeboat Race in New York featured 8-men crews in lifeboats that weighed about 5,500 pounds or more.

Several days after the rescue, the Sud Americano steamed up to Pier 44 at the foot of Conover Street, with Olaf reportedly standing in the bow, head and tail up, purring. Following a few days in Brooklyn, Olaf and his crew sailed off on July 12 for Rio de Janeiro, Montevideo, and Buenos Aires with Captain Anders Nielsen at the helm.

Pier 44 Red Hook Brooklyn

Today Pier 44 features a waterfront garden and Waterfront Museum. For more information, click here to take a tour of the Red Hook Pier 44 Waterfront Garden with the Flatbush Gardener.

Rescue Prepares Crew for Lifeboat Race

Two months after Olaf’s rescue, the crew of the Sud Americano took part in the third annual international lifeboat race on the Hudson River. The race was sponsored by the Neptune Association, an organization of shipmasters and dock officers who recognized the need for better lifeboat skills for rescue and emergency work at sea.

On September 2, 1929, crowds of people lined up from 86th Street to 126th Street to watch the crews from various passenger ships compete in the two-mile race. As reported in The New York Times, the Garcia and Diaz lifeboat crew from the new motor freighter Sud Americano pulled to victory against seven competitors, with a winning time of 17 minutes and 11 seconds.

Sud Americano twin-screw motorship

The Sud Americano was a 7,000 gross ton twin-screw motorship built by the Deutsche Werke, Kiel, in 1928, for the Norwegian A/S Linea Sud Americano.

On September 6, William H. Todd of the Todd Shipyards Corporation presented the Todd lifeboat racing trophy to the crew at a luncheon aboard the ship at Pier 44. Captain C.A. McAllister, president of the American Bureau of Shipping and referee, inferred that the crew may have won because they were all under the age of 30 and “they were Norsemen whose ancestors were rowing boats while some of ours were shooting bows and arrows.”

Perhaps the crew of the Sud Americano won because they had recent lifeboat practice with Olaf the cat?

The Sud Americano Meets German Sub U-558 in 1941

Shortly after the Sud Americano went into service, she and her sister ship were returned to their builders in Kiel for failure to reach the contracted speed. The ship was renamed Schleswig and some time later, was under charter to the Blue Star Line of London as Yakima Star. In 1934 she was re-engined and lengthened; her two funnels were replaced by a single one, and she renamed Weser for Norddeutscher Lloyd, Bremen.

In October 1940 she was captured while attempting to run the British blockade by HMCS Prince Robert. The Weser was taken over by the Ministry of War Transport, handed over to Merchant Marine Ltd, Ottawa, and renamed Vancouver Island . This was to be her last name.

On October 15, 1941, Vancouver Island was torpedoed by German submarine U-588 under the command of Günther Krech. The ship sank in the North Atlantic west of Ireland. On 31 October, a lifeboat with the bodies of two officers from the ship was found by a British warship. Master Eric Lacey Roper, 64 crew members, eight gunners, and 32 passengers were lost. There was no mention of a mascot.

Günther Krech

Kapitänleutnant Günther Krech sank or destroyed 19 ships during World War II, mostly in the Atlantic and in Caribbean waters. U-588 was sunk by US aircraft on 20 July, 1943, in the Bay of Biscay. Krech was one of only five men to survive the sinking, but he spent several years in Allied captivity.