With its sweeping boardwalk and jam-packed beaches, amusement parks and world-famous hot dogs, Coney Island is one of New York’s quintessential summer-time attractions. But just a short walk from the hullabaloo and funfair frolics, lies one of the city’s lesser-known landmarks – the eerie ship graveyard of Coney Island Creek. And it comes complete with its own yellow submarine.
Nobody seems entirely sure how Coney Island Creek came to have a ship graveyard, except that it evolved gradually as dozens of vessels were abandoned or trapped there when city authorities turned Coney Island into a peninsula early last century.
Wrecks in varying states of decay protrude from the water, their rusty hulls and rotten timber hinting at histories long forgotten. As the tide ebbs and flows around them, they see out their afterlife as handy perching spots for birds and sometimes as platforms for local fishermen.
Then there’s that mysterious yellow submarine, jutting lopsidedly from the water off the southern shore. Admittedly, it’s more rusted and encrusted than yellow nowadays, but back before it got irretrievably lodged in the creek’s muddy bed, it was “beautiful … an incredible work of art,” says Charles Denson, author of Coney Island: Lost and Found.
While many locals are unfamiliar with the submarine’s story, long-time resident Denson witnessed its construction as a teenager in the late 1960s. A shipyard worker friend of his, Jerry Bianco, built it with the intention of raising the SS Andrea Doria, an Italian ocean liner languishing at the bottom of the Atlantic since colliding with another ship en route to New York in 1956.
Legend had it the wreck was loaded with precious booty, which maritime law deemed was the property of anyone who could recover it. Why not a bloke in a home-made submarine fashioned from scrap metal and nobly named Quester I?
Sadly, Bianco’s glorious adventure ended almost before it began. At its 1970 launch, Quester lurched sideways, promptly getting wedged in the creek bed. Although she was eventually righted and managed a circuit of the creek, a storm wrenched her from her moorings soon after, and deposited her where she remains today -- a hulking, hallucinatory relic of one man’s lost dream.
Incidentally, its colour had no connection to the famous Beatles ditty. Bianco just happened to nab some yellow chromium paint at a bargain price…
Photos: Luke J Spencer