What a Reporter from the Forverts Saw at the Morgue
Originally published in the Forverts, March 27, 1911
The sun shines down from a clear sky and a fresh warm breeze blows. But the entire area around 26th Street, where the morgue is located, is in grief and mourning.
The blocks around First Avenue through Second and Third Avenues are a turbulent sea of people, with waves pushing themselves toward First Avenue. and 26th Street. A long mourning procession flows over the sidewalk, beginning around 22nd Street and stretching to the corner of 26th Street, where it turns toward the morgue.
They are fathers, mothers, sisters, brothers and friends, seeking their loved ones among the corpses from Saturday’s fire.
Hour after hour passes. The line moves continuously forward, getting bigger and bigger at the back. It takes a long time to reach the morgue, but those who are in line are getting closer and don’t want to leave.
The ambulances are flying to and from the hospital; wagons carry bodies from the hospitals and the morgue, where they are identified by a friend, a father or a mother; men and women leave the morgue with grief-stricken faces, empty-handed. The crowd fills the air with a heavy cry of pain.
The line keeps winding. Those who were at the back move forward. They have already gone around the block before reaching the front of the line.
The morgue is already half-dark, and from a distance one can see coffins. A feeling of awe descends. The heart races. A terrible lament suddenly cuts through the air. A man in white, a policeman, and someone with a badge on his chest run to a pale-looking woman who is standing near a coffin. They lead or, more accurately, they pull her to the exit. It could be a mother, a bride, a sister, or a daughter, who had searched among the dead and recognized a dear one….
The coffins are close — a horror! The blood congeals when you look at the dead. Yesterday at this time they were full of life and hopes. Today, they are no more than a pile of bones, with open wounds and broken-off noses, and they are covered with blood. Other bodies are not broken and no drop of blood has spilled, but they look like charred pieces of wood taken out of the fire.
Here lies a girl, not older than 12. Her skull is cracked open and the left half of her face is a mass of congealed blood. The right half is clean, and it seems as though her young lips are smiling.
In another coffin lies a girl with burnt stumps instead of feet, but her shoes are whole. In another coffin is a stack of bones, wrapped in a half-burned corset. In another is a man with mangled hands, his mouth twisted in pain. The underside of his body and his feet are burnt to coals.