Once upon a time, in a land called Staten Island, there lived an artist who fooled tourists into coming to the so-called "forgotten borough."
Pamphlets advertising the Staten Island Ferry Disaster Memorial Museum began circulating around downtown Manhattan last month. The brochure directed people to an exhibit and a sophisticated website with articles, artifacts and video documentaries about an incident said to have occurred at 4 a.m. on November 22, 1963: A Staten Island ferry “vanished without a trace,” with eye-witnesses claiming large tentacles wrapped around the ferry as it went under.
A cast-bronze memorial depicting the monster dragging a ferry boat under water then surfaced in Battery Park.The inscription honors the 400 passengers lost aboard the Cornelius G. Kolff ferry.
The incident is little known because it was overshadowed by the assassination of JFK on the same fateful day, the museum’s literature stated.
The museum’s physical address is listed as 1001 Richmond Terrace, Staten Island, New York. Dozens of people who’ve gone to check it out found nothing at that address across the street from the Snug Harbor Cultural Center and Botanical Garden, where confused tourists wound up as they tried to find the elusive historical museum.
Joseph Reginella, a pop-artist and sculptor claimed he is the mastermind behind the elaborate hoax.
“I wanted to create an urban legend, I didn’t realize how quickly you could create one and have people believe it, kind of like the alligators in the sewers,” Reginella told Metro.
“It’s starts with 90 percent of people thinking its real,” he said. “Some gullible people, they fall for it, they find out it’s a joke and they think it’s funny.
“I got a call from the cultural center. They were less than pleased that people were coming around looking for it,” Reginella told Metro. But they soon changed their tune when they realized that it’s because of this that foot-traffic to the cultural center has improved significantly.
He also raised $50,000 for the Snug Harbor 9/11 museum with bronze sculptures depicting firefighters raising an American flag at ground zero.
Reginella is a prop artist who creates staging and display works for high-fashion clients such as Juicy Couture, Bloomingdale's, Macy’s—as well as fabricates works for a high-profile American artist who charges millions upon millions for pop-art pieces. He declined to name the artist.
Reginella's work was recently featured on the cover of Harper’s Bazaar with Rihanna draped across the jaws of a great white shark he sculpted.
Reginella had a media moment a few years ago when he made a baby crib in which a child might sleep in the jaws of a shark.
Sixteen years ago Reginella impressed Mayor Ed Koch with a bronze sculpture depicting Rudy Giuliani plowing through a park and crushing merchants and artisans underfoot.
“Thank you for the sculpture,” Mayor Koch wrote to him in a letter. “You really captured his spirit.”
As for Reginella’s octopus lore, it's meant in the spirit of humor.
“I just want to make people smile,” he said.