Has Anyone Died from Quicksand in New York State?
Childhood definitely leads you to believe that quicksand is a bigger problem than it really is.
Hell, it was everywhere in movies and cartoons growing up. And I don't blame the media for harnessing these images for entertainment-- the very concept of quicksand is terrifying! Slowly being sucked into the earth until sand fills every orifice and you die a slow miserable death? Yeah, that sucks! Who wants that?! It's no wonder it was heavily used as a storytelling trope.
But how prevalent is quicksand, really? A quick inventory of my last 40 years would reveal a remarkably low number of quicksand interactions...
BUT I DID EXPERIENCE IT... (I THINK)
When I was a kid, my aunt and uncle had a farm with a pond in Schuyler Lake. The pond was swimmable, but there were parts that we kids deemed "ickier" than others. On one occasion I found myself in one of these icky parts... you could still touch the bottom, but holy crap, it was soft, and you sank into it... like, a lot. And as a kid, it was really scary -- probably because of all the cartoon images of quicksand that were already occupying my dumb kid skull. How far one would've actually sunk into that earth, I'll never know, because panic struck and I got the hell out of there. But I can confirm that the sensation of struggling to free oneself from soft earth is unsettling.
CAN YOU DIE FROM QUICKSAND IN NEW YORK STATE?
The website Britannica basically dispels this myth:
Quicksand—that is, sand that behaves as a liquid because it is saturated with water—can be a mucky nuisance, but it’s basically impossible to die in the way that is depicted in movies. That’s because quicksand is denser than the human body. People and animals can get stuck in it, but they don’t get sucked down to the bottom—they float on the surface. Our legs are pretty dense, so they may sink, but the torso contains the lungs, and thus is buoyant enough to stay out of trouble.
Quicksand typically emerges in highly silty sand and soil, and the geological history of New York is decidedly more rugged. While pockets of soft earth can be found in regions like the Adirondacks and even parts of Long Island, the kind of ground that threatens to completely engulf you—unless there's a conveniently placed vine to grab onto—likely doesn't exist.
However, upon further digging, I did find one instance of a New York man being involved in a quicksand incident all the way back in 1922:
The article describes an officer hearing a man's cries for help before discovering "the head of a man in the mire up to his shoulders." Luckily he was rescued, but dude... apparently all of Hollywood must've read this issue and been inspired by it.
While we can rest easy knowing quicksand isn't lurking around every corner in New York state, the idea of it can add a touch of dark humor to our rural adventures. So, the next time you feel like your life is sinking, just remember – it's probably just the stifling taxes.
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