By David W. Dunlap July 14, 2010 6:16 pm July 14, 2010 6:16 pm
In the middle of tomorrow, a great ribbed ghost has emerged from a distant yesterday.
On Tuesday morning, workers excavating the site of the underground vehicle security center for the future World Trade Center hit a row of sturdy, upright wood timbers, regularly spaced, sticking out of a briny gray muck flecked with oyster shells.
Obviously, these were more than just remnants of the wooden cribbing used in the late 18th and early 19th centuries to extend the shoreline of Manhattan Island ever farther into the Hudson River. (Lower Manhattan real estate was a precious commodity even then.)
“They were so perfectly contoured that they were clearly part of a ship,” said A. Michael Pappalardo, an archaeologist with the firm AKRF, which is working for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to document historical material uncovered during construction.
By Wednesday, the outlines made it plain: a 30-foot length of a wood-hulled vessel had been discovered about 20 to 30 feet below street level on the World Trade Center site, the first such large-scale archaeological find along the Manhattan waterfront since 1982, when an 18th-century cargo ship came to light at 175 Water Street.
The area under excavation, between Liberty and Cedar Streets, had not been dug out for the original trade center. The vessel, presumably dating from the mid- to late 1700s, was evidently undisturbed more than 200 years.
News of the find spread quickly. Archaeologists and officials hurried to the site, not only because of the magnitude of the discovery but because construction work could not be interrupted and because the timber, no longer safe in its cocoon of ooze, began deteriorating as soon as it was exposed to air.
As other archaeologists scrambled with tape measures over what appeared to be the floor planks of the ship’s lowermost deck, Mr. Mackey said, “We’re trying to record it as quickly as possible and do the analysis later.” All around the skeletal hull, excavation for the security center proceeded, changing the muddy terrain every few minutes.
Romantics may conjure the picture of an elegant schooner passing in sight of the spire of Trinity Church. Professional archaeologists are much more reserved.
They were even careful not to say for certain whether they were looking at the prow or the stern of the vessel, though the fanlike array of beams seemed to suggest that the aft (rear) portion of the ship was exposed. Mr. Pappalardo said the whole vessel may have been two or three times longer than the portion found.
Perhaps the most puzzling and intriguing find was a semicircular metal collar, several feet across, apparently supported on a brick base, built into the hull. Perhaps it was some sort of an oven or steam contraption.
About the farthest Mr. Mackey and Mr. Pappalardo would go in conjecture was to say that the sawed-off beams seemed to indicate that the hull had deliberately been truncated, most likely to be used as landfill material.
A 1797 map shows that the excavation site is close to where Lindsey’s Wharf and Lake’s Wharf once projected into the Hudson. So, no matter how many mysteries now surround the vessel, it may turn out that the ghost even has a name.
Readers who know a thing or two about boat-building or maritime history are encouraged to look through the slide show and offer their interpretations.
So the bathtub was clogged all along. Wow, I imagine they may have known that it was there when they filled this part of the Hudson river back when. Interesting find, but it doesn’t seem preserved enough for Johnny Depp to bounce around in it, too bad…
18th Century shoes did not have a left and right–they were made the same. Wear could form them to the owner’s feet, but the sole of the shoe will be a clue as to when the ship was used as landfill. An entertaining mystery.
the article didn’t mention what the beam or width of the vessel’s remains were. it seems to me too that the vessel would not have been shortened for landfill. intact hulls were usually filled with stone and then sunk in position. if one end of this boat were removed it would not have been able to float… just some thoughts. it wold be interesting to see a followup with a measured drawing and better pictures. was there no way to dig her out and save the hull?
In San Francisco, several vessels have been unearthed from the bay mud and fill, and I helped on two of those muddy excavations. In today’s find, the metal collar may have been part of a large cast iron pot for rendering whale blubber aboard a whaler, and would have been supported by a brick fireplace structure. It may have fallen from the main deck, perhaps in a fire that consumed the ship, down to the lower hold.
This hulk is just rotting debris… We already know how ships were constructed in the 1700’s and 1800’s… Oh yeah, the scholar types will ooh and ahh over it because it gives them something to publish – but in the real world it was trash then and it is trash now …
Perhaps its the remains of an alien spaceship which landed many moons ago with orders to seed a new race of Wall Street Executives… Time to get the History Channel on this. Perhaps we’ve found a clue to the real origins of the financial crisis
Wasn’t Adrian Block’s ship “Tyger” dug up during the original excavation of the WTC in the early 1970’s? “Tyger” burned at the then shoreline sometime in the early 1600’s before New Amsterdam came to be. I may have this story somewhat muddled.