The Hudson River Maritime Museum has an extensive collection of oral histories interview of Hudson River commercial fisherman, including fisherman Edward Hatzmann, who was interviewed on April 25, 1992. Below, Hatzmann recalls a story told to him by fellow fisherman Charlie Rohr, about a prison break from Sing Sing Prison in Ossining, New York.
Unlike some fishermen's tales, this one was really true! Fisherman Charlie Rohr really did have to deal with the prisoners. He was interviewed for the Yonkers, NY Herald Statesman in an article published April 14, 1941. The article is transcribed in full below:
"'We're Going To Bump You Off!' Killers Promise Charlie Rohr. But Shad Fisherman, Who Rowed Fugitives Across Hudson, Talks Them Out of It and Escapes Alive"
OSSINING - Charlie Rohr is alive today, but from now on he feels he's living on borrowed time. Rohr is the shad fisherman who rowed two desperate escaped convicts across the Hudson River and then talked himself out of being their third victim.
"It was pretty tough sitting there with two guys holding guns to you," Rohr reported, "but it didn't do any good to lose your head."
Rohr and another fisherman were getting their equipment together in their shack shortly before 3 A.M., preparatory to rowing out to their weirs. A series of shots broke the pre-dawn stillness but the men didn't pay much attention to it.
"I thought it was just a brawl," Rohr said.
The other fisherman went upstairs for a minute, and Rohr stepped to the door of the shack on Holden's Dock. Two men, white-shirted and in the gray trousers unmistakably of Sing Sing Prison, confronted him. Two guns were held against his stomach.
"Is this your boat?" one growled.
"Yes," said Rohr.
"Get going then," he was told. "And fast - we've just killed a cop."
Rohr wasn't having any. "You take the boat," he urged.
"You're rowing," he was told. "Get going."
The trip across the river took an hour - the longest hour of Charles Rohr's life. The thugs sat in the center and stern seats of the boat, and trained their guns upon him during the entire trip. Rohr worked the oars, and then men whispered back and forth.
The fisherman pulled up at a point near Rockland Lake on the west bank. The convicts prepared to leave the boat.
"Now," said one in an expressionless voice, "we're going to bump you off."
"Listen," said Charlie Rohr, his mind working faster than it ever had before, "that won't do you no good."
The men paused.
"I'm well known around here, see? Everyone knows my boat. And if you knock me off, and the boat's around here, everyone is going to know what happened and where you guys got away."
They were still listening, so Rohr kept on.
"What you'd better do is let me go back. Then no one's going to know anything about this."
Four eyes regarded him coldly. Then the pair whispered together for a minute.
Charlie Rohr held his breath, and then his heart leaped. The men jumped from the boat and ran into the woods on the shore of Rockland County. He rowed back across the river with shaking knees.
"Disheveled at battered, these two fugitives from Sing Sing prison are shown today after eight hours of freedom during which they left a train of four dead in a prison break. They are Joseph Riordan, left, and Charles McGale. They were captured in the Rockland County hills a mile from the Hudson, which they crossed in a rowboat." caption of photograph from Yonkers "Herald Statesman" front page, April 14, 1941.
Joseph Riordan and Charles McGale were caught in Rockland County and returned to prison. Charlie Rohr went back to fishing.
If you'd like to hear more stories from Edward Hatzmann, check out his full oral history interview, available on New York Heritage. For more fishermen's oral history interviews, check out our full collection.
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This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
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