There’s a WWII-Era Submarine Stuck in the New Jersey Mud

Jay Serafino
Jay Serafino

During the rainy weekend of Saturday, August 11, 2018, as massive flash floods swept through Bergen County, New Jersey, a group of vandals broke into the USS Ling, a World War II-era submarine that sits on the banks of the Hackensack River. According to NorthJersey.com, hatches throughout the sub were forced open, allowing water to rush in and flood the interior. Worse yet, four plaques were stolen from the property, which paid tribute to the 52 subs that were lost during the war.

The Ling becoming the scene of a crime is just the latest act in a series of misfortunes that turned this once-proud piece of naval history into a sad site caked with rust and scarred by corrosion. The vessel was supposed to honor the United States’s proud military tradition, while serving as an educational showpiece for Hackensack area residents. Over the last few years, however, acts of both nature and bureaucracy have left the ship quite literally stuck in the New Jersey mud.

Construction began on the Ling in November 1942 at the Cramp Shipbuilding Company in Philadelphia; the craft was officially commissioned in June 1945 at the Boston Navy Yard. By then, though, the final shots of World War II were being fired, and the Ling made just one patrol in the Atlantic before the conflict was officially over.

The 312-foot-long ship was kept in reserve after the war before being recommissioned in the 1960s, where it was used as a training vessel in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. Rather than send the sub to a scrap pile, the Navy donated it to members of the local Submarine Memorial Association in 1972, who placed it in Hackensack, New Jersey, to serve as the main showpiece of the New Jersey Naval Museum—which otherwise consisted only of a trailer containing photos and other Navy memorabilia, as well as a few pieces of artillery displayed on the grass in front of the ship.

A sign for the New Jersey Naval Museum
A sign for the New Jersey Naval Museum off River Street in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Jay Serafino

For a $12 entrance fee, you could roam the ship’s cramped hallways to explore the Ling’s engine room, walk through the crew’s sleeping quarters, and come face-to-face with a torpedo launcher. There was even an ice cream maker onboard, a common amenity on WWII submarines. One of the perks of captaining the ship was also apparently being in charge of choosing which flavor to make.

Though the Ling never had the big city money or pristine polish of the USS Intrepid—which is docked just about 15 miles away on Manhattan's West Side—it was a reasonably priced way for locals to explore a piece of naval pride in their own backyard.

Until Hurricane Sandy literally cut the Ling off from land in 2012.

“The storm kind of shifted or broke the connection between the dock and the boat,” Captain Hugh Carola, program director for the Hackensack Riverkeeper—a nonprofit environmental organization aimed at preserving the Hackensack River—tells Mental Floss. “There’s no way to safely and correctly access the boat from the shore anymore.”

The ship briefly reopened for tours following a cleanup effort, but in 2015 it was deemed inaccessible and permanently closed when the already damaged pier finally broke away from the shore. With its centerpiece out of commission, the museum—which still owns the ship itself—closed up shop as well.

Sadly, that was just the beginning of the Ling’s problems. Over the years, the river around the ship has filled with silt, leaving only 3 feet of water in the region at low tide. “The river has silted in so much over there, there hasn’t been any vessel past the Court Street bridge, I believe, since the Ling was put there,” Carola explains.

Complicating matters further, the land the museum occupied is being redeveloped. It was originally the property of the Borg family, owners of The Record newspaper, who leased the space to the museum for $1 a year. But when the family sold the paper and decided to redevelop the 20 acres of land, the museum’s lease was terminated. Demolition on the site will begin in September 2018; the museum packed up its remains and left in mid-August, according to NorthJersey.com. The museum hopes to find a new home, but since the sub is technically still in the river, it’s on public land—and no one is quite sure how to proceed.

“Hackensack has no jurisdiction,” Carola tells Mental Floss. “Private owners have no jurisdiction, because they don’t own where the boat is sitting. That’s a public trust resource. That’s tide land. You and I own that.”

So why can’t the Ling just be moved? Well, it’s complicated.

Tug boats and barges likely wouldn’t be able to get to the ship’s location in the shallow river waters. And even if they could, dealing with the nearby Court Street Bridge would be another hurdle. If, by some miracle, all the logistics worked out, Carola questions whether the Ling itself could even float at this point due to its deteriorated condition. It seems like every possible solution runs into a problem that puts it just out of reach.

“If you want to take it out in pieces, hopefully to reassemble it someplace else, that could be done,” Carola says. “But, then again, you have to—what?—create a temporary shipyard to prevent oil and whatever fluid might still be in the boat from getting into the Earth. And who’s going to pay for all that?”

The USS Ling submarine in Hackensack, New Jersey
Jay Serafino

Even officials for the city of Hackensack, home to the Ling since the early 1970s, question whether or not this piece of history will be able to find a happy ending.

“We appreciated the significance of the site, but it’s become a liability at this point, and that’s a shame," Albert Dib, city historian and director of redevelopment for the City of Hackensack, told The New York Times.

Malcolm A. Borg, whose father leased the land to the museum in the 1970s, echoed Dib’s grim assessment while pointing out the complex bureaucracy of the situation, telling The New York Times: “It's tragic—it’s rusting through in a number of places. It would take a lot of permits to get that boat out of there.”

In addition to local government and private business, the community itself has been involved in the fight for the Ling with a GoFundMe campaign that launched in June 2017. It was started by the folks behind the New Jersey Naval Museum to help raise money for the restoration and the preservation of the discarded sub, but after more than a year online, the campaign has raised just over $20,000 of its $100,000 goal.

“Nobody cares about it,” Les Altschuler, vice president of the Submarine Memorial Association, told The New York Times.

While Altschuler may believe that no one cares about the ship, it doesn't seem as if anyone is looking to make an aggressive move to get rid of it, either. "We know it's important,” Bob Sommer, a spokesman for Macromedia, which owns the Record property, told NorthJersey.com. “Of course, it's under consideration as possibly part of the landscape."

As if there wasn’t enough stress surrounding the Ling, now locals have to wait for authorities to make progress finding the people who vandalized the ship. “It adds an additional burden of time and resources that this group so desperately needs,” Gilbert De Laat, the New Jersey Naval Museum president, said. “It’s unfortunate that someone took this fragile situation and made it worse.”

Despite hurricanes, vandals, and a multi-million-dollar land deal threatening its very existence, the ship seems to be staying put for now. Whether you want to call it resilient or stubborn, the USS Ling continues to be a staple of Hackensack—though probably not in the way anyone intended.

The History Behind 10 Thanksgiving Dishes

VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images
VeselovaElena/iStock via Getty Images

Halloween is for candy comas, and on Independence Day we grill, but no holiday is as completely defined by its cuisine as Thanksgiving. No matter what part of the country you're in, it's a safe bet that at least a few of the below dishes will be making an appearance on your table this week. But what makes these specific entrees and side dishes so emblematic of Thanksgiving? Read on to discover the sometimes-surprising history behind your favorite fall comfort foods.

1. Turkey

A roasted turkey on a platter.
612645812/iStock.com

Turkey has become so synonymous with Thanksgiving that most of us probably imagine the pilgrims and Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans chowing down on a roast bird in 1621. Although we don't know the exact menu of that first Plymouth Colony feast, a first-person account of the year's harvest from governor William Bradford does reference "a great store of wild turkeys," and another first-person account, from colonist Edward Winslow, confirms that the settlers "killed as much fowl as … served the company almost a week." However, culinary historian Kathleen Wall believes that, although turkeys were available, it's likely that duck, goose, or even passenger pigeons were the more prominent poultry options at the first Thanksgiving. Given their proximity to the Atlantic, local seafood like oysters and lobsters were likely on the menu as well.

As the holiday grew in popularity, however, turkey became the main course for reasons more practical than symbolic. English settlers were accustomed to eating fowl on holidays, but for early Americans, chickens were more valued for their eggs than their meat, and rooster was tough and unappetizing. Meanwhile, turkeys were easy to keep, big enough to feed a whole family, and cheaper than ducks or geese. Even before Thanksgiving was recognized as a national holiday, Alexander Hamilton himself remarked that "No citizen of the U.S. shall refrain from turkey on Thanksgiving Day." The country followed his advice: according to the National Turkey Federation, 88 percent of Americans will eat turkey in some form on Thanksgiving Day—an estimated 44 million birds!

2. Stuffing

Pan of breaded stuffing.
mphillips007/iStock.com

Stuffing would have been a familiar concept to those early settlers as well, although their version was likely quite different from what we're used to. We know that the first Plymouth colonists didn't have access to white flour or butter, so traditional bread stuffing wouldn't have been possible yet. Instead, according to Wall, they may have used chestnuts, herbs, and chunks of onion to flavor the birds, all of which were already part of the local fare. Centuries later, we're still stuffing turkeys as a way to keep the bird moist through the roasting process and add extra flavor.

3. Cranberries

Dish of cranberry sauce.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like turkeys, cranberries were widely available in the area, but cranberry sauce almost certainly did not make an appearance at the first Thanksgiving. Why not? The sugar reserves the colonists would have had were almost completely depleted after their long sea journey, and thus they didn't have the means to sweeten the terrifically tart berries.

So how did cranberries become such an autumnal staple? For starters, they're a truly American food, as one of only a few fruits—along with Concord grapes, blueberries, and pawpaws—that originated in North America. They grow in such abundance in the northeast that colonists quickly began incorporating cranberries into various dishes, such as pemmican, which mixed mashed cranberries with lard and dried venison. By the Civil War, they were such a holiday staple that General Ulysses S. Grant famously demanded his soldiers be provided cranberries for their Thanksgiving Day meal.

4. Mashed Potatoes

Bowl of mashed potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Potatoes weren't yet available in 17th-century Plymouth, so how did mashed potatoes become another Thanksgiving superstar? The answer lies in the history of the holiday itself. In America’s earliest years, it was common for the sitting president to declare a "national day of thanks," but these were sporadic and irregular. In 1817, New York became the first state to officially adopt the holiday, and others soon followed suit, but Thanksgiving wasn't a national day of celebration until Abraham Lincoln declared it so in 1863.

Why did Lincoln—hands full with an ongoing war—take up the cause? Largely due to a 36-year campaign from Sarah Josepha Hale, a prolific novelist, poet, and editor, who saw in Thanksgiving a moral benefit for families and communities. In addition to her frequent appeals to officials and presidents, Hale wrote compellingly about the holiday in her 1827 novel Northwood, as well as in the womens' magazine she edited, Godey's Lady's Book. Her writing included recipes and descriptions of idealized Thanksgiving meals, which often featured—you guessed it—mashed potatoes.

5. Gravy

Plate of turkey and potatoes covered in gravy.
cislander/iStock.com

Despite a dearth of potatoes, it's likely that some type of gravy accompanied the turkey or venison at the earliest Thanksgiving gatherings. The concept of cooking meat in sauce dates back hundreds of years, and the word "gravy" itself can be found in a cookbook from 1390. Because that first celebration extended over three days, Wall speculates: "I have no doubt whatsoever that birds that are roasted one day, the remains of them are all thrown in a pot and boiled up to make broth the next day." That broth would then be thickened with grains to create a gravy to liven day-old meat. And, if Wall's correct, that broth sounds suspiciously like the beginning of another great Thanksgiving tradition: leftovers!

6. Corn

Plate of corn.
PeopleImages/iStock

Corn is a natural symbol of harvest season—even if you're not serving it as a side dish, you might have a few colorful ears as a table centerpiece. We know that corn was a staple of the Native American diet and would have been nearly as plentiful in the 17th century as today. But according to the History Channel, their version would have been prepared quite differently: corn was either made into a cornmeal bread or mashed and boiled into a thick porridge-like consistency, and perhaps sweetened with molasses. Today, we eat corn in part to remember those Wampanoag hosts, who famously taught the newcomers how to cultivate crops in the unfamiliar American soil.

7. Sweet Potatoes

Bowl of mashed sweet potatoes.
bhofack2/iStock

In the midst of so many New England traditions, the sweet potatoes on your table represent a dash of African-American culture. The tasty taters originally became popular in the south—while pumpkins grew well in the north, sweet potatoes (and the pies they could make) became a standard in southern homes and with enslaved plantation workers, who used them as a substitution for the yams they'd loved in their homeland. Sweet potato pie was also lovingly described in Hale's various Thanksgiving epistles, solidifying the regional favorite as a holiday go-to. More recently, some families further sweeten the dish by adding toasted marshmallows, a love-it-or-hate-it suggestion that dates to a 1917 recipe booklet published by the Cracker Jack company.

8. Green Bean Casserole

Plate of green bean casserole.
DreamBigPhotos/iStock.com

Beans have been cultivated since ancient times, but green bean casserole is a decidedly modern contribution to the classic Thanksgiving canon. The recipe you probably know was whipped up in 1955 by Dorcas Reilly, a home economist working in the Campbell's Soup Company test kitchens in Camden, New Jersey. Reilly's job was to create limited-ingredient recipes that housewives could quickly replicate (using Campbell's products, of course). Her original recipe (still available at Campbells.com), contains just six ingredients: Campbell's Cream of Mushroom soup, green beans, milk, soy sauce, pepper, and French's French Fried Onions. Her recipe was featured in a 1955 Associated Press feature about Thanksgiving, and the association has proven surprisingly durable—Campbell’s now estimates that 30 percent of their Cream of Mushroom soup is bought specifically for use in a green bean casserole.

9. Pumpkin Pie

Slice of pumpkin pie.
bhofack2/iStock.com

Like cranberries, pumpkin pie does have ties to the original Thanksgiving, albeit in a much different format. The colonists certainly knew how to make pie pastry, but couldn't have replicated it without wheat flour, and might have been a bit perplexed by pumpkins, which were bigger than the gourds they knew in Europe. According to Eating in America: A History, however, Native Americans were already using the orange treats as a dessert meal: "Both squash and pumpkin were baked, usually by being placed whole in the ashes or embers of a dying fire and they were moistened afterwards with some form of animal fat, or maple syrup, or honey." It's likely that Hale was inspired by those stories when pumpkin pie appeared in her culinary descriptions.

10. Wine

Two glasses of wine.
Moncherie/iStock.com

Chances are good that a few glasses of wine will be clinked around your table this November, but did the pilgrims share a tipsy toast with their new friends? Kathleen Wall thinks that water was probably the beverage of choice, considering that the small amount of wine the settlers had brought with them was likely long gone. Beer was a possibility, but since barley hadn't been cultivated yet, the pilgrims had to make do with a concoction that included pumpkins and parsnips. Considering the availability of apples in what would become Massachusetts, however, other historians think it's possible that hard apple cider was on hand for the revelers to enjoy. Whether or not the original feast was a boozy affair, cider rapidly became the drink of choice for English settlers in the area, along with applejack, apple brandy, and other fruit-based spirits. New England cider thus indirectly led to a less-beloved Thanksgiving tradition: your drunk uncle's annual political rant. Bottoms up!

Why Do We Eat Cranberry Sauce on Thanksgiving?

MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images
MSPhotographic/iStock via Getty Images

While plenty of people eat turkey, mashed potatoes, and pie year-round, it seems like cranberry sauce almost exclusively exists in the Thanksgiving universe. Although we don’t know for sure whether it was eaten at the very first Thanksgiving, the jiggly, gelatinous side dish does have deep roots in the history of America’s fruited plains.

According to Insider, cranberries are one of only three commercially grown fruits native to the United States, and the Wampanoag tribe had been using them for food, dye, and medicine long before feasting with the Pilgrims in 1621. If there were cranberries at the party, they probably didn’t taste much like the sweetened sauce we’re (circumstantially) fond of today; at that point, the settlers hadn’t yet succeeded in growing sugar cane in the New World.

But a little more than 50 years later, according to a 1672 account cited by The Washington Post, the new Americans and Native Americans had both started to enjoy cranberries much like we do at Thanksgiving dinner: “Indians and English use it much, boyling them with Sugar for a Sauce to eat with their Meat.”

In 1796, Amelia Simmons—author of American Cookery, the first-ever American cookbook—took it one step further by recommending that roast turkey be served with cranberry sauce. Considering that the Library of Congress included the book on its list of “Books That Shaped America,” it’s possible that Simmons’s suggestion reverberated through kitchens across the nation, and the tradition gained momentum from there. She does mention pickled mangoes as an alternate side dish for turkey, but the then-Indian import was likely less common than the locally-grown cranberry.

Then, in the early 1800s, Ocean Spray revolutionized the labor-intensive process of hand-picking cranberries from vines with what’s called a wet harvest. Basically, farmers flood the bogs where cranberries grow, and then they wade into the water to collect the floating berries en masse.

farmer wet-harvesting cranberries
A farmer gathering cranberries during a wet harvest.
kongxinzhu/iStock via Getty Images

This was a more efficient technique, but a mass harvest meant that more cranberries got damaged. So in 1912, Ocean Spray began crushing them into canned, jellied cranberry sauce—maximizing the yield and making it easier than ever for every home in America to slice up a cylinder of solid, sugary, berry goodness.

Explore the stories behind your other favorite (or least favorite) Thanksgiving foods here.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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