Authors Discuss ‘Cuba Today’ at LBI Library May 24

May 16, 2017
File Photo by: Jack Reynolds The book Inferno at Sea: Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle, written by Deborah Whitcraft, founder and president of the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven, and Gretchen Coyle, a museum docent, was published in 2012 by Down The Shore Publishing.

To do research for their book Inferno at Sea: Stories of Death and Survival Aboard the Morro Castle, authors Deborah Whitcraft and Gretchen Coyle took three trips to Cuba. What they found was a beautiful country in many spots and a love for the Cuban people who give with their hearts and souls even if they have so little. Whitcraft and Coyle will touch on those points and more when they discuss “Cuba Today” at the Long Beach Island branch of the Ocean County Library in Surf City on Wednesday, May 24, 10 a.m.

Christened in 1930, the Morro Castle was a luxury cruise ship that made runs between New York City and Havana, Cuba. In the early morning hours of Sept. 8, 1934, the cruise ship caught fire and burned, killing 137 passengers and crew members. The ship eventually ran aground off Asbury Park.

“There have been books and accounts about the shipwreck, but we also wanted to take a different approach and write about it not only from the American point of view, but from the Cuban perspective,” said Whitcraft, founder and curator of the New Jersey Maritime Museum, in Beach Haven. “That is why in doing research for our book, Gretchen and I spent some time in Cuba interviewing relatives of people who had been on the ship.”

Although American tourists are uncommon, Cuba’s tourism is booming with Europeans and Canadians, Coyle said. The authors noticed, however, that the standard of living has gone down for the average Cuban. Houses are falling to pieces, and people are going without basics such as food and electricity, as well as internet service.

“The communist government has concentrated on education and the arts, not on maintenance of any sort,” said Coyle. “The infrastructure has improved little since Fidel Castro and the Communists took over in 1959.”

Fidel Castro stepped down in 2011 and died last November. Today, his brother Raul Castro runs the country.

“When you get off the plane, you find out quickly that you are in a Third World, Communist country,” Coyle said. “This isn’t like going to the French Riviera. The architecture and the beaches are beautiful, but it is a country where so many people are poor, and we had a lot of empathy for them. There are so many thousands of people who want to get out, but can’t.”

The authors will have copies of their book for purchase.

To register for the presentation, call the branch at 609-494-2480. E.E.

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