It was a hoax to end all hoaxes, perpetrated by a man known only as Lozier.
Lozier was not a mobster or a gang member. And certainly, by all historical accounts, Lozier was not a con man. However, considering the havoc he caused in New York City in 1824, Lozier was certainly, by all definitions, a creep.
In 1824, the population of Manhattan Island was approximately 150,000 people. Center Market, an area at the intersection of Baxter, Grand, and Center Streets, was where the townspeople gathered daily to buy and sell goods, and to talk about anything and everything that had an impact on their lives. The loudest person to come to Center Market every day was a charismatic man named Lozier. Lozier had traveled the world and was considered to possess the greatest intellectual capacity. When Lozier spoke, the people listened. Lozier, a carpenter by trade, was friends with a man with the dubious name of Uncle John Devoe. That’s right, Uncle John.
In early 1824, for some unexplained reason, Lozier was absent from his bank in Center Market for several days. When he returned, the normally loquacious Lozier was suddenly and inexplicably speechless. He didn’t talk to anyone except Uncle John Devoe. The rest of the people, who gathered daily at Center Market, were curious as to why Lozier’s temper had changed so drastically.
Finally, Lozier broke down, telling the assembly that for the past few weeks he had been meeting with New York City Mayor Stephen Allen. The reason for those serious discussions was that Manhattan Island, as a result of the many large buildings in the center, was so heavy at the battery end that the southernmost point of the island was in danger of breaking off and falling into the water. .
Some doubted Lozier’s conclusions. So he took them to the middle of Center Street and asked them to search for themselves. It was obvious that the street was steeply sloping downhill, as Lozier pointed out to them, “because of all the weight of the buildings further south.”
The crowd was scared. “What can we do?” they implored Lozier.
Lozier said not to worry. He and the mayor had come to the conclusion that the only way they could save the southern tip of Manhattan Island was to cut off the island at its northern tip, in the Kingsbridge region, and flip it over. He would then anchor the sunken end to the north of the mainland. So, in effect, North would be South and South would be North, avoiding terrible loss of life and property.
The only problem was that Mayor Allen thought that Long Island stood in the way of the proposed operation. Mayor Allen said there was no way Manhattan Island could go all the way around without crashing into Long Island. Mayor Allen said Long Island needed to be detached from its moorings, towed out of the way, and after Manhattan Island was properly turned around and rejoined to the mainland, Long Island could be returned to its proper place.
Lozier eventually convinced the mayor that there was enough room in the harbor to rotate Manhattan Island, without dislodging Long Island. Lozier said all they had to do was saw off Manhattan Island at Kingsbridge, tow it past Governors Island and Ellis Island, turn it around, and then tow it back to its new position and anchor it. After much consultation, the mayor reluctantly agreed to do it Lozier’s way.
Being the political animal that he was, Mayor Allen thought it best to keep the government (meaning him) completely out of the picture. The mayor thought this should be a private effort and appointed Lozier to handle the entire project, including hiring labor and supervising the work.
Not everyone in Manhattan bought the twisted notion that the southern tip of Manhattan Island was in danger. However, due to Lozier’s sterling reputation as a thinking men’s thinker, those who did believe quickly silenced or convinced Lozier’s skeptics.
To make matters more conclusive, Lozier came to his own defense. He cited the recent construction of the famous Erie Canal as proof that his project could be carried out. Lozier said that when the Erie Canal was proposed, even the best engineers thought running a river through the middle of a mountain was an impossible task. This dubious analogy convinced even the most ardent skeptics that not only could it be done, but that Lozier was, in fact, the man overseeing the operation.
For Lozier, his first task was to hire the hundreds of people needed for such a monumental project. Lozier appeared at the Central Market, with a large ledger, in which he tediously began the task of listing applicants, for all types of employment necessary to complete, and then circled the island of Manhattan. As attention turned elsewhere, Lozier entrusted his friend, Uncle John Devoe, to complete this task. Devoe personally wrote in the ledger the names, ages and place of residence of all those who applied, most of whom were newly arrived Irish peasants.
While Devoe compiled a list of workers, Lozier was busy meeting with butchers to round up herds of cattle, pigs and chickens, which were needed to feed the hundreds of workers on the proposed project. Lozier was especially concerned about having enough chickens, because he had promised that all the workers would have chicken for dinner twice a week. A poor butcher was so anxious to please Lozier that he took 50 fat pigs, which were ready for slaughter, and drove them north near Kingsbridge, where he fed them for a month; the food money comes out of his own pocket, not Lozier’s.
Getting his food supply system out of the way for the workers, Lozier turned his attention to building a barracks for the workers to sleep in at night, after they had finished working for the day. Lozier brought together carpenters and contractors in their twenties to provide the wood and expertise needed to build the barracks. Several of these contractors and carpenters hurriedly hauled a few dozen loads of lumber to the northern tip of the island and deposited them near Kingsbridge, so they would be there when they were needed. This was done at the expense of the carpenter and the contractor, of course. Not from Lozier.
Lozier said he also needed at least 20 saws, each 100 feet long, each requiring 50 men to handle. In addition, Lozier said that he needed 24 huge oars, each 250 feet long, and 24 cast-iron oars, on which the giant oars would be mounted. Lozier said it would take at least 100 men to tow Manhattan Island, having cut it off from the mainland. Lozier provided dozens of blacksmiths, carpenters, and mechanics, with plans to provide the oars and oar locks.
However, Lozier was not done with this nonsense. He said that he would need hundreds of men to cut down the island of Manhattan. Lozier promised that he would pay triple wages to those who saw underwater.
To see which men were most qualified for this dangerous task, Lozier lined up hundreds of men and, one at a time, used a stopwatch to time how long each man could hold his breath. As each man huffed and puffed, then held his breath until his face nearly exploded, Uncle John Devoe noted the breath-holding times in his ledger. Some men were so eager to please that they begged Lozier to let them try several more times, so they could improve his scores. Lozier happily agreed to his madness.
As the weeks passed, the natives of Manhattan grew impatient for the start of the play. Lozier kept putting them off, telling them that he did not have enough workers and that the necessary equipment had not been completed. Ultimately, Lozier had no choice but to set a date when hundreds of people would gather to begin his mission to saw off Manhattan Island, tow it down the East River, turn it around, and put it back together. Lozier ordered everyone who was going to be involved in the project to report to work at the corner of Bowery and Spring Street. Lozier even hired a drum and bugle corps to accompany the large contingent of people on their march up the state from Kingsbridge.
At the appointed time, a group estimated at between 500 and 1,000 people gathered at the corner of Bowery and Spring Street. Included in the crowd were the workers, accompanied by their wives and children, contractors, carpenters and butchers, with their cattle, pigs and chickens, all packed up and ready to go.
But alas, not Lozier. And no Uncle John Devoe.
As the wait for the two men continued, the crowd at the corner of Bowery and Spring Street grew impatient: cattle mooing, pigs grunting, chickens cackling, and small children beginning to shriek in dismay.
After the crowd waited for several hours, a group of men was sent to Center Market to search for Lozier and Uncle John Devoe. When the search party returned from Center Market empty-handed, the smarter people began to realize that they had all been ripped off, ripped off, and humiliated. Some were angry enough to arm themselves with bats and clubs, as they searched the streets of lower Manhattan for Lozier and Uncle John Devoe. However, the two men were nowhere to be found.
Months passed and there was still no Lozier and no Uncle John Devoe. It was rumored that when their deception was exposed, the two men had fled to a friend’s home in Brooklyn and were deep in hiding. Some of the people, who had spent their own time and money in vain, wanted the two fugitives to be caught, arrested and punished. However, most of those who had been duped argued against doing so, not wanting to admit that they had been foolish enough to go along with the harebrained plan Lozier had led them to believe.
This is where the end of the story diverges into truth and possible fantasy.
In those days, it was not the job of newspapers to write about hoaxes. They wrote hard news, and the sawn off Manhattan Island didn’t fall into that category. Therefore, there is no record in the newspapers that this event ever took place. Over the years, word of mouth was the only way to perpetuate the history of sawmilling on Manhattan Island.
One version is that after several months on the run, Lozier and Uncle John Devoe finally returned to Center Market, where they were ostracized by their victims and forced to leave New York City. Lucky for them, no major bodily injury.
Another version is that all this deception never happened in the first place.
However, the latest version was basically accepted because the townspeople were so embarrassed by the load of crap Lozier had given them, and they accepted without question, feeling it was better to say that Lozier’s scam had never happened in the first place.
I believe in the previous version. You be the judge.