The Mary Murray

May 6th, 2014 by

Here are some words you don't want to hear someone yelling at you on a Sunday morning at 9AM: "Hey! You were down in the marina! Stay right there I'm calling the police".

This took place nearly 10 years ago - but I remember it like it was yesterday. The sight of a large angry man running unarmed out of a house that was covered in valentines day decorations while barely dressed was more baffling than terrifying - and obviously the type of thing you recall years after. You must understand, having grown up in NYC in the 70s and 80s - no one acted like this unless they had a big gun in their hands. I immediately was more concerned about this person being insane than an actual threat. This wasn't NYC though - this was the suburbs of NJ, where I guess yelling at someone is meant to be scary?

Me and M were standing outside of the fence leading into the marina for a good 5 minutes having a lazy post-mission conversation. We were on public property. No crime was taking place at that time. Maybe if he caught us behind the fence, I could see being mad... but... his timing and actions just seemed so over the top at that moment.

The tall and salty man yelling these words was none other than George Searle - owner of the infamous Mary Murray. I didn't know this at the time, though I figured it out later when I saw his photo online.
Searle bought the old ferryboat at an auction in 1982 with plans on turning it into a floating restaurant. This conversion never happened. After a legal battle concerning environment damage being caused by the semi-sunken ferryboat, it was scrapped in 2008.

The Mary Murray was built and launched from the United Dry Docks on Staten Island in 1937 during a grand ceremony with Mayor LaGuardia and 500 other spectators in attendance. She was 277 feet long and cost $912,000 to build. "One of it's innovations, besides the streamlined design, will be a smoking cabin for women", hailed the NY Times.

After it entered service, it made the 5.2 mile journey between Staten Island and Manhattan for 45 years, before being retired and auctioned off on the cheap to George Searle in 1982.

At the time, George Searle wasn't the only one who wanted to preserve the old ferryboat:

"Ted Costa, a retired ferry captain who piloted the Mary Murray in her prime, and a group of "other old salties" tried to stop the auction of the ferryboat when she was taken out of service, but to no avail. They had hoped to turn her into a floating Staten Island Ferry museum.

"She was an old beauty," he said. "Sitting at the helm was nothing like going to an office or sitting behind a desk. We saw all the old steamships. We saw beautiful sunrises and sunsets. We saw the skyline change. I miss those days."

Not long after the ferry was scrapped, George Searle passed away.

We arrived really early, maybe 7 or 8 AM. Sunday mornings are the best time to sneak into places - because absolutely no one expects it, and we rather not disturb anyone. The best hackers are ones who get in and out and no one is the wiser - something we did regularly (perhaps too regularly). We came up on the extremely quiet suburban street and parked on a bit away from where we were going - off on some dead end if I recall right.

There wasn't a soul in sight.

We simply walked right in. The fence to the 'marina' (if you could call it that) was an unmarked road barrier. It could easily be mistaken for a completely legal hiking trail. Other than by boat, it was the only ground access to the ferry - as it was at the very end of a peninsula. We took our time walking quite a ways back to where the ferry was run aground - stopping to photograph the various junk vehicles on the property.

We slipped onto the boat via a broken window. Once inside, it was immediately apparent that there was no saving this boat. A significant portion of it was submerged in water from the creek, and the rest was rusting away rather severely. It would have taken many many millions of dollars to repair this boat. The decay was all brought on by nature - there were no tags, scrappers hadn't ripped the copper out of it, and nothing seemed to be looted. In fact the boat was filled with a large quantity of junk. All manner or old rusting machinery and parts. It is as if it were being used at some point for storage - an observation made much more likely due to the placement of a rolldown gate cut into and installed on the side of the boat that faced land.

After poking around for awhile, taking our time to shoot many photos, we made our way back out the same way we came in. We were really quiet, and there were no cameras around that we had noticed. Back beyond the fence (on public property), we stopped to take one or two last photos. That's when George came running out at us - practically red with anger. The man didn't let us get a word in. When he went back inside, we headed straight for the car. Sticking around to wait for police to show up really made no sense. We had other things to do and wasting cops time over a non-crime wasn't on the to-do list. As we started the car George showed up right next to us in a Jeep (or was it a pick up?) - yelling and making some 'I have you now' type expression. I just gunned it, got on the turnpike and got off an exit or two later - just in case stateys would be looking for those 2 hardcore average white crooks in a crappy white Ford carrying - *gasp* cameras.

I half expected to hear from some police department or another from NJ, but nothing ever came of it.

The incident, and George Searle's later death, leaves me a little conflicted. I didn't want to bad mouth a guy who can't defend himself, but what happened that morning is exactly as I've told it. I'm pretty sure the boat was something of a local attraction and he was probably annoyed by still more visitors showing up unannounced. This isn't my problem though. People love things they're not supposed to or allowed to have access to. If he gave tours every now and then maybe he could have drummed up help in preserving the boat. I suspect though he liked his privacy more though - and was tired of goons showing up at all hours. Though honestly, me and M couldn't have been any less goonish or troublesome.

If anything, one can read his anger that morning to mean that he really, truly did care about the Mary Murray, and did indeed have the absolute best of intentions for eventually restoring her when he won her at auction. It is indeed a sordid tale that just before he passed, he probably had to look out his window and in the distance see this once proud ferryboat being cut up for scrap.

One response to “The Mary Murray”

  1. nailhed says:

    awesome story. ironically, our local famous abandoned ferryboat, the Boblo Columbia, has just been purchased by some group over your way who want to restore it for cruises on the Hudson. it’s a wooden boat probably over 100 years old.

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  • About The Author

    Bad Guy Joe

    Bad Guy Joe
    Bad Guy Joe knows more about the NYC underground than anyone else on or below the surface of this planet. He has spent nearly 30 years sneaking into NYC's more forbidden locations. When not underground, he's probably bitching about politicians or building something digital. 
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