Friday, March 16, 2007

Hell's Gate

Hell's Gate is a narrow strait that separates Astoria, Queens from Ward's Island and Randall's Island on the East River. The islands sit between Queens and Manhattan, just north of Roosevelt Island. Hell's Gate got its name from the Dutch word, hellegat, which means "bright passage" because the East River was an important trade route in the early 19th century.

On June 15, 1904, a triple-decker steamboat carrying 1,300 people from the Lower East Side (Manhattan) sailed up the East River to Long Island. The wooden steamer caught on fire right at this spot. The fire was so fierce that the boat was burnt to the waterline in 15 minutes. Many of the passengers, including children had no choice but to jump into the river. The life jackets, which were made of cork at the time, were old and useless as floatation devices. A total of 1,021 people died in the incident. Following the tragedy, the US government appointed a commission to investigate the situation and numerous maritime laws, including safety procedures, were enacted shortly thereafter.

This photo was taken from the Astoria side of the river and shows two pilot ships navigating a barge through the narrow strait. The bridge above Hell's Gate is the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) track connecting Queens to Manhattan.