Artist’s Prank Memorializes The Giant-Octopus Attack On The Staten Island Ferry


Almost 53 years ago, New York Harbor bore witness to a truly terrible, tentacled tragedy:  The giant-octopus attack on the Cornelius G. Kolff, a Staten Island Ferry boat dragged to a ­watery grave with 400 souls aboard. 

Few recall the harbor horror because news coverage was eclipsed by the shocking assassination of John F. Kennedy in Dallas that very same day.

Also because it never actually happened, and the whole story was just a hoax conjured by artist Joe Reginella and eaten up by gullible tourists.

A Staten Island-based artist managed to pull the wool over the eyes of tourists who have been led to believe that a huge octopus dragged a vessel carrying 400 passengers to the bottom of New York's Upper Bay on Nov. 22, 1963.

The hoax was given life by a cast bronze monument, dedicated to the 'victims' of the incident, which appeared in Lower Manhattan's Battery Park.

Reginella's monument depicts a large octopus dragging down a Staten Island ferry. There is also a 'dedication plaque' to honor the 'victims'

The statue’s plaque reads:

“Dedicated in loving memory to the passengers and crew of the Cornelius G. Kolff, who lost their lives on November 22, 1963, in one of the most mysterious and tragic maritime disasters in American history. Erected by the Staten Island Ferry Memorial Foundation and Chemical Bank.”

Reginella’s “part practical joke, part multimedia art project, part social experiment” (as he told The New York Post) was a complicated undertaking, with the brilliant memorial statue above (and below), fliers, a fake documentary, and more.

Glossy fliers touting the nonexistent Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum began popping up in downtown Manhattan and on Staten Island. They promise an octopus petting zoo, historical exhibits and a “Ferry Disastore” gift shop. It includes directions to a fictitious shoreline address across the street from the Snug Harbor Cultural Center.

Workers at the center, which houses dozens of cultural groups, have been running into confused visitors wandering around the sprawling grounds looking in vain for the ferry-disaster museum.

Joe Reginella standing next to the memorial to the non-existent Ferry ‘disaster.’

Reginella said it took him six months to pull the hoax together

The idea for the project came to him while he was taking his 11-year-old nephew from Florida on the ferry between Manhattan and Staten Island.

'He was asking me all kinds of crazy questions like if the waters were shark-infested,' he said. 'I said 'No, but you know what did happen in the '60s? One of these boats got pulled down by a giant octopus.'

The plaque also explains why nobody has ever heard of the tragedy.

The memorial report continues:

“Adding to the tragedy is that this disaster went almost completely unnoticed by the public as later that day another, more ‘newsworthy’ tragedy would befall the nation when beloved President John Fitzgerald Kennedy was assassinated.

The Staten Island Ferry Disaster Museum hopes to correct this oversight by preserving the memory of those lost in this tragedy and educating the public about the truth behind the only known giant octopus-ferry attack in the tri-state area.”

It evolved to become 'a multimedia art project and social experience - not maliciously - about how gullible people are,' said Reginella, who creates artworks for store windows and amusement parks.

'It's definitely an experience when you see people who don't know about it. They get this strange look on their face, they stare out at the water and walk away,' Reginella said. 'I sit close by with a fishing pole and fish. I eavesdrop on the conversations.'

The monument never stays in one spot for more than two days 'because the city will come and take it away,' Reginella said.

He added that it takes two people to break it down.

The Staten Island artist also created a website, fake newspaper articles, T-shirts and a Facebook page.

On the website he also gives details of a 'memorial museum' with visiting hours, a fee, and directions. He even created a documentary to make the disaster seem more believable. Footage from it above shows the alleged debris from the disaster.

Melanie Giuliano, who produced a mock documentary for the monument's website, used her father in the role of a maritime expert and her neighbor as an eyewitness. Reginella's wife's co-worker served as the narrator.

'I thought it was an insane idea but I thought it was hilarious,' said the videographer and filmmaker.

Reginella has been sharing coverage of his hoax on the Facebook page dedicated to the incident.

If you decide to ride on today’s Staten Island Ferry, you’ll find some historical exhibits, an octopus petting zoo, and even a “Ferry Disastore” gift shop.

One thing about the preposterous story is real though. There really was a Cornelius G. Kolff ferry. It ferried passengers for 36 years before becoming a stationary floating dorm for Rikers Island inmates. It was sold for scrap in 2003.

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