A monument has gone up near the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden to memorialize the Staten Island Steam Ferry Octopus Disaster—a mysterious maritime tragedy that took the lives of 400 poor souls aboard the Cornelius G. Kloff in 1963. You maybe asking yourself, "Why is this the first time I'm hearing this?" Well...
The monument for the attack on the Cornelius G. Kloff is part of multimedia art hoax conceived by local prop artist Joseph Reginella. On top of the authentic looking landmark, the Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster hoax now includes a a website for an honorary memorial museum, t-shirts, and printed pamphlets; the artist even crafted fake news columns to make them look like they were ripped out of news publications from the 60s and 70s. Brochures advertising the museum were put in circulation around lower Manhattan three weeks ago. Among the museum’s historical exhibits, the leaflets promise a octopus petting zoo and “Ferry Diastore.”
This bizarre undertaking was inspired by a conversation Reginella had with his 11-year-old nephew when they were riding the ferry. “You know the little kids love asking all these wacky questions,” Reginella tells The Creators Project. When his nephew asked him if a shark had ever attacked the ferry, Reginella looked at his nephew deadpan and said, “No, but you know, an octopus once pulled the ferry down once in the 60s.” His nephew was flabbergasted. “I just spun the yarn off the top of my head. And was like, you know what? This could be kind of fun,” says Reginella. So it seems the gullible mind of an 11-year-old boy instigated this elaborate art hoax six months in the making.
Thus, on a quiet morning in the fall of 1963, a Staten Island Steam Ferry fell victim to a giant octopus attack. Eye witness accounts describe giant tentacles bursting out of the water, pulling the vessel down into New York Harbor, as it was arriving to its destination at Whitehall Terminal. The wreck was overlooked by the public, given it was on the same day Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas.
The brochures for the Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum list a fake address by the water, across the street from the Snug Harbor Cultural Center & Botanical Garden. According to the NY Post, workers at the Center have been dealing with confused visitors wandering the grounds in search of the memorial. I tried calling one of the numbers listed on the museum’s brochure and I got the Maritime Industry Museum.
Whether its part of a greater social commentary or just to shake up the status quo, this isn’t the first time art has been exploited for a game of deception. In 1964, a journalist named Åke "Dacke" Axelsson impersonated a fictitious abstract painter of his own creation, Pierre Brassau. Axelsson displayed four paintings at a show in Sweden, where they were praised by critics and journalists. Little did they know, the paintings were actually made by a West African chimpanzee named Peter. In 1984, the Italian city of Livorno spent $35,000 dredging up a canal thought to hold lost sculptures by artist Amedeo Modigliani. Livorno officials were overjoyed to find three carved heads at the bottom of the canal worth an estimated $1.5 million, until three university students announced that they had crafted one of the heads. Later, a local dock worker claimed to have made the other two.
Check out a mini-documentary the artist made about the Octopus Disaster:
For more information about the Staten Island Ferry Octopus Disaster Memorial Museum, head over to its website.