Oct. 23, 2018 Staff Report
It’s history, mystery, and oh-so sinistery.
Richard Melnick, a Greater Astoria Historical Society member and licensed NYC guide, will lead a Halloween Haunted Waters walking tour along the coastline of Long Island City and Astoria on Saturday, Oct. 27, starting at noon. Tickets are $20, but those in costume get 50 percent discounts.
Like any good Halloween-inspired tour, participants will meet under the Hell Gate Bridge at Shore and Ditmars boulevards. According to local legend, a crazed kidnapper used to grab children and take them to a hiding spot under the bridge during the 1970s. During this same decade, a phantom train would roll on the elevated tracks in the middle of the night.
As Melnick leads the group southward on the roughly 2.5-hour stroll, he’ll probably mention the whirlpools full of hungry electric eels that swirl around in water below Hell Gate. Shocking murders, horrid drownings, suicides, and major tragedies have taken place in this fast-moving tidal straight…and imaginary (or not) ghouls are known to rule the night.
Melnick, the co-author of Images of America books on Long Island City and the East River, might then get into the shipwrecks. Hundreds of Dutch, English, and Spanish explorers lost their lives in the rocky, shallow areas along the shore in previous centuries. On Nov. 23, 1780, a British Royal Navy warship, the 28-gun HMS Hussar, marooned there, leading to the captain’s court marshal. It was rumored that gold worth about $4 million was aboard, but no treasure was ever found.
Things didn’t improve during the 19th century, when thousands of vessels of all shapes and sizes met their demise there. (The hulks became easy prey for looters.) Plus, attempts to blast apart the riverbed caused three deaths and countless injuries.
The 20th century brought the biggest maritime tragedy in New York City history. On June 15, 1904, members of St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan charted the General Slocum for an outing. As the steamship floated near Astoria, a fire broke out, leaving the 1,300-plus riders – most of whom were woman and children from Germany — with the options of burning to death or trying to swim to safety. Their dead bodies washed ashore for the following few days.
Since then, the bad luck has waned…although cement-shoe-wearing Mob rats swim with the fishes there every now and then.
The tour ends at Socrates Sculpture Park, where the Halloween Harvest Fest will be running from noon to 4 pm. This annual event features many children’s activities, such as costume-making and face-painting, as well as the hilarious Doggie Costume Contest. However, those particularly brave souls might want to finish the day at George’s at Kaufman Astoria Studios, a restaurant at 35-11 35th Ave.
The food is great, and the ghost of silent film actor Rudolph Valentino is known to entertain guests.