The Newtown Pentacle

Altissima quaeque flumina minimo sono labi

Archive for August 14th, 2012

diurnal prison

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– photo by Mitch Waxman

During the colonial era, there were small operators who exploited the route in two masted ships called Periaugers, but it wasn’t until 1817- when a farm boy from Staten Island started a motorized service- that the most popular tourist destination in New York City truly got started. The farm boy bought a steamboat called Nautilus with a loan from his mother, which was captained by his brother in law. Not many people would recognize the name of that Captain- John DeForest- but it’s easy to be overlooked in the historical record when your brother in law was named Cornelius Vanderbilt.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The consolidated City of New York took possession of the route from the Vanderbilts in 1905, as the family had moved into decidedly less maritime interests like railroads and real estate speculation. It’s run by the NYC DOT today, and is the most reliable of all the mass transit systems in the entire city with a 96% on time rate. The particular ferry boat in these shots is the Guy V Molinari, named for the long sitting and dynastic Borough President of Staten Island.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

An astounding set of statistics accompanies the huge orange boats which trawl back and forth between Staten and Manhattan Islands. The service crosses the archipelago some 35,000 times annually, carrying 60,000 people per day- which resolves to some 20 million riders per year. All free. The Ferry was the origin of the Vanderbilt empire, and when Cornelius Vanderbilt died in 1877- he was worth some 100 million dollars, which would be worth something like two billion today. He was born a pauper in 1794.

– photo by Mitch Waxman

The ferry terminals at both ends of the approximately 30 minute trip have recently been modernized and upgraded. Whitehall terminal in Manhattan allows connection to subway and bus lines, and on the Staten Island “St. George” side- you can catch the bus or Staten Island rail. Hundreds are employed directly by the operation, with a “long tail” of suppliers and contractors supplying various services and employing thousands more. The City recently issued an “RFP” or “Request For Proposal” for new and modernized ferry boats to augment the aging fleet.

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