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Abandoned, Nautical

A Watery Grave for Historic Ships on Staten Island

Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Wooden Shipwreck at Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard.

Do you know how to get to Staten Island’s most remarkable graveyard?  First pass through a centuries-old roadside cemetery, (consisting of a handful of horribly eroded grave markers).  Follow a barely there garbage-strewn path down to the marshy Arthur Kill (kill is the Dutch word for creek, which explains why creepy names like “Fresh Kills” abound in the Dutch-settled Hudson River Valley.)  Once your feet are sinking a few inches into the mud with every step, you’ll start seeing the boats.  Some over a century old, steam vessels, warships, ferries, fireboats, the final vestiges of New York’s shipping era, doomed to die here in a catastrophically polluted Staten Island waterway.  Welcome to the Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard.

Arthur Kill Marsh by Night

Secluded path from the cemetery down to the Arthur Kill.

Operational since the 1930s, Witte’s Marine Equipment company in Rossville served to dredge, salvage, and resell materials from the wrecked and disused vessels of the New York and New Jersey waterways.  Eccentric owner John J. Witte refused to dismantle the majority of the ships that came to rest in the yard, amassing a prodigious collection of over 400 historic watercraft.  As the ships slowly decomposed and the area gained a reputation as a mecca for artists and photographers, Witte gained his own reputation as a ferocious defender of his property, known for scaring off unsolicited visitors personally until he passed away in 1980.  The yard is now controlled by the Donjon Marine Company, which seems to be taking a more proactive approach to actually salvaging materials from the wrecks and keeping the curious out, erecting 12-foot metal walls around the perimeter of the yard with signs prohibiting any and all photography.

The walls presented an obstacle, but after several muddy minutes I made it to the Arthur Kill Shore.  Though the shipyard had lost most of its former glory, the remaining 20-40 wrecks were still an eldritch sight to behold—half submerged in years of muck, leaning at odd angles, corroded in streaks of rust, putrefying elbow to elbow with massive skeleton hulls.  These wade out their final days in the boneyard before being stripped and recycled into automobiles and refrigerators.  So see them while you can, if you dare, what was once the city’s premiere collection of nautical artifacts is sinking fast.

Rotting Hulls in Arthur Kill

Rotting hulls jut from their shallow graves at the Arthur Kill Ship Graveyard.

Rusty Boats at Arthur Kill Boat Graveyard

Rusty Boats pile up on the shore.

Rusty Machinery in the Staten Island Boat Graveyard

Oxidized machinery adorns this decaying watercraft.

Staten Island Ship Graveyard

A salvaged wheelhouse moulders in the marsh.

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Discussion

16 thoughts on “A Watery Grave for Historic Ships on Staten Island

  1. Hey we where there when we saw u taking the pictures , we climbed all the way out to the furthest ship into the kills there was. But the last ship was to far out to get to becaus it was seperated by a capsized fuel ship . Its an amazing cemetary to go to if you’re careful

    Posted by Joe | 1-29-13., 3:24 pm
    • The Pilot house above is off the New York Central # 8 tugboat, My Father Beansy salvaged the tug back around 1976 in the Black Tom basin, He sold the Tug to River Terminal in Kearny, but removed the Pilot House before scrapping the Tug, The Pilot House was painted a Bright Light Green Color. We put the Pilot house on a floating pontoon and it sat around the Black Tom area for a few years before it was towed down to the Morris canal basin by the Greenstreet yacht club. The reason we removed the Pilot house was because it was clad in tongue and groove boards that ran up and down the outside. My First job as a kid was working for Dick and Ted Weeks back in the early 70s, They hired a painter to paint their crane booms when the wind shifted and the paint was blown onto all the employees cars on pier 7 on Johnson Ave in Jersey City, My brother Tom and I were hired by the Weeks brothers to simonize the paint off their employees cars. Boy Time flies.

      Posted by Bob | 3-8-14., 6:20 pm
      • After further investigation, I have determined that the above pilot house is not from the New York Central #8, We cut the staircase and roof ladder off when we removed the pilot house from the tug. It is painted in the Mint green color of the New York Central tugs, I think it is from one of the NYC tugs but am not sure which one. My Father Beansy always talked very highly of Old Man Witte and had the utmost respect for his son Arnold Witte. As for the stories of Old Man Witte ferociously chasing trespassers from the vessels, he had too, I remember back in the early 70s hiding in the weeds at Black Tom waiting for the motor boats of thieves that would hit the boats stealing the port holes and anything else they could get their greedy hands on. My Father would fire shots in the air to scare them away. They were relentless, they would bring torches and steal the boats lights and other nautical antiques from the vessels, we had 2 tugs the NYC #8 and the PRR Fort Wayne tied up along side each other. I can sympathize with Old Mans Wittes desperate crusade to protect his possessions from the Harbor pirates. Bob

        Posted by Bob | 3-9-14., 12:31 pm
      • Thanks for your insight Bob, this is fascinating stuff.

        Posted by Will Ellis | 3-9-14., 12:47 pm
  2. Did you need permission to go there and who did you go to?

    Posted by Ron Carver | 3-26-13., 7:53 am
  3. Location?

    Posted by Zoë Lkjsdhf | 5-5-13., 11:30 am
  4. Hi! First, I love your photos! And second, how did you get to the boats? I tried to get to the nearest boat to no avail. I am a tiny female with short legs. I was hoping to go back next week, do you think you could give me some tips? I would be really really grateful! Thank you!

    Posted by cyn | 8-11-13., 2:02 pm
    • I don’t know of an easy way, but make sure you plan your trip around low tide. Either way, there is mud involved. Be super careful if you’re walking inside the wrecks, there are loads of nails sticking out and other hazards.

      Posted by abandonednyc | 8-11-13., 2:45 pm
  5. is it legal to enter any of the ships. i realize they aren’t technically on the property, but does don jon own them?
    I want to take my boat there with a kayak and just take a ton of pictures. are the waters restricted? who has juristicion?

    Posted by jamie | 11-15-13., 6:28 pm
  6. I like to go but not sure where to park or where to enter the area….

    Posted by chips34billy | 12-8-13., 9:06 pm
    • I see on google maps there is a boat launch in Carteret and Woodbridge. Carteret looks the closest going in my canoe in a few weeks.

      Posted by swlau | 8-10-14., 7:02 pm
  7. been there many times as a kid — had a lifeboat like the one above, but in purrrfec condition — could take ALL my friends out at once!

    Posted by johnbessa | 12-13-13., 10:31 am

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Pingback: Secrets of New York from WHC’s Captain John Doswell « Working Harbor Committee - 7-6-12.

  2. Pingback: Where On Google Earth? - 5-10-13.

  3. Pingback: Cimetière de bateaux à New York - Staten Island Boat Graveyard - 2-13-14.

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