Whether this story of true or not, it does make a fabulous read. “Supposedly,” in 1824, a retired ship carpenter convinced the people of New York that the southern tip of Manhattan Island was getting too heavy because of the weight of construction in the area. He claimed the end of the southern end of the island, near the Battery, was doomed to break off and sink, taking everyone on it to a watery grave.
The rumor of the added weight on the southern part of Manhattan Island had begun several years earlier, but it was Lozier’s bravado that brought the fears to life. Claiming that Mayor Stephen Allen put him in charge of the project, one day, Lozier got up on the proverbial soap box and began issuing his warnings to any and all who would listen to him. Lozier claimed the only way to save that particular portion of the island was to “saw it off.” Then, they would tow that portion of the island out to sea, turn it around and reattach it.
Lozier promised jobs to hundreds of laborers, even offering to provide triple the wages to those willing to work under water. Blacksmiths and carpenters were put to work designing 100-foot saws and 250-foot oars. A mess hall for the laborers was planned and farm animals were scheduled to be delivered to feed the hundreds of workers who had signed up for the job. New Yorkers, who had stood witness to the development of the Erie Canal, could not imagine this idea a bit looney. With New York ravaged by an economic depression and a yellow fever epidemic, work was hard to find. The prospect of steady employment at good wages, even of a temporary nature, was a godsend to many who wanted to believe.
Hundreds of eager workmen, craftsmen, and workers were signed up. Twenty men per saw, who could hold their breath under water, were needed to complete the task of sawing the island in half. One hundred men per oar was required to row it out to sea, past Governor’s and Ellis Island, turn it around and bring it back into shore. The saw were to be 100 feet long, with 3-foot teeth for sawing. Two dozen oars, each 250 feet long would be required and 24 towering cast-iron oarlocks.
“Sawing-off of Manhattan Island,” tells us, “Surprisingly, the main concern was not the futility of the idea but of Long Island being in the way…. The story did not appear in any known newspapers (although the press supposedly did not report on such pranks in that era) and no records have been found to confirm the existence of the individuals involved. This has led to speculation that the incident never occurred and the original report of the hoax was itself a hoax, which is the conclusion Joel Rose suggests in his book, New York Sawed in Half: An Urban Historical (2001). The hoax was first documented in Thomas F. De Voe’s (1811-1892) volume The Market Book (1862), as conveyed by his uncle who was Lozier’s supposed associate, and was told again in Herbert Asbury’s work All Around The Town: Murder, Scandal, Riot and Mayhem in Old New York (1934, reissued as a Sequel to Gangs of New York). Another condensed retelling occurs in the 1960s Reader’s Digest book, Scoundrels and Scallywags: 51 Stories of the Most Fascinating Characters of Hoax and Fraud (1968).”
On the day the work on the project was to begin thousands of workers and onlookers arrived at Spring Street and Bowery. Even a marching band was included. Everyone was there, except Lozier, who was hiding out in Brooklyn, claiming to be “poor of health.” Speculation is that Lozier was never arrested because no one wanted to admit they had been so seriously duped by the man.
Asbury, Herbert (April 3, 1956). “Sawing Off Of Manhattan”. The Gazette. Montreal.
“The Day They Almost Sawed Off Manhattan”. History Buff.
De Voe, Thomas F. De Voe (1862). The Market Book (full text online ed.). pp. 462–64.
Rose, Joel (2001). New York Sawed in Half: An Urban Historical. Bloomsbury Publishing.