The Giant Steamer Docks on Manhattan


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The giant steamer was making her way to one of the big docks of Manhattan near 14th Street on the Hudson River. Even the busy dock people stopped loading and unloading for a moment, even the busy men on the high-up office buildings looked out of their thousands of windows, even the men reading their newspapers on the ferries put them down to look at one of the world's fastest steamers as she made her first entrance into New York harbor. Her decks were filled with excited passengers ready to get off.

For quarantine and immigration officers had made their examinations and had left, and all was ready for landing. The hatches had been opened and the big cranes had been hoisting up the passengers' trunks and other freight in huge nets and putting them in big heaps on the decks. Mr. Andrews, the pilot, was at the wheel; the little tug boats, five of them, had ropes from different parts of the giant steamer and had slowly turned her huge bulk in the river until now her prow pointed straight into the steamer slip at the pier. Then something happened which no one could quite account for. Was it the pilot's fault? Was it the tide's fault? Was it because the steamer was bigger and heavier than any other that had ever been docked at the pier? Was it a mistaken order? No one could say. But this is what happened.

The tug boats had turned the steamer up stream beyond the pier where she was to dock for the tide was running out strong. The pilot had known since he left the Narrows that if he did not dock her quickly, he would have to wait until after low tide. The captain wanted to land. He had made a good time record on the steamer's first trip. "I think you can risk it, Mr. Andrews," he had said to the pilot. The pilot had thought so too. So he had signaled for the tugs, and by signals from the bridge he had directed the engineer down below just how to help the tugs to turn the monster boat. But after she was turned, the tide swept her down stream faster than he had calculated. Now she was going straight ahead into the berth, she was half-way into it while her other half, her stern, was still far out in the river. Four little tugs were pulling up stream as hard as ever they could to keep her stern from swinging down stream with the tide. They tooted and chugged, puffing out clouds of black smoke. "Horrid, dirty, little things!" said a young lady in a white suit from the upper deck of the steamer and she moved to the other side of the boat to get away from the smoke.

Then she saw why the little tugs were working so hard. The pilot and the captain saw it too. They signaled to the tugs to puff harder. The firemen on the small boats stoked, the tugs strained harder, the giant steamer moved slowly forward into the slip. But the tugs could not keep her stern from swinging away from her own concrete pier, touching the end of the neighboring wooden pier. Pull as they would, the great flank of the giant steamer slid against the pier. The big posts of the pier swayed inward, creaking and groaning. The tugs pulled harder still. But the giant steamer still pressed on the swaying piers. Too far! Splintered wood; grinding broken posts; crashing, crushing, crunching! The end of the pier gave way as the giant steamer finally slipped into her place down the berth.

The passengers gave little squeals and then forgot all about it as the gangways were lowered and they were told it was time to get off, some to meet friends, some to meet a new world. The crew rushed to the end of the boat to enjoy the sight. They grinned at the big hole left in the pier. Mr. Andrews shook his head. He had never done such a thing before and it humiliated him. The captain got off to look at the place where the steamer had scraped the dock. When he found that the injury was all to the dock, he didn't much care. "Even running her engines easy for her first trip, she's come near to making a record!" he said proudly. For a captain is as proud of his ship as a hen of her egg.

But the next day when the big ship was being painted for big ships have parts of themselves painted after every trip, other men came down to the end of the pier to look at the big hole made by the steamer. They were men in the city's Department of Docks, for the city owns all the piers. They walked out on the huge stones which form the filling of the pier and which were now exposed. "It will require new posts," said the engineer. "Get them around as soon as possible." And so began the mending of the pier.


Website: The History
Article Name: The Giant Steamer Docks on Manhattan
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Manhattan, now and long ago by Lucy Sprague Mitchell; New York, Macmillan, 1934
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