New Yorkers, except maybe once on their prom night, have ever had the pleasure of riding the Staten Island Ferry. The ferry operates 24/7 between the Whitehall Terminal in lower Manhattan and the St. George terminal on Staten Island. The New York harbor crossing is about 5 miles long and takes about 25 minutes. The DOT oversees a fleet of nine vessels that provide a vital transportation link for approximately 60,000 commuters and tourists each weekday. Ferry service has been in place since the 1700s. The fare for the crossing, established in 1897, was five cents for many years. In 1972 it rose to ten cents, and reached fifty cents in 1990. Then, in 1997, the fare for pedestrians was eliminated, creating one of the best bargains to be found in New York City.
There have been mishaps over the years. (Data courtesy of the Staten Island Ferry website):
On July 30, 1871 at about 1:30 pm the ferry boat Westfield II experienced a catastrophic boiler explosion while in the slip at Whitehall. Several days after the disaster it was revealed that at least 85 people had lost their lives. Several more were added to the death toll weeks later.
June 14th, 1901 the ferryboat Northfield was leaving Whitehall when it was struck by a Jersey Central Ferry the Mauch Chaunk and sank immediately. Out of 995 passengers aboard the Northfield only 5 ended up missing. This accident was one of the major reasons that private operations of the ferries were ended and the City of New York took control.
In 1978, the American Legion crashed into the concrete seawall near the Statue of Liberty ferry port during a dense fog. 173 were injured.
On April 12th, 1995 The Ferry boat Barberi plowed into #4 slip in St. George due to a mechanical malfunction, injuring a handful of passengers. The doors on the saloon deck were crushed by the aprons. The accident would have been much worse if not for the heroic actions of the bridge man who remained on station and lowered the bridge to the right height to help stop the boat.
October 15, 2003 at about 5:30 pm the ferry boat Andrew J. Barberi slammed into a maintenance pier on Staten Island. The impact of the crash snapped the pilings at the seaward corner of the pier like toothpicks. 10 people died that day and an 11th person died two months later from injuries from the accident.
After the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center the Staten Island Ferry transported tens of thousands of people out of lower Manhattan to safety on Staten Island. The captains docked the ferries under zero visibility as the smoke and debris from the collapses filled the sky. The following days passengers were not allowed on the ferries. The fleet was being used to transport emergency personnel and equipment to and from lower Manhattan. In addition to the emergency personnel and equipment the ferries were also being used to transport military personnel and equipment to Governors Island and lower Manhattan. Included in this were U.S. Army tanks. Since that day the Staten Island Ferry no longer carries cars.
People watchers are in heaven riding the ferry. If it exists in the world, sooner or later you will see it on the boat. One of the greatest benefits of riding the ferry is the up-close and spectacular view it affords of the Statue of Liberty. On the Staten Island bound trip, the boat glides by Lady Liberty gleaming in the bright sunshine or bathed in light at night. Tourists armed with cameras can be seen rushing to the statue side of the boat and excitedly pointing out that beacon of freedom to their children in a hundred different languages. If ever we needed reminding that the Unites States is still the world's model for democracy and freedom, I challenge you to witness this spectacle and say it isn't so.
The Staten Island Ferry connects to another transportation system little known off the Island, the highly reliable Staten Island Rapid Transit train. The ferry has been a part of our lives since we moved here in 1971. Whether it was just decompressing on deck with a beer after work, or shepherding a gang of Cub Scouts to see the Lady of the Harbor, I never fail to get a lump in my throat each time we pass her by. May God bless America with the strength and resolve to uphold the ideals contained in the immortal words
of poet Emma Lazarus: "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!" Wow.
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