When Jersey City firefighters were jarred awake in the wee hours of a cool spring night to put out a blaze in a nearby building, they pretty much knew what to expect.
The call, which came in around 3:30 a.m. on May 4, 1949, was for a small fire that started on the first floor of a three-story tenement on Montgomery St. Considering the time, location and description, the smoke eaters figured it had to be the handiwork of an arsonist who’d been plaguing the area for over a year and always stuck to the same M.O.
Lurking in the dead of night, the phantom firebug would find a baby carriage stored under a stairwell in a building hallway, stuff it with newspapers soaked with a flammable liquid, light a match — and make a quick getaway before fire trucks came on the scene.
Luckily, he’d so far been more nuisance than menace. He struck at least four times in a working-class neighborhood about a mile west of downtown Jersey City, directly across the Hudson from lower Manhattan. But firefighters had responded quickly, and property damage was minimal.