Volume 78 - Number 49 / May 13 - 19 , 2009
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Villager photo by Lorcan Otway

“Barnacle Bill” liked to roll his own tobacco cigarettes, a habit he picked up at sea.

Barnacle Bill,’ the last sailor of Tompkins Square, dies at 44

By Lorcan Otway

William “Barnacle Bill” Scott died of an infection after suffering a stroke, last Saturday, May 2. He had been in a coma at Lincoln Hospital, in the Bronx, since March 8.

Born on July 8, 1965, “Barnacle” was well known in the East Village as a gentleman and a gentle man, in spite of his hardscrabble looks. Bill wore a nose ring, and had a large, upturned scar on the left side of his mouth, giving him the look of a pirate, but that was the farthest from the reality of this man.

He went from the Navy, where he was a petty officer, a bosun commanding small craft, to the Navy Reserve, and then honorably discharged became a merchant mariner, spending a good part of most years sailing American-flag vessels.

When not at sea, Bill spent a good deal of time in Tompkins Square Park, where he was as at home with the “crusties” as he was with the Village intelligentsia. His stories, whether of life at sea or East Village adventures, were punctuated with his trademark Homeric line, “It was not for nothing that...,” and on the story would wind.

Bill was not too proud to borrow money from a friend. To loan him any sum was to know that as soon as Bill returned from his next voyage, he would repay the loan, over dinner, paid for by Bill, and at the table would be a collection of others who would not otherwise have eaten as well that day.

One need not look far to find where Bill got his sense of responsibility or his kindness. His mother, Dorothy Scott, was a foster mother to other children. 

“He was kind of like a Lower East Side legend,” said neighborhood activist John Penley, who recently  relocated to Erie, Pa. “I knew him for like 15 years, and I never knew his name — just ‘Barnacle Bill.’ He would go out to sea on merchant ships for months at a time, and come back and stay for a while, spend all his money, and go back to sea. He was the last sailing man from the Lower East Side that I knew... . The last of a breed that is probably vanishing.”

His funeral was held last Friday at the Ortiz Funeral Home, 144 Willis Ave. and 141st St., in the Bronx.

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