Wednesday, October 7, 2009

South Street Seaport Museum

This is another backdated post. The Smithsonian magazine had their "Museum Day" on September 26, 2009. All we had to do was print out the "Museum Day" admission card from their website and we could enjoy free general admission (for 2 people) to hundreds of museums and cultural venues nationwide. There was quite an extensive list for the NJ/NYC region but we finally decided to go checkout the South Street Seaport Museum. Without the free Smithsonian admission card, it would have cost us $10 per person, just for general admission!

The South Street Seaport is a historical area located where Fulton Street meets the East River, just next to the Financial District. It features some of the oldest architecture in downtown Manhattan and includes the largest concentration of restored early 19th-century commercial buildings in the city. You can find renovated original mercantile buildings, renovated sailing ships, the former Fulton Fish Market, malls, nice restaurants, great nightlife and of course, the famous South Street Seaport Museum here. If you are looking to catch the NY Water Taxi or go on one of the many NY Harbour Cruise, this is the best place to go on one.

The whole South Street Seaport has a great concept. With the streets preserved in cobblestone, almost all buildings and the entire Seaport neighborhood are meant to transport the visitor back in time to New York's mid-1800s, to demonstrate what life in the commercial maritime trade was like. Here is a photo of me in front of the Museums main building as well as the ticket office and gift shop. There are currently two exhibitions going on here at the main building, the "New Amsterdam: Island At The Center Of The World" and "Treasures Of A President: FDR And The Sea". The FDR exhibit just opened 6 days ago, so it was cool to check it out. This row of buildings is called the Schermerhorn Row Galleries. The original intent of the Seaport development was the preservation of this block of buildings, which was threatened with destruction from neglect at a time when the history of New York City's sailing ship industry was not valued.

Opposite the Schermerhorn Row Galleries is the Fulton Market. Apart from housing some very nice restaurants, you can also check out the famous BODIES - The Exhibition. It features over 200 specimens consisting of whole-bodies and individual organs that have been meticulously dissected and preserved through an innovative process. Sounds gross but yet, many people flock to see it. Visiting the exhibition doesn't come cheap though, tickets cost $27.50 a person on weekends.

What I like about the South Street Seaport Museum is the layout. Unlike other museums, it's not constricted to one huge building but it's made up of smaller buildings and piers all over the Seaport area. We are not allowed to take photos inside the exhibits, so I can only show you the buildings from the outside. Here is Kevin outside the Galleries on Water St. This is where you can check out the "Monarchs of the Sea" exhibit. It's permanent exhibition that features plans, models and memorabilia that evoke the majesty and magic of a time when ocean liners were considered luxury travel. Since all the models are made in the same size ratio, it's pretty cool that you can compare the Titanic or the Queen Mary to one of the current day cruise ships, like the ever popular Carnival Cruises.

We also went in to checkout the Bowne & Co. Stationers. New York City was the center of the letterpress printing industry during the 19th century. Printing offices and "job shops" clustered between Park Row and Fulton Street. Bowne & Co. Stationers was one of those shops. Now, it is a part of the South Street Seaport Museum and it still resembles a typical job shop of the late 1870's. It really feels like walking back into time the moment you step into the shop. However, it is not just a museum display. In fact, it is still a working letterpress office and continues to take commissions for cards, announcements and other social stationery. All text is set and composed by hand using Bowne’s historic antique type collection and then printed on original 19th century treadle-powered platen presses. How cool is that?

On our way to Pier 16, we passed by the Titanic Memorial Lighthouse. It is a memorial to the passengers, officers and crew who died as heroes when the steamship Titanic sank after collision with an iceberg on April 15, 1912. It was erected in 1913 and originally stood above the East River on the roof of the old Seamen's Church Institute at the corner of South Street and Coenties Slip. The time ball at the top of the Lighthouse would drop down the pole to signal twelve noon to the ships in the Harbor. This time ball mechanism was activated by a telegraphic signal from the National Observatory in Washington, D.C. How cool is that? When the Seamen's Church Institute moved its headquarters in 1968, the lighthouse was donated to the South Street Seaport Museum. It was erected on this corner at the entrance to the museum complex in May 1976 and continues to stand til today.

After checking out all of the buildings, we headed out of Pier 16 for the highlight of our museum outing - to check out Peking, a steel-hulled four-masted barque and the lightship, Ambrose.

First up, the Peking. It was launched in 1911 in Germany and was used to carry fuel and manufactured goods to the West Coast of South America, around Cape Horn and then return to European ports with nitrate mined in northern Chile.

All aboard! Let's go explore the Peking!

With her four masted bark rig, steel hull & masts and midship bridge deck, the Peking represents the final generation of sailing ships built for world trade. Though a product of the 20th century, she still sailed in the traditional way, with few labor saving devices or safety features. Her crew followed the standard sailing vessel routine of four hours on duty and four hours off duty, alternating around the clock, 7 days a week.

Check out the sailor boy with the giant wheel! Look at the big smile plastered on his face, I guess it brings back some good memories from his sailing days :P

The Peking was retired in 1933, when steamers using the Panama Canal took over what was left of the nitrate trade. She served as a nautical school for boys, moored in a British river until she was acquired by the museum in 1974.

Today, she is docked on Pier 16 as a permanent feature in the South Street Seaport Museum. You can get an awesome view of the Brooklyn Bridge, East River and the skyline of Brooklyn Heights from her stern.

You can also find the Living Harbour Wet Lab on board the Peking. It is a collection of live marine life that can be found in the Harbours of NYC. Small exhibit, but pretty interesting.

From the Peking, we will now head over to the lightship, Ambrose. The Ambrose lightship was built in 1908 to guide ships safely into the broad mouth of lower New York Bay, between Coney Island, NY and Sandy Hook, NJ - an area filled with sand bars and shoals invisible to approaching vessels. While a light house is normally used for this purpose, the water here was too deep and the bottom was too soft, so...this floating alternative was devised.

Up on the gangway we go!

Here am I in the pilot house. It's way smaller than Pekings but the Ambrose was swaying like crazy that day. I felt like I was drunk or something :P

Kevin down at the anchor windlass. Again, its really small and cramp. I would just die if I had to work in there!

What is a lightship without the light? This is the star of the whole tour. A vessel approaching the port would search the horizon for the lightship, identifying it at night by a pattern of light at the top of the mast and in daylight by it's distinctive hull color and name lettered on the side.

In rain or fog, the lightship will announce its location using powerful foghorns.

The Ambrose served as a lightship until 1963 and was given to the museum by the US Coast Guard in 1968. Today, it is docked permanently on Pier 16 and is still one of the best places to go to in Manhattan if you are looking for an awesome view of the skyline of Brooklyn Heights!

Our last stop before we headed out to lunch was the South Street Seaport Museum's Maritime Craft Center. The workshop was erected in 1983 and was made out of two ship containers joined together with the windows and doors cut out. Here wood carvers and model builders demonstrate their skills, showing that they are at home using traditional skills of the past as well as new techniques. With that, it concludes our day out to the South Street Seaport Museum. It's very well laid out and I safely can say that even though you are not really interested in all things related to ships and the maritime (Kevin loves anything to do with ships and the sea, but me...not really :P), you will not be bored and will still have loads of fun exploring this museum! Definitely one of the 'must see' museums if you are planning to visit NYC!

South Street Seaport Museum
12 Fulton Street,
New York, NY 10038
Tel: (212) 748.8786

1 comment:

brendan said...

Terrific intro to the South Street Seaport Museum and district. It is currently in less good shape (two years after Sandy still no repairs to speak of).
Hope this changes soon and we can have a great maritime attraction in NYC again.