The SS Carolina, was the means of migration for many Puerto Ricans, from 1906 to 1918. 1906 was the year the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company purchased the vessel and made Pier 35 in Red Hook's Atlantic Basin her homeport. June 2, 1918, was the tragic day that the ship was sunk by a German U-boat during World War I.
Decades later the The SS Carolina was still remembered in the Puerto Rican community and celebrated in song.
In addition to being the ship that brought Puerto Ricans to a new life in the States, it also carried them back home for visits, carried tourists and cargo.
The SS Carolina left San Juan, P. R., on May 29 at 5 p.m., headed to Brooklyn with 218 passengers, a crew of 117, and a cargo of sugar. By 6 they were under attack. By 8 the captain, in the lead of eight lifeboats tied in a line, saw the SS Carolina "with the ensign and signals flying," go down.
The German submarine had allowed the passengers and crew to flee to the lifeboats before torpedoing the Carolina. But eight passengers and five crew members were killed when one of the boats capsized. These, according to US Navy records, were the "first loss of life charged to enemy submarine activity off the American Atlantic coast."
The rest were rescued by the Schooner Eva B. Douglas. An account by the Daily Star of Greater New York says that the schooner arrived at Pier 35 Brooklyn, shortly before 6 am on June 5th, with 150 passengers and ninety-four crew members of the SS Carolina. "The schooner was in tow of a tug and trailing were two of the Carolina's lifeboats. Few of the survivors had saved even their clothes and most of them were wrapped in blankets."
For years afterwards, the survivors held annual commemorative reunions, giving the ship a heightened cultural significance. Years later, the band leader Rafael Cortijo with singer Ismael Rivera recorded "Carolina," celebrating the ship.