New York City, NY Steamer OBSERVATION Explosion, Sep 1932




New York, Sept. 9. -- (UP) -- The river steamer OBSERVATION, loaded with more than 150 workmen, blew up in the East river off Manhattan Island today. Early this afternoon, 33 bodies had been identified and it was feared the death list would reach 60, which was the estimate of a Bronx priest who ministered to the dead and dying in Lincoln hospital.
The injured totalled more than 125. Lincoln hospital had 44 cases in bed, some of them dying, and treated 75 others for less serious injuries.
A fleet of boats and seaplanes assembled at the scene of the disaster to hunt for bodies. Police and fireboats formed a cordon while rescuers grappled for dead.
District Attorney Charles B. McLaughlin, of the Bronx, said:
"Commissioner Mulrooney and I are investigating the disaster thoroughly and expect to solve the cause of the explosion."
Besides the injured in Lincoln hospital, near the scene, others were at Fordham and Harlem hospitals.
Harrowing scenes occurred at the 135th street ferry terminal when the bodies were recovered from the river and laid out in rows for identification. Weeping wives and mothers, who had seen their men depart a few hours earlier, glad to have a day's work on a prison construction job on Riker's Island, hastened to the pier to look for their dead.
Several collapsed as they identified bodies. As each was identified, a tag was wired to the wrist. Some of the bodies were mutilated almost beyond identification.
The terrific explosion which literally ripped the steamer to bits, occurred just as the boat was leaving the pier, to carry the laborers to their jobs on Riker's Island, a city penal colony. It was almost at the same spot where the steamer General Slocum caught fire in 1904, with a loss of 1,021 or more lives.
Witnesses said the boat seemed to be lifted out of the water by the explosion. The decks shot up in the air and bodies of living and dead were strewn over the river.
Police fire boats, ferries, coast guard vessels and smaller craft quickly gathered to aid in the rescue work. The first arrivals picked up many injured men. Later grappling hooks were used to seek bodies on the bottom of the river.
The East river is actually a tidal inlet coming is from Long Island sound at Hell Gate and joining the Hudson at the lower end of Manhattan Island. It has treacherous currents and rocks.
The wreck of the Observation sank immediately after the explosion, and only the scattered survivors and bits of debris marked the spot.
The Observation was an old boat, built in Brooklyn in 1888 and had been used as an excursion steamer, operating between the Battery and the Rockaways on Long Island. Three years ago she was turned into a ferry to carry workers to the shipyards at Kearney, N.J.
She was sunk a year ago, but was raised and reconditioned. Officials of the P. J. Carlin Co. which is building the new penitentiary issued an estimate today of 37 bodies recovered.
F. L. COLLINS, second officer of the S. S. Freeman, who saw the explosion, told the United Press there was one terrific blast, like the roar of a BIg Bertha. He saw bodies hurtling in all directions, mingled with pieces of wreckage. He launched a life boat and picked up four men, alive, but with broken bones. He saw other bodies being carried downstream by the tide down toward the sea.
The cause of the explosion was not immediately determined. City officials, including Police Commissioner Edward P. Mulrooney, began a thorough investigation, rounding up all witnesses and survivors for questioning.
It may be some time before the exact number of casualties is determined, and some bodies my not be recovered at all. At Lincoln hospital, it was reported nearly 100 persons were treated for injuries.

New York, Sept. 9 -- (UP) -- GEORGE UHRAN, the Bronx, who works in a lunch wagon near the 135th street terminal, heard the explosion of the OBSERVATION today.
"I looked out -- I saw things flying through the air," he said. "When they hit the water I saw they were men."
"Some of them were yelling. Some just floated. Some sank."
"I ran down to the dock and jumped into a boat. I pulled four men out of the water and rowed back to the dock."
"Then I helped some fellows launch a lifeboat from the municipal ferry Greenwich Village."
"We pulled in four more. One of them was dead. He was all torn to pieces, but we carried him in anyhow."
TEDDY MOREAU had planned to take the OBSERVATION to Rikers' Island this morning, but missed the boat by about a minute.
"I heard the sound," he said later. "Then it looked like the whole deck just went up in the air. Men flew through the air and smacked down on the river. Some of them fell near the dock. I went to help pull them in. When I looked up again the boat was gone."
"The boat was torn in two and the center was a fiery ball," he said. "I saw debris and bodies flying through the air. In a minute the water was churning with survivors, fighting to keep to the surface and pieces of wreckage."
"One body flying through the air traveled 500 feet, turning over and over, and struck against the seventh floor window of the New York Edison building. It then dropped into the street. I saw another body somersault and land on the roof of the ferry house. Still another fell on the roof of the dock."

Dunkirk Evening Observer New York 1932-09-09

Transcriber's Note: The total death counts I could find varied greatly. Anywher from 68 to 72 fatalities. I, as of this time, have been unable to come up with a definitive number. The number of deaths at 72 seems to have the most merrit.
Some of the Dead from Queens NY.
ARTHUR DINGFELDT, Springfield Gardens.
JOHN McINTYRE, Springfield Gardens.
JOHN W. CHANDLER, Woodhaven.
JOSEPH G. COPE, Forest Hills.
CARLO BUCHIGINI, Jackson Heights.
FRED KROMM, Ridgewood.
ADAM F. GOERI, Flushing.


Observation explosion 1932

Is there a list of all those killed?
I am trying to find out if a James O’Flaherty was killed in this explosion.
And, if there is I would be interested to find out more about him

Great Grandfather

My husband's great grandfather (Robert J Cowan) was on this ferry heading to work that day. Unfortunately he lost his life that day too.

NYC Steamer Observation Explosion Sept 1932

My Grandfather was on this boat he was a supervisor his name is Octavius Niciu of Yonkers New York.