Thursday, July 31, 2008

Anniversary of "The Vessel of Death" - Also, Jury to be seated in Oct. 15, 2003 Staten Island Ferry Case

On a warm summer day much like this one 137 years ago today, more than 200 people boarded the Staten Island ferryboat Westfield at South Ferry in Manhattan. Many of them walked through to the bow of the ship, to enjoy the scenery and try to catch a cool breeze on the way to Staten Island.

Underneath the spot where they stood, just as the ship was about to leave its slip, the ship's boiler suddenly exploded, blowing a hole through the ship's wooden frame. The horrific destruction and severity of the injuries that killed more than 125 passengers and wounded dozens more created a scene described by the New York Times as "one of the most ghastly in human annals."

As an interesting historical footnote, among the injured passengers was Antonio Meucci, credited as being the "real" inventor of the telephone. As the story goes, Meucci was severely burned in the Westfield explosion, and as he was recovering from his injuries, his wife sold his original telephone prototype, along with models of other inventions, for $6, to ease the couple's dire financial situation. He was never able to afford a patent, and Alexander Graham Bell was subsequently credited with the telephone's invention. The Westfield explosion on July 30, 1871, still stands as the worst disaster in Staten Island Ferry history. Meanwhile, in a more recent ferry tragedy, jury selection is set to begin next week for personal injury suits against the city stemming from the deadly Staten Island Ferry crash of Oct. 15, 2003, which killed 11 passengers and maimed others.

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