The Westfield Ferry
July 30, 1871 - At 1:30pm a boiler exploded on the Westfield, one of the Staten Island ferries. The blast happened just as the ferry left lower Manhattan. It was loaded with over 200 passengers.
The New York Times offered this vivid account of the carnage:
Scores of human beings were cast upward with such force that a woman whose white dress made her a prominent object was lifted above the tower on the adjacent South Ferry-house, a distance of about thirty feet, and a baby was thrown upward until it seemed but a doll. Scores were cast into the water and disappeared beneath its surface. Scores were flung down into the wreck and buried in the debris. The shriek of agony that came simultaneously from hundreds of lips, mingled with the deafening crash of timbers, and with that most appalling of earthly sounds, the shriek of a horse in terror and pain, for one of these animals attached to a carriage in which were several persons, was enveloped in the deadly folds of steam and tumbled into the crater made by the explosion.
It's estimated that 125 lives were lost. The cause of the boiler explosion was never pinpointed. Jacob Vanderbilt, President of the Staten Island Railway was charged with homicide but he escaped conviction.