Plaque to commemorate 56 lives lost in intentional Hoboken fires unveiled at Olivieri Park


A plaque was unveiled at Tom Olivieri Park on Sunday to commemorate the 56 lives lost in intentional Hoboken fires in the lates 70s and early 80s.

By John Heinis/Hudson County View

Getting the names displayed in writing at a public space was an effort spearheaded by the Hoboken Fire Victims Memorial Project throughout the COVID-19 pandemic which finally culminated in a ceremony this weekend.

“Thank you all for gathering here this afternoon for this long awaited dedication of a marker for those who were lost in the arson and other intentional fires of the years in the late 70s and early 80s,” said Rev. Elaine Ellis Thomas of All Saints Episcopal Church, who served as the emcee for the roughly 30-minute program.

“Where 56 of our neighbors, most of them children all of them immigrants, died. This has been a labor of love for many of us.”

She continued that she became involved when she was doing research on the subject and read about Rose Orozco, a retired nurse who founded HFVMP.

Hoboken Mayor Ravi Bhalla acknowledged the fellow electeds in attendance before stating that the dark days of the city’s past should not be forgotten.

“One thing about this plaque which you’ll see, and I think that’s very important, is that it uses the word about the fires, uses the word that they were intentional – it was intentionally done. That’s important to note, this was no accident,” he stated.

“This was meant to place profits over people, which is not the Hoboken way. And what is the Hoboken way is we remember our past and we honor the victims. The victims were over 50 people: they were children, they were women, elderly and those were not the only victims, those were the fatal victims.”

Bhalla also recognized the other members of the HFVMP, which also includes Roman Brice, the former publisher of Hoboken Horse, Holly Metz, an author and historian, as well as 6th Ward Councilwoman Jen Giattino.

Two retired first responders who remembered the fires well: Thomas Molta, now the presidents of the Hoboken Volunteer Ambulance Corps board president, and John O’Brien, both of whom achieved the rank of captain within the local fire department, spoke as well.

“Thank you to the committee, and everyone involved for making this happen. I know there’s some relatives of the victims here: my heart bleeds for every one of you,” he said while putting his left hand on his heart and momentarily becoming choked up.

“I saw your relatives. I saw your families. Just know one thing, that we did the best we could.”

O’Brien noted that even though the Hoboken FD was prideful and experienced at that time, the fires were exceedingly difficult to contain and first responders took every loss personally.

“These losses were taken personally and you could sense the tension and frustration within the ranks of the fire department, as well as the investigative unit with our brothers in the police department. For those present who survived these fires, who were part of those times, there are very few people who can honest empathy, to share in your feelings of grief,” he explained.

“So few have experienced such a level of loss, and as such, you’ve walked through life mostly alone, trying to understand and try to make sense of why such things happened. There are no magic words I can say to ease that pain. But please know, that those of us who served in those dark days walk alongside you and share in your anguish.”

Orozco and Ellis Thomas unveiled the plaque, which is in English and Spanish, to applause before reading it to the dozens on hand.

“In memory of our Hoboken neighbors who died in the intentional fires of 1978-1983, the thousands who were displaced, and all who bear emotional and physical scars,” the plaque reads.

To conclude the ceremony, a firefighter bell was rung 56 times as the names of the victims were each read out loud.

Other dignitaries in attendance included Council President Emily Jabbour, 2nd Ward Councilwoman Tiffanie Fisher, 5th Ward Councilman Phil Cohen, Hudson County Commissioner Anthony Romano (D-5), and Hoboken GOP Chair Joe Branco.

The ceremony streamed live on our Facebook page and can be viewed here.

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    • It was Mayor Capiello. You may postulate why.

      The “city” was terrorized and wanted the fires to stop, including city employees of the Hoboken Fire Dept. and HPD. Asking why Capiello kept the FBI out of Hoboken is a fair question.

      • When Capiello died, there was less sympathy and more rage. The Hoboken Fires leave scars present to this day. No one honored any of the victims until some residents in Hoboken made it their mission. It was kept buried for many years.

        • No statute of limitations for murder or conspiracy to commit murder. The victims were never forgotten. 7 members of one family died. A plaque is not enough. Before all of the guilty drop dead, they need to be held accountable.

          Somebody out there knows something. The voices of murdered children haunt you; speak for them or you will be judged harshly in the next life. Unburden yourself. Come forward to the authorities and tell them what you know.

    • It was Mayor Steve Cappiello. He stopped the FBI from investigating. Nora Jacobson’s excellent documentary about Hoboken gentrification-by-fire, “Delivered Vacant,” was blackballed here for years.