February 11, 2011.

New York Times November 19, 1906


A Little Blaze in Midocean Stirs Immigrants to a Frenzy.
No Danger, but 200 Women and Children Thought the Ship Doomed

Defective electric Light insulation caused a fire in No. 2 compartment of the women's steerage on the lower 'tween decks of the North German Lloyd liner Prinzess Irene in midocean on Thursday night last and created a panic among the excitable Italian immigrants who boarded the steamer at Naples.

Over 200 women and children occupied the compartment, which was reserved for unmarried women and children. Many of them were in their berths prostrated with seasickness when the flames burst out.

The Fire ran along the casing of the electric wires in the middle ot the compartment, and when they saw it all thoughts of seasickness were forgotten by the women and children. They made a desperate charge to get to the two narrow companionways which led up to the deck, and trampled and fought with each other in their mad panic to get away from the flames.

The excitement extended to the married women in the after steerage. Many of these had their sisters and children down in No. 2. They were with difficulty held back from dashing down the narrow stairway. The steerage stewards tried to calm the terrified women and children in No 2 compartment, but nothing could stop them. Calling on Heaven to protect them, they seized life preservers and rushed on deck screaming hysterically.

Fourth Officer Rosenout, who was on deck, heard the screaming and rush of feet. Running to the companionway he fought his way into the compartment and tore the blazing casings down with the electric wires attached. He then sounded the fire alarm.

The blaze was put out in a few minutes by the steamer‘s fire brigade, which turned out promptly.

Even after the fire was out and all danger over the excited women knelt on the wet deck of the steamer and prayed for help to escape from the ship. Which they firmly believed was doomed to destruction. When the single men at the after end of the ship heard the screams of the women they climbed on the side of the rail and demanded frantically what was the matter. One man who seemed to be in a frenzy and about to go mad caused a fresh burst of terror by shouting that the boilers had exploded.

Surgeon Captain Tabhrette de Fehr, the Royal Italian Immigration Commissioner aboard, went about among the excited people and rendered valuable aid to the officers in calming the excitement. It was some hours, however, before the immigrants could be persuaded to go below again.

The Prinzess Irene had close upon 2,000 Italian immigrants on her lower decks fore and aft the ship, and had the panic extended to all of them they might have gotten beyond all restraint. This was feared for a time, but the great majority were in ignorance of what had happened ln No. 2 compartment.

When the Prinzess Irene arrived at her pier in Hoboken yesterday morning First Officer A. Wittstein was in charge of the ship, as Capt. Danneman had been confined to his cabin with an attack of rheumatism ever since the steamer sailed from Gibraltar on Nov. 8. He said that the fire was very slight, and only burned away a strip of wooden casing and some rubber packing. Very few of the saloon passengers. he said. knew that there had been a fire at all.

The few that saw the panic among the women immigrants spoke in the highest terms of the coolness and presence of mind shown by the officers ot the Prinzess Irene. They also said it was a good plan to have an Italian commissioner on board, as his presence had a reassuring effect on the immigrants.