When I first visited New York’s South Street Seaport in the early 70s, it was a fairly lonely place. There was no shopping mall on Pier 17 and the high-end chain-stores like Guess, Abecrombe and Fitch and Brookstone had not yet been attracted to the historic buildings along Fulton, Water and Front Streets. Many of the old warehouses and boarding houses were still shuttered.
Last night at the Seaport, I had a strong sense of déjà vu. After Superstorm Sandy, most of the stores are still boarded up and dark. The one bright light, both figuratively and literally, was the South Street Seaport Museum which held an Opening Party, celebrating the post-Sandy reopening of the Museum at 12 Fulton Street and the Bowne Printers at 209 Water Street, next to the reopened Bowne and Company. The Museum also opened two new exhibits, “A Fisherman’s Dream, Folk Art by Mario Sanchez” and “Street Shots/NYC.”
When Superstorm Sandy hit downtown New York in late October, the historic ships of the South South Street Seaport Museum, including the windjammers Peking and Wavertree rode out the 14 foot storm surge without damage, due, in large part, to the efforts of the Museum’s Waterfront Director, Captain Jonathan Boulware and his crew of volunteers who rigged storm moorings for the ships. While the ships floated on the surge, the museum ashore did not do as well. The Museum was inundated with six feet of oily water, which as well as creating a hugh mess, also destroyed the heating system, air conditioning, elevators, escalators and the electrical systems. A small army of volunteers and contractors have worked tireless to clear the buildings up and to restore essential services. The electricity is on, though the elevators are still not working. Of course, as Museum President, Susan Henshaw Jones, noted, the buildings were built in the 1800s before the advent of elevators and the stairs still work as well as they ever did. Ms. Jones also commented that she had “discovered her new favorite four-letter word beginning in F – FEMA.”
New York City’s Mayor Micheal Bloomberg was on hand to help celebrate the museum opening. He said he noted a similarity between Captain John Paul Jones and Susan Henshaw Jones. When Captain Jones was asked during the Battle of Flamborough Head whether he was giving up, he is said to have responded, “I have not yet begun to fight.” The mayor said that he felt the spirit of Captain Jones in Susan Henshaw Jones, and that the Museum also had only begun to fight and would lead the recovery of the entire district.