Manhattan's statues invite visitors to question events, as artist Joe Reginella commissions a series of sculptures commemorating New York's most obscure "events".

On the evening of July 13 1977, the lights in New York City went out.

The New York Blackout is an event that has featured in plays and films, and in the mythology of the American metropolis. However, while New Yorkers were struggling with the switches, there were another set of lights which will now go down in history.

The New York Blackout, July 13, 1977. Photo / Allan Tannenbaum, Getty Images
The New York Blackout, July 13, 1977. Photo / Allan Tannenbaum, Getty Images

In Battery Park, a statue has been erected to one of the city's strangest episodes:

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"On July 13 1977 during the infamous New York City Blackout the crew of the Tugboat Maria 120 mysteriously disappeared" reads the plinth dedicated to those souls who were abducted while investigating mysterious lights in the city harbour.

Stranger still, on top of the plinth is a statue of a sailor, eyes cast upwards and at his feet lies a strange lifeless creature.

In brass and concrete the memorial reads: "NYC UFO Tugboat Abduction".

A very real monument to a completely bogus event.

Let's make this clear: the UFO abduction never happened – but that hasn't stopped Harbor Mystery Cruise tickets and souvenirs being sold, along with an elaborate commemorative website and documentary being set up.

A very real monument to a completely bogus event. Photo / nycufoencounter.com
A very real monument to a completely bogus event. Photo / nycufoencounter.com

The statue was the brainchild of Brooklyn artist Joe Reginella.

Peppered with references to real world events such as the Blackout and attributed to Edward I. Koch, Reginella plays with visitors' willingness to believe. The artist has spun an elaborate narrative around the artwork, including flyers and an online documentary.

"It's quite shocking I'd never heard of it," confided a bewildered tourist to the CBC.

Not that she could have come across this bizarre story anywhere else.

As tourists, we look to statues for a sense of grounding. A concrete connection to the history of a place we are visiting, events important enough to mark with brass monuments.

Yet Reginella has been behind a series of bogus statues which have been appearing in New York City to make people question their own eyes and bring the previous historical certainties crumbling down.

Harbor Mystery Cruise: Artist Joe Reginella has spun an ellaborate narrative around his monuments. Photo / nycufoencounter.com
Harbor Mystery Cruise: Artist Joe Reginella has spun an ellaborate narrative around his monuments. Photo / nycufoencounter.com

Often he is quite literally behind the pieces, disguised in plain sight as a fisherman. The various solid brass installations have to be wheeled into place in the early morning to be in place to fool gullible visitors and locals alike.

His efforts began with the Staten Island Octopus Disaster of 1963 – commemorating "one of the most tragic maritime disasters in American history" – and then the Brooklyn Bridge Elephant Stampede of 1929, dedicated to "the poor souls who stood in their way".

Each of these incidents are of course too ridiculous to have been real – though something about the monuments makes visitors question, at least for a moment.

In loving memory: The phoney Staten Island Ferry Disaster memorial. Photo / sioctopusdisaster.com
In loving memory: The phoney Staten Island Ferry Disaster memorial. Photo / sioctopusdisaster.com

Inspiration for the Staten Island Ferry Disaster came to Reginella after taking his nine-year-old nephew on the commuter boat. It is completely fictional, though there is a kernel of truth to the elephants' parade over Brooklyn Bridge.

In 1883, shortly after the bridge opened to public, the New York Times reported on a disaster where a panic on its narrow steps killed 12 during a stampede of pushy tourists.

Dumbo: The Brooklyn Bridge Elphant Stampede of 1929. Photo / bbelephantstampete.com
Dumbo: The Brooklyn Bridge Elphant Stampede of 1929. Photo / bbelephantstampete.com

The following year, showman PT Barnum marched his circus elephants across the new bridge as a show of the revolutionary design's strength.

The two events were conflated into a jumbo tall-story in Reginella's masterpiece to the fictional "elephant stampede".

The semi-permanent elephant statue appears on weekends at Brooklyn Bridge Park – in the fittingly pachydermine New York borough of Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass).

Kernel of truth: Archive photo of three boys walking near a circus elephant in Atlantic St. Photo / Wallace G. Levison, Getty Images
Kernel of truth: Archive photo of three boys walking near a circus elephant in Atlantic St. Photo / Wallace G. Levison, Getty Images

His works have earned him praise and bewilderment in equal measures. The New York Times recently dubbed him the "Banksy" of Brooklyn.

In the era of "fake news" and heightened scepticism, Reginella's statues carry the timely warning for visitors to be wary of what they read, and prove just how gullible and willing to believe we are when faced with an unfamiliar city.

Tourists wishing to visit the mobile monuments should check up on their websites as to when they will be appearing in New York's parks.