Uncovering the forgotten borough's forgotten history....
Friday, February 25, 2011
The Ferry Boat That Sunk
CROWDED FERRYBOAT SUNK IN COLLISION; Staten Island Boat Northfield Hit by the Mauch Chunk. TERRIBLE PANIC ON BOARD Fleet of Tugs Follows and Aids the Doomed Vessel. NO LOSS OF LIFE REPORTED It Is Thought, However, that Several Persons Must Have Been Drowned -- Some Passengers Injured, but None Dangerously -- Charges of Cowardice Against Men.
-NY Times Headline
One has to wonder why the Staten Island Ferry has so many crashes in its history.
The Northfield ferry was pulling out of the terminal at White Hall on June 14, 1901, as it did every other day to make a return trip to Staten Island's terminal in St. George. At this time the ferry was still apart of Staten Island Rapid Transit Railroad Company, owned and operated by the B & O railroad. The reason for this was that Staten Island had only become part of the 5 boroughs shortly before hand, and wouldn't give over ownership of the transportation line that ran through the island. The greater New York used the sinking of the Northfield Ferry in their advantage, and shortly there after the line became apart of the city of New York. The explosion of the Westfield ferry was far more tragic with the loss of life and the apparent lack of knowledge some of the crew had. Upon pulling out and starting its ride, it was struck by another ferry called The Mauch Chunk. It was a ferry used by New Jersey at the time, in the line that connected Hoboken to Manhattan. It was 6:00 in the evening when the Northfield started to pull out of her slip at Whitehall, she wasn't even fully into New York Harbor at the time of impact. The wheelsman on the Northfield blew out the whistle twice to try to warn the Mauch Chunk, as he also says he blew the whistle twice before even pulling out of the slip, common practice to warn others of your presence. The other ferry responded with its own whistle and tried to get out of the way or "hook the engine " as reports say. The front of the Northfield met with impact the side of the Chunk. Pretty much demolishing the Northfield, there ending the 38 year run as a ferry boat to Staten Island.
Its a little unclear what exactly happened, the Northfield felt he was on the proper course so he kept moving in to Staten Island, but this is not consistent with the Chunks drivers testimony. The police department insisted that no one was killed, but they where wrong, about 5 people where in fact killed on the Northfield. Some where not discovered until the ferry was inspected by divers the next day, one body washed up on shore in Greenville, NJ, across the New York Harbor a week after the fact. Even though the death toll amoung humans was mostly low, it was not however for the 12 teams of horses that was on board the ship at the time, they where all lost.
Damage control was put into effect as soon as the two boats struck, the cities big fire boat, The New Yorker, arrived on the scene almost immediately to help rescue the 800 people on board. As with most tragedies there is always a hero and in the case of this tragedy the hero was Manuel Fernandez. He was standing in pier 10 at the time and started pulling people out of the water. He pulled a women out of the water and handed her over to a rescue boat. He then grabbed a small child from a women aboard the Northfield and jumped on to the Unity the boat that was picking up survivors. After he safely delivered the baby he jumped back in to the East River to save another, older child. The captain of the boat stayed on the ferry and supervised the evacuation and did not leave the Northfield until water was lapping into the ferries wheelhouse. By this time the Northfield was laid out on the muddy floor of the river, sunken.
The next day when divers where sent down to inspect the damage and raise the boat, they realized that there was no way of saving the Northfield. A week later the ferry was sitting in Brooklyn in a dry dock. The damage was total. She was crushed and cut open and there was no way of fixing her.Her captain, Johnson, was arrested and so was the Chunk's captain the following day. They were arrested and brought in to give their own statements as to what had happened and the reason as to why they had collided to begin with. The state of New York wanted to take over the S.I.R.T so badly and i assume they were using this accident in their favor. The blame was placed on the fact that the Staten Island's ferry boats where not proper boats for what they where being used for. In 1899 it was said in a commitee meeting by Staten Island Chamber of Commerce that "Middleton, Westfield, and Northfield are in no manner, and by no means adequate for the service for which they are intended, being to small, poorly ventilated, and at times ill smelling. The sanitary arrangements on these boats are abdominal". The crash may have happened because the two boats had to cross paths because the Northfield had the slip closer to Jersey where as the Chunk had the one on the other side of the Northfield, making them have to cross ways. This conclusion was thought up by a random New York Times reader, that the New Jersey Transit should have used the first slip, and the S.I.R.T should use the second. It should have been clear after the Northfields sister ship, the Westfield had the same brush with the boat Howard Carolle, under the same circumstances. During the trial, it was frowned upon that the Mauch Chunk kept on its track pulling into Whitehall and did not try to assist the doomed Northfield. The captain dropped off his riders and turned right back around to NJ, making him out of immediate reach of NY. Both captains where suspended for 30 days. But they where a little more easy on Johnson because the Northfield was so old, that her hull was not divided into water tight doors, thus resulting in her sinking. it was said that "Northfield is a very old boat and should have been condemned a long time ago". Another issue was that the life jackets on the Northfield where hard to get to and passengers complained about this fact, as it caused hysteria. Also the lack of life vests, since there was only 318 on board at any given time, never the less it was still right by law.
And so that was the end of the sailing of the Northfield ferry.