A warm September Sunday morning found us searching for the tugboat graveyard that I’d read about on several abandoned building sites. In New Jersey for a short weekend visit, my husband obligingly helped me search the outer part of Staten Island for the graveyard at Arthur Kill. We found Witte Marine, the salvage company that bought the boats back in the sixties, but that Sunday there was no way to gain admittance .The property is presently known as Don John Iron and Scrap Metal .
Farther down the road, we spied a boat skeleton out in the distance.Finding a spot to park, we crossed the road to find a worn and weed covered stone staircase.At the top of the five steps stood a small family cemetery that dated back to the 1700’s, and beyond that- a sea of reeds.
The sun’s heat intensified the stench , and using the reeds as a solid surface enabled us to cross the slimy goop that was mudlike in texture but suggested something more sinister and chemical.It sucked at your shoes and I have to believe anything that succumbed is still buried beneath. Part way to the water, you could see the carcasses of several tugs.My husband found a stopping point and waited loyally while being devoured by insects.
I ventured forward, taking big high steps to flatten reeds while sliding and juggling two cameras. The remains of the tugs were identifiable but without waders and a crowbar, I wasn’t able to get much closer.
Changing strategies , I veered to the left towards a wooden hulk . As I looked for planks to aid my mud-crossing, two other adventurers appeared and we headed there together. They were more limber and scurried up the side of the boat. I worried that my husband would need a transfusion due to mosquito bites and might not come after me if I fell through the deck.
Eerie and beautiful in the same moment,although difficult to capture the atmosphere , these photos document our visit. I am not sure how many more ships can be seen by kayaking in the Arthur Kill or by gaining entrance into the salvage yard.The numbers I have read indicate at least several hundred recorded.The challenge of the graveyard partially met, I am anxious to return in cooler weather with more appropriate gear.
From preliminary research, I learned that one of the tugs still visible was the Abram S. Hewitt, a fireboat built in 1903. It had played a role in the rescue attempts as the command center at the burning of the General Slocum in 1904. On June 15,1904, over 1,000 women and children perished in the fire on their way to a day’s picnic outing on Long Island. It was the largest loss of lives in New York until September 11.
Also found in the graveyard is the New Bedford which served as a troop transport during the Battle of Normandy. The other ships have their stories also. Buried in the mud lies the history of New York and beyond.
It turns out that the boats cannot be moved or salvaged because populations of sea life took up residence in the remains and now they are a protected environment by law.
The tiny graveyard sits between the polluted waters and a busy road.It is the resting place of early settlers of Staten Island and is known as The Blazing Star Cemetery. The community was named Blazing Star for a ferry service that ran from the pier at the Witte Salvage Yard across the bay to New Jersey in the early 1800’s. The surviving headstones , beautifully carved and delicate, date from before the Revolutionary War, but that’s for another story.
oboylephoto.com/boatyard/index2.htm ( incredible black and white photos of the area from 2004)
http://www.the freelibrary.com – wrecks of NY Harbor