In the spring of 1823, two males by the names of De Voe and Lozier (a retired butcher and a rich contractor, respectively) whiled away an idle day with an tour to their acquainted stomping grounds at New York City’s Centre Market. There, at a desk in the again of the market, they regaled an enthralled viewers of butchers, farmers, and fishmongers with an astounding story: Manhattan Island was sinking.
By the 1820s, burgeoning New York City had turn into America’s most populous metropolis with 150,000 inhabitants, and the mixed weight of all the extra folks and the buildings and different infrastructure essential to help them, the 2 males claimed, had made Manhattan too bottom-heavy, and the island was starting to sink into the harbor.
Not to fret, De Voe and Lozier averred to the credulous crowd — that they had been employed by New York mayor Stephen Allen to cope with the issue and had give you a masterful plan to stave off impending catastrophe: They have been to supervise an enormous, coordinated effort to noticed Manhattan in half, then tow the decrease half out in the harbor, flip it round, and reattach it. The most closely populated part of Manhattan would then be located in the center of a extra balanced island, and the hazard of its tipping and spilling into New York harbor can be ameliorated.
Maybe it sounded a bit unbelievable, however to an viewers of uneducated New Yorkers who had witnessed the continuing profitable improvement of the Erie Canal, no engineering feat appeared past the talents of devoted, hard-working males.
Such a mammoth endeavor would require an enormous funding in labor and materials, each of which the distributors and laborers discovered in the Centre Market have been solely too blissful to volunteer to offer. With New York ravaged by an financial melancholy and a yellow fever epidemic, work was onerous to seek out. The prospect of regular employment at good wages, even of a brief nature, was a godsend.
Over the following weeks, De Voe and Lozier signed up the a whole bunch of keen workmen, craftsmen, and suppliers required for his or her mission: the handbook laborers wanted to do the work of sawing the island in half (twenty males per noticed, offered they might display an acceptable means to carry their breath whereas sawing underwater), rowing it out previous Governor’s and Ellis Islands into the harbor (100 males per oar), pivoting it, bringing it again in, and re-attaching it; the carpenters and joiners wanted to style twenty 100-foot-long saws with three-foot tooth and two dozen 250-foot-long oars; the blacksmiths and ironworkers wanted to create twenty-four towering forged iron oarlocks in addition to enormous anchors with lengthy chains (to stop the island’s being swept out to sea by an sudden storm); the contractors wanted to assemble housing for all of the workmen; and the farmers and butchers wanted to produce a whole bunch and 1000’s head of cattle, pigs, and chickens to maintain everybody fed.
As the day for the graduation of the mission drew close to, De Voe and Lozier introduced their intention to have their military of laborers proceed to the work web site in two teams. Author Joel Rose imagined the scene that day:
The males started to reach early, as that they had been instructed. Some have been carrying instruments. Shovels, axes, picks. Some pushed wheelbarrows. Some got here with their wives and youngsters.
Contractors and carpenters drove up in wagons loaded with lumber and hammers and saws. Butchers drove herds of cattle and hogs, carts loaded with crated chickens.
At every web site they have been met by a fife-and-drum corps that had been engaged by Lozier to guide the military of employees in their triumphant trek north.
The ambiance was jovial and filled with hope.
Estimates have been that between 5 hundred and a thousand employees had proven up at every locale.
They stood round for a while to no avail.
Finally after a number of hours, a contingent was despatched again to Centre Market to see if both or each Lozier and De Voe may very well be situated or to be taught what had precipitated their delay.
At the market a message had been left. The message mentioned that the pair had needed to depart city, owing to issues of their well being.
For an hour the employees hung round questioning what to do, whereas the fife-and-drum bands continued on with their music.
The temper grew more and more indignant.
Gradually it dawned on an increasing number of of them that that they had been ‘handsomely sold.’
Several hundred males had been foolishly humbugged in one of the unbelievable, celebrated hoaxes in American historical past. Or had they?
Although quite a few accounts of this elaborate jape have been penned all through the years, all of them hint to a single supply: an account given over thirty years after the actual fact by John De Voe to his nephew Thomas, a member of the New York Historical Society. Thomas De Voe finally printed his uncle’s reminiscences in The Market Book, his historic account of public markets in a number of jap cities, and it’s from this one work that every one details about the nice “Manhattan Sawed in Half” hoax springs.
Single-source tales are sometimes problematic, and certainly issues abound with this explicit supply. John De Voe couldn’t recall essential particulars, such because the yr the prank occurred (it was both 1823 or 1824; he didn’t bear in mind which) or the primary identify utilized by his accomplice Lozier. And though he admitted that “Lozier” was a pseudonym, he couldn’t recall his accomplice’s actual identify, despite the fact that the 2 males have been supposedly associates.
More suspect, although, no one apart from John De Voe appears to have left any report in any respect of his participation in this gargantuan put-on, or of the put-on itself. No newspaper of the day made any point out of this mammoth endeavor, or its failure to return off. No printed journals, diaries, or letters by New Yorkers of the period embrace any reference to a plan that supposedly enlisted a whole bunch of native employees and supporters. No author discovered this story sufficiently attention-grabbing to chronicle whereas anybody concerned with (or fooled by) it was nonetheless alive. No arrests, prosecutions, or civil lawsuits adopted in the wake of this merciless exploitation of public gullibility.
Plenty of excuses are supplied for this suspicious lack of documentation — that De Voe and Lozier had dedicated no crime, that nobody concerned wished to embarrass himself by admitting he’d been taken in, that almost all of these duped have been immigrants circumspect about chatting with outsiders — however the improbability of a such an absurd prank’s very visibly ensnaring a number of hundred victims in the nation’s largest metropolis but remaining fully unremarked upon can’t be dismissed. The hoax right here isn’t that two males as soon as led a whole bunch of silly New Yorkers into falling for an extremely foolish scheme — the true hoax is that so many individuals since then have believed they did.
It’s attainable that De Voe did have a accomplice, and that they did as soon as briefly lead a number of naïve Centre Market denizens into falling for a tall story about sawing Manhattan in half to maintain it from sinking, however no credible proof exists to confirm that they pulled off something on the dimensions attributed to them by latter-day chroniclers. In the tip, although, as author Joel Rose concluded an account of his efforts to hint the origins of the hoax:
The hoax could by no means have occurred, and subsequently deserved no additional discover. But … it grew to become evident that the hoax’s authenticity now not mattered. The story was a part of the material of the town’s historical past, as a lot as Washington Irving’s Diedrich Knickerbocker, and Asbury’s personal gangs of New York, and in opposition to a context of nineteenth century ruse, hoax, and humbug, it was essential.
Or, as Margo Jefferson put it extra succinctly: “The public enjoyed both tales … People wanted to believe and know they’d be conned, as long as they didn’t know when or how.”