The Brave Bogans of Brielle

The Bogan family of Brielle Bait and Tackle is one of those families who are loved, respected and appreciated over generations.

For Greg Bogan, who with his brother and sister owns Brielle Bait & Tackle located at 800 Ashley Avenue in Brielle, it is easy to trace heroism back to his great grandfather, his great Uncle James, and his grandfather, John Bogan Jr.

Everyone has read about them, and the others who worked on their party boat, the Paramount. They were the crew who rescued 67 persons from the burning Morro Castle, cruise passengers who had jumped into the ocean off Asbury Park 87 years ago as the ship burned and crew members of the Morro Castle commandeered most of the lifeboats for their own safety.

All of the Bogans, originally from the Greenville section of Jersey City, but seamen all their lives, started out in the business in their hometown, running a little business there off a barge, renting rowboats to locals who wanted to go out crabbing or fishing for the day.

They had their boat, the Paramount, docked at the Manasquan River Yacht Basin, now Bogan’s Basin. They had purchased the Paramount at a sheriff’s auction, and nobody’s sure today, there were rumors at the time it was one of the rum-running boats confiscated by authorities during Prohibition, a time when rum runners like Bill McCoy and others anchored offshore so local fishermen could sail out under the cover of darkness, bringing in illegal alcohol for sale to bootleggers throughout the New York-New Jersey area.

The family lived in Jersey City at the time of the Morro Castle blaze, and moved down to Ocean County sometime later, purchasing the marina and continuing their business waterside and ever connected to the sea.

The heroic crew of Bogans and the five other crew members on their boat who rescued those 68 people from the ocean that night and early morning, more than anyone else, including the US Coast Guard., is told in startling detail and with official written accounts from the Captains Bogan, by Gretchen Coyle and Deborah Whitcraft, in their magnificent book, Inferno at Sea.

The book includes the Bogan’s own explanation of everything that occurred after they notified the Coast Guard of the burning vessel and went out to do all they could to save survivors. The book also includes reports of some of the accolades and awards bestowed on the seamen for their heroic actions.

But the Bogans at the Bait and Tackle shop can bring the story up to date in their shop near the railroad trestle. With this faction retired from the boating business, they started a small one-room operation selling bait to daily fishermen. Over the years the business expanded into the four rooms of bait, tackle, and other fishing and boating accouterments for those who make their living on the water or go out for a day’s relaxation and haul of stripers and bass.

This generation has many of the newspaper articles awarded about their grandsires of 87 years ago; some of the crew of that heroic life-saving vessel continued to work for the Bogan family into the 1960s. Greg’s grandfather, John, Jr., the mate the day of the Morro Castle rescue, worked in the shop in the 1950s, and today, the last of that era, Greg’s uncle Howard Bogan, now in his 80s, still helps out occasionally.

Greg can also remember another time when Bogans came to the rescue. It was a while back when they heard of a small boat caught under the railroad trestle with fishermen struggling in the water. A Bogan ran from the shop, jumped in the water beneath the trestle, and saved the two boaters.

Whitcraft’s book chronicles another letter from J. Clydesdale Cushman who, in expressing thanks for the liner’s rescued passengers recalled another instant when Capt. John Bogan helped the crew of the Three Brothers, which was caught on the rocks in the Inlet. Capt. Bogan tossed a line to the vessel, and towed the boat to safety, rescuing another 35 passengers because he acted by backing his own vessel into the surf and haul out the stricken boat.

As proud as each of the Bogans of today is for their ancestors’ bravery, they are still filled with the pain and grief of remembering what their fathers and uncles went through. Greg remembers his grandfather talking about the day and the weeks that followed, telling him “the worst part was leaving people’s dead relatives in the water. They only had enough room on the boat for survivors, they could not pick up the deceased. My grandfather said it was very difficult telling people they had to let go of their deceased loved ones…”

The family still has lots of clippings, stories of how Jersey City honored their native sons at numerous meetings and dinners, and the accolades they received from rescued passengers, their families, and the government.

In 1980, when John Bogan III opened the tackle shop so popular today, he had retired from running party boats, and opened the business with his sons and daughter; another faction of the Bogan family runs the Marina. All the Bogans in today’s generation, continue to operate their businesses with the same fervor for the sea, dedication to duty, and professionalism that makes them a family to respect and remember.

I originally wrote this article for Jersey Shore Scene


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