Atlantic City, NJ Surfside Hotel Fire, Nov 1963

Atlantic City, NJ  Surfside Hotel Lobby 1940s-1950s Atlantic City, NJ  Surfside Hotel Lobby 1940s-1950s


Atlantic City, N.J. (UPI) -- Police today hunted a convicted arsonist who was seen near the Surfside Hotel less than an hour after fire flashed through the building and killed 25 elderly persons.
Detective Capt. William Rickert, chief of the city's Arson Squad, said the suspect moved from his known address but still was believed to be in the city.
"I'm almost sure he's still in the city," said Rickert. "I'm hoping to have him in custody today."
The police official said the man, whose identity was withheld pending questioning, boarded a bus just 2 1/3 blocks from the Surfside Hotel about 40 minutes after the first alarm was sounded.
The bus driver recognized the man as a "known arsonist" and told Raymond Stark, superintendent of the Atlantic City Transit Lines. Stark, who also serves as Ventnor City Municipal Court judge, notified authorities here.
Rickert said the suspect previously had been convicted on an arson charge and also had been arrested for prowling. He said the man had been living with his mother.
Meanwhile, an inquest has been ordered into the Monday morning fire, but spiritual needs have posed deeper problems for the victims' survivors.
Some 60 relatives of the dead, most of them elderly Jews, huddled Tuesday with three Orthodox rabbis -- Morris Fishman, Mosheh Shapiro and his son, Joshua Shapiro.
The relatives, "depressed and concerned" tearfully discussed with their spiritual leaders the problem of proper burials for the dead, none of whom so far has been identified.
Fishman gently suggested to the distraught group that the unidentified bodies be interred in a common grave and that a single tombstone be erected with each of the victim's names inscribed.
So far only seven bodies, and part of an eighth, have been recovered from the charred rubble of the Surfside Hotel, where the victims were incinerated. Pathological tests identified them according to sex -- two males and the rest females. Another woman died shortly after she was rushed to Atlantic City Hospital.
There was no formal call for an investigation by Rabbi Fishman but he told the relatives, "be concerned about the fire laws -- and take stock of the causes of fire."
His words, in a more official way, were echoed by Atlantic County Prosecutor Augustine A. Repetto.
Repetto said that the county grand jury would make an investigation of the fire. He said the probe would begin as soon as reports from fire and police departments could be compared.

Lebanon Daily News Pennsylvania 1963-11-20


In November 1963, a fire broke out in the Surfside Hotel convalescent home in Atlantic City, New Jersey, killing 25 people, mostly elderly Jews, including three Orthodox rabbis, Morris Fishman, Mosheh Shapiro and his son, Joshua Shapiro. The fire spread from the hotel to adjacent buildings, including five hotels and a rooming house, leading to walls and roofs collapsing. More than 200 firemen were sent to the scene. The owners of the hotel and a family of seven were reported to have jumped out of a window about 15 feet from the ground. Two people, Anne Shalit (63) and George Dzwonar (46) were admitted to hospital. The cause of the fire was unknown but police strongly suspected arson, given that a previously convicted arsonist was seen by a bus driver near the Surfside Hotel less than an hour after fire broke out.