The Sawing Off of Manhattan Island

Reply Tue 2 Sep, 2003 06:58 pm
From the book ALL AROUND THE TOWN by Herbert Asbury, copyrighted 1934, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.

One of the most axtraordinary hoaxes ever perpetrated in New York originated in the fertile imagination of a little dried up old man named Lozier, who had amassed a competence as a carpenter and contractor and had then retired to enjoy life. For almost two months during the summer of 1824 Lozier's fantastic activities, which he carried off with the enthusiastic assistance of John DeVoe, a retired butcher better known as Uncle John, kept a considerable portion of middle and lower class New York in a veritable frenzy of excitement.
In those early days a favorite loafing place was the old Centre Market at Grand, Baxter and Centre Streets. A dozen long benches lined the Grand Street side of the Market, and every afternoon from spring to winter they were filled with amateur statesmen, principly retired small businessmen, most of whom combined scant knowledge with excessive gullibility. Chief among them were Lozier and DeVoe. There Lozier revealed one day that he and New York's Mayor Allen had had a long conversation about Manhattan Island and had reached the conclusion that it was much too heavy on the Battery end, because of the many large buildings. The situation was rapidlybecoming dangerous. Already the island had begun to sag, as was plain from the fact that it was all downhill from City Hall, and there were numerous and alarming indications that it might break off and sink into the sea, with apalling losses of life and property. Lozier and the Mayor had decided therefore that the island must be sawed off at Kingsbridge, at the northern end and turned around, so that the Kingsbridge end would be where the Battery end had been for ages. The Battery end, of course, if it did not fall off in transit, would take the place of the Kingsbridge end. Once the turn had been made, the weaker end of the island would be anchored to the mainland, thus averting the danger of collapse.
It turned out that Lozier and the Mayor were not in complete agreement as to the best method of accomplishing the mighty task. The Mayor thought that before Manhattan could be turned around it would be necessary to detach Long Island from its moorings and tow it out of the way, returning it later to its proper place. Lozier finally convinced him however that there was ample space in the harbor and the bay.It was at lengthe decided therefore simply to saw Manhattan Island off, float it down past Governors and Ellis Islands, turn it around, and then float it back to its new position. Mayor Allen turned over the whole project to Lozier, instructing him to employ the necessary labor and to superintend the work.
The few who were inclined to scoff were soon silenced, if not actually convinced, by his earnestness and by the acclaim that had greeted the announcement of the project. And, as Lozier pointed out, the construction of the Erie Canal, which was nearing completion, had once been called impossible even by competent engineers, and much derision had greeted the prediction that steam ships would one day cross the ocean. If man could run a river through the very heart of a mountain, and if he could use a simple steam engine to propel a gigantic boat, why couldn't he saw off an island? Nobody knew the answer and Lozier's story was swallowed, hook, line, and sinker.
A few fays after he had started the ball rolling Lozier appeared at Centre Market with a huge ledger, in which he proposed to record the names of all applicants...Big ledgers soon bore the names of three hundred men...
Lozier further arroused cxonfidence in his scheme by notifying various butchers to begin assembling the enormous herds of cattle, droves of hogs, and flocks of chickens which would be necessary to feed his army of workmen....
With his food supply assured, Lozier engaged a score of small contractors and carpenters to furnish lumber and to superintend, under his direction, the building of the great barracks which were to house the workmen during the sawing operations. A seperate building was ordered for the convenience of the twenty or thirty women who had been employed to cook and wash...He told the building contractors to wait, assuring them that by using a new method of building that he had devised they could easily erect the necessary buildings within a few hours.
The excitement was now at a fever heat, and Lozier added fuel to the flame by producing elaborate plans for the various appliances which were to be used in the project. First, there were the great saws with which Manhattan Island was to be cut loose from the mainland. Each was to be one hundred feet long, with teeth three feet high. Fifty men would be required to manipulate one of these giant tools, and Lozier estimated that he would need at least a score. Then there were twenty-four huge oars, each two hundred and fifty feet long; and twenty-four great cast iron oar locks, twelve on the Hudson River shore and twelve on the East River. A hundred men would bend their backs at each oar. Great chains and anchors would keep the island from being swept out to sea in the event that a storm arose.
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Type: Discussion • Score: 2 • Views: 4,144 • Replies: 6
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Reply Tue 2 Sep, 2003 07:23 pm
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Joe Nation
Reply Tue 2 Sep, 2003 07:31 pm
I love this story. I read it about twenty five years ago and have used it as an example of how a big idea can capture the imagination, if not the intellect, of the people.

Type on, type on!!
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Reply Wed 3 Sep, 2003 04:58 am

Lozier kept delaying the commencement of actual work by professing dissatisfaction with the estimates on the oars and oar locks and by insisting that he had not hired nearly enough men to do the job properly. At last, however, the "numbers became so thick and pressing," as DeVoe later wrote, that Lozier was compelled to fix a date. He instructed all who were to have a hand in the great work to rport at the Bowery and Spring Street, where they would be met by a fife and drum corps which he had engaged to lead the march to Kingbridge. Laborers were there by the score, many accompanied by their wives and children; the contractors and carpenters drove up in style, escorting wagons laden with lumber and tools; the butchers were on hand with cattle and hogs, and carts of crated chickens. Practically everyone who had ever heard of the project was there, in fact, excepting Lozier and DeVoe. When several hours had elapsed and they had still failed to appear, a volunteer delegation went to Centre Market in search of them. They found a message that the two had left town on account of their health.
The crowd at Bowery and Spring Street milled about uncertainly for another hour or two. At last, for the first time in weeks, if not in years,, some of the more intelligent of Lozier's victims began to think, and the more they thought, the less likely it appeared that Manhattan Island would ever be sawed off. Gradually this conviction spread, and after a while the crowd began shamefacedly to disperse. A few of the more hotheaded went looking for Lozier, vowing that if they couldn't saw off Manhattan they could at least saw Lozier off, but they never found him. Lozier and DeVoe had fled to Brooklyn as soon as Lozier had issued his final instructions, and had sought refuge in the home of a friend. There was much talk of having them arrested, but no one seemed willing to make a complaint to the authorities, and so admit that he had been duped. Lozier and DeVoe went scot-free. However, it was several months before they again appeared at Centre Market, and when they did Lozier found himself an oracle without a temple. The Centre Market statesmen had had enough.
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Reply Wed 3 Sep, 2003 05:09 am
A marvelous tale, thank you Edgar !
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Reply Wed 3 Sep, 2003 05:18 am
One of my favorites.
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Reply Wed 3 Sep, 2003 05:25 am
History Buff - The Day They Almost Sawed Off -
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