As the water levels of the oceans worldwide continue to rise, and natural disasters such as Hurricane Sandy pull scientific conjecture into a tangible reality for New Yorkers, it might feel as though the island of Manhattan is rapidly sinking into the harbor. This fear, as it turns out, is nothing new to it’s inhabitants.
During the spring of 1824 as legend would have it, a now infamous (possibly fictitious) local character, a former shipbuilder by the name of Lozier—apparently an early and outspoken proponent of global warming—took it upon himself to save the Island from meeting its fate at the bottom of the Hudson River. Due to the rapid and heavy industrial construction being developed near the Battery, Lozier claimed, the southern part of Manhattan was sinking.
The plan? Saw off the Island.
At Kingsbridge, where the northern tip of the island meets the Bronx, 300 men with specially designed saws would cut, and the Island would proceed to be towed by 150 thousand variously sized boats out past Governor’s Island, spun around and re-attached again, having been rotated 180 degrees. Thus stabilizing the heavier Battery, now in the north.
The plan became more detailed as hundreds of laborers and shipbuilders signed up to be a part of what would surely be the greatest feat of engineering in human history. Boats and special tools were commissioned while the date for construction loomed.
As the story goes, the hundreds of men that had signed up as well as many more curious spectators showed up that particular morning in at Kingsbridge, only to find a certain Lozier, mysteriously missing. Having skipped town the night before, our nefarious hero, goes down in history as the composer of one of the lesser known, but certainly one of the most bizarre public pranks of all time.
There’s a whole book written about this, New York Sawed in Half: An Urban Historical in which writer Joel Rose concludes that Lozier’s hoax was in itself a hoax. There were no contemporary newspaper accounts of the incident but it appeared later in Thomas F. De Voe‘s 1862 volume The Market Book and other books.
Nonetheless, the Bronx is no stranger to bizarre geographical changes. Marble Hill was once the northern tip of Manhattan, but the Army Corps of Engineers saw that it would be faster for ships to round the island if they didn’t have to go around. So in 1895, they simply sliced off the outcropping, rendering it an island, and later filled the old river making it part of the Bronx. It leads to some funny jurisdictional things–it’s still technically part of the borough of Manhattan but it has a Bronx zip code and area code. And then in 1939, the Bronx Borough President attempted to invade Manhattan.