PortSide Veteran's Day update on forgotten merchant mariners of WWII

Don Horton's mother on a barge during WWII

Don Horton's mother on a barge during WWII

Last Veteran's Day, we covered the subject of a class of largely-forgotten maritime veterans, the women, children, elderly and disabled mariners who served during WWII.

Below, we provide an update on the cause to finally get recognition for all of them, thanks to info provided by Don Horton who first brought this story, and cause, to our attention. Don Horton was one of those child mariners, serving on a barge with his mother, father and siblings.

Our post from Veteran's Day 2013

Our 9/15/14 interview with Don Horton during his visit to Red Hook, Brooklyn where we took him to various sites that were strongly stamped in his memory.

What you can do for this cause

You can write /call your respective US Senator and ask that they co-sponsor Senate Amendment Sa-3548.  This is the amendment that can provide the avenue to allow for alternative methods of recognition for WW II coastwise mariners.  It is a copy of S-1361, WW II Merchant Mariners Service Act.  Background and Alternative Methods of Recognition, July 2014

The following info is from Don Horton

The bills before Congress

Both the House of Representatives and the Senate offered bills in in support of these veterans, HR 1288 and S-1361, WW II Merchant Mariners Service Act.  HR 1288 was amended in to HR 4435, 2015 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and this bill cleared the House with the amendment intact and is awaiting Senate action for comparison with the Senate  NDAA S 2410.

S -1361 was introduced by Senator Chris Murphy, D-CT back in March, 2014.

In May of 2014, Chairman Senator Levin and Ranking Member Senator Inhofe of the the Senate Committee on Armed Forces selected a large block of amendments for possible inclusion in what is commonly referred to as a Manager’s package.  This package includes certain Bills and amendments that are generally favored by specific groups or members of the Senate. S 1361 was not included within that group. 

Shortly afterward in July, Senator Murphy introduced Senate Amendment Sa-3548. but after the offering of the ”Managers Package”. 

We are awaiting the Senatorial debate on the floor to see if they will consider any more amendments or not.  With this late bit of information, we immediately set about to reach out to all cosponsors of S 1361 (5) and request they come aboard Sa-3548 as cosponsors.  Next we asked each member of the Senate Committee of Armed Forces to become Cosponsors and finally we are asking the remainder of the Senate to become cosponsors to Senator Murphy’s Amendment.

It is our hope to obtain sufficient co-sponsors to bring attention to the exhaustive efforts to have these mariners be given their promised recognition, by court order and many congressional speeches, proclaiming full and unequivocal support for our veterans.

I received an email from the Fleet Reserves that states the Senate version S 2410 of the NDAA may be brought to the floor and may allow debate and issuance of additional amendments.  This is a departure from past Senate actions and good news for us.  Congress is scheduled for convening on 12 November. I attempted to have this confirmed by Senate contacts but was unable.  They neither confirmed nor denied.  

How many mariners are we talking about?

Don Horton at work on a barge during WWII.

Don Horton at work on a barge during WWII.

No one knows either how many served or how many were lost.  GAO asked the Coast Guard to identify how many served during WW II and they could only tell them how many credentials were issued during 1939 to 1946, about 840,000, but stated they had no idea how many served in enemy contested waters.  Historians settled on about 250,000 serving who may be entitled to veteran recognition.  To date about 91,000 have been recognized as veterans.  
 
No one can state how many were lost and presumed dead.  Numbers range from around 5200 to about 9500.  We have documentation that demonstrates that New York lost about 1300 of the numbers of 5200.  That is an eye opening figure for anyone to digest.  I have provided names of those from New York who were lost and the very few who have been recognized as veterans.

PortSide interview: Don Horton's WWII memories of Red Hook, recollections of a child in the merchant marine

Brother Jack and I, Circa 1943.jpg

Yesterday, Don Horton visited PortSide NewYork to give us some oral history.  PortSide has been corresponding with Don Horton since October 2013, and the last time Don Horton visited Red Hook was 1950.  

Starting in the 1940s, through the WWII period,  he was working as a child in the merchant marine - a paid worker - so the company knew what was going on.

Yes, such a class of merchant mariner existed, and Don has dedicated his retirement years to getting their service recognized by the federal government, along with the women, elderly and disabled who worked in the wartime merchant marine. All of that being a startling case of "who knew?" 

We wrote about his dogged efforts to reveal this hidden history in a prior blogpost.

Don knows conventional military service, what it is to be a vet.

He served in the Korean War, and he believes that the hundreds of thousands of merchant mariners who served during WWII deserve our nation’s acknowledgement of their service whether they were towing supplies to the European theater or moving cargo along our eastern shore where German U-boats came in close to sink their kind of vessels.

From age 10-18, Don Horton worked on barges, along with his two brothers, his sister, and his mother, all of them joining the father of the family throughout the summer.  

One of their main jobs was hauling coal from Norfolk, Virginia up north. The two boys learned fast how to repair a steam boiler, and they painted the barge. Mama (Sadie Horton) was the cook. The sister married early in the story and got off the boats. Papa seems to have liked drink too much, and brother Billy got off the barges to get away from that and went to work on a tug. The third day on the tug, at age 17, Billy was killed when Germans shelled and sank his boat.

In comparison, Don’s memories of Red Hook are more associated with fun. A stop in New York meant good times. Don recalled a trip to 42nd Street and the treat of a hot dog.  A trip to Coney Island netted a very big hot dog.

Yesterday, Don was in town to see some Senators on behalf of his cause which you can follow on Facebook and to contribute some oral history to PortSide's WaterStories cultural tourism effort.  Here is a preliminary glimpse of some gems we got from Don today.

Carolina Salguero, John Weaver and Peter Rothenberg spent several hours interviewing Don and recording video and sound files.  Don's tack-sharp memory and vivid story telling made for a great afternoon.

We started out talking over lunch in the galley of our Mary A. Whalen with Don and his darling wife Norita.

Ralston's WWII grocery, now the site of hip Baked

After lunch, we visited the site of Ralston's, a grocery store during WWII Red Hook: fruit under an awning out front, narrow aisles and a place where they preferred you give them a list of what you wanted instead of getting it from the shelf yourself, little shopping carts with wooden wheels.  

Don said boats liked to provision at Ralston’s and explained the allure: the captain's were given free liquor in the back in a private bar which ensured they would frequent the joint and then spend grub money in the store.

Ralston’s address was 294 Van Brunt Street, now BAKED.

Don said that the soda Spur was their favorite and that he and his siblings fought over the precious bottles on the barge trip to the next port, the ice blocks from Ralston's being their only refrigeration until they got there.

Here is a 1943 ad for Spur, "a cola with a walnut taste," he remembered with a smile.

Next, we took Don Horton past two once-twin tenements, one of which is at 415 Van Brunt, to see if those were the kind of buildings that matched his "never would happen now" WWII memories of a Van Brunt Street where women on hands and knees scrubbed little porches with buckets of water, a scrub brush and a big bar of Octagon soap.

YES, those were the kinds of buildings he remembered!

Don then explained that "doing laundry" on the barge was scrubbing dungarees on the wide rail of the barge and leaving them to dry there.

Sunny's Bar

From there, over to Sunny's Bar where we were thrilled to find Sunny himself lounging in bathrobe with friends at the end of lunch.

At age 80, Sunny is but 2 years younger than Don, and they shared many memories including swimming in the filthy water of the time which both cited as having lots of turds and Coney Island whitefish as Sunny called them, or rubbers in Don’s version.

Sunny cheekily got an old load off his conscience when he confessed that he'd "borrowed' someone's rowboat at one point, and on top of that lied to his Papa saying that he had not taken it, and apologized to Don who said they'd come back from Ralston's Grocery at times to find their boat gone.

Sunny Balzano, Carolina Salguero of PortSide NewYork and Don Horton

Sunny Balzano, Carolina Salguero of PortSide NewYork and Don Horton

The rowboats always came back, Don said, but delays were a big concern; because if they missed the tide, the current would be too strong to row against it in their little boat loaded with groceries.

Sunny shared memories of how, when he heard wartime air raid siren drills and knew that the war was being fought "overseas," thought that Staten Island (which was overseas for a little Red Hook boy) was under attack.

Don Horton gave us several copies of this book.

Don Horton gave us several copies of this book.

Here is what Don told us about shelling during the interview in the galley:  When he first started on the barges and saw flashes of light when they were offshore and asked Papa what they were, Papa fibbed and didn’t say it was German’s shelling the American merchant marine, he said it was lighting.

Later on, “I knew what those lights were,” said Don, “and something I don’t often say, I wet myself with fear.” The barges were old boats, unarmored with no weapons, three miles behind the tug, he clarified.

"Barge" of the sort Don Horton and his family work, dismasted wood schooner hulls.

"Barge" of the sort Don Horton and his family work, dismasted wood schooner hulls.

We need to clarify what "barges" means here. These were the old, creaky hulls of wooden schooners,  dismasted to turn them into barges.

Don said the vessels' intended life span was some 25 years and these were 50-60 years old and so frail that after being beat up in a storm, the caulk might be battered out. Then, they'd have to go to a shipyard for repairs.

The Red Hook Flats & Erie Basin

We walked out to the end of the Beard Street Pier so Don Horton could see the Red Hook flats and the entrance to Erie Basin. This prompted more memories.

Don had emailed us some great memories of the Red Hook flats last year which paint a picture of a harbor jammed with ships, tugs, barges, row boats and the "bum boat" or "speculator" a sort of scrap dealer and rag picker afloat who went from vessel to vessel buying what he could.

Yesterday, Don described how he and his brother scavenged whatever they could, lengths of tired rope, bits of metal they found or “liberated” from cargo on the occasions they were hauling metal.

"There's the cut," Don Horton said as soon as he saw the entrance to Erie Basin.

"There's the cut," Don Horton said as soon as he saw the entrance to Erie Basin.

Standing on the end of Greg O’Connell’s Beard Street Pier enabled Don to pin point geography in a way that looking at the map while seated in our galley had not, and he explained that the dinghy dock location was around the Erie Basin side of that pier.  During WWII, tugboats were jammed into the place where the New York Water Taxi homeport dock is today.

PortSide recently acquired this page from an old magazine showing a view of the Erie Basin during the era described in this interview.

PortSide recently acquired this page from an old magazine showing a view of the Erie Basin during the era described in this interview.

Don said there were often up to 50 barges at anchor "on the Red Hook flats" as he called them, and that Erie Basin was so chock full of ships and barges that his family had to find channels underneath the bow and stern rakes of the barges to row their way through the fleet.

During the interview in the Mary A Whalen galley, Don described how his father bought a lot of whiskey when he was ashore, and his mother would dump it over the side once they got back to the barge on the Red Hook flats, to the point that she said the flats must be full of whiskey bottles. Hello, bottle collecting divers!

We were all surprised to learn that Don's mother did not know how to swim and was afraid of the water but still spent every summer working the coastwise barges with her husband and children during the war.

The whole endeavor required a lot of courage by everyone in the family, and PortSide NewYork is helping to get this aspect of history, that's national history and local history, better known. 

[This and many other stories are also told in redhookwaterstories.org PortSide NewYork's  e-museum and neighborhood website. ]

PortSide NewYork Hyster eligible for National register of Historic Places

karry krane logo.jpg

Another triumph!  Another historic item for Red Hook! Our Hyster crane (built in 1941) has been deemed eligible to be on the National Register of Historic Places! and in record time~

What triggered this accomplishment

In just two days, the PortSide team researched the history of our 1941 Hyster and the history of this "Karry Krane" model, submitted an application to SHPO (the NYS Historical Preservation Office) to see if it was eligible to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and got that application approved! 

We profusely thank the staff at SHPO for reviewing our application in just hours, and we also profusely thank Jenny Bernstein of FEMA who told us about the grant that prompted us to focus on the Hyster. The Hyster was flooded by Sandy, and the grant is for Sandy damage to historic and cultural resources. 

PortSide-NewYork-DOE-1941-Hyster-Karry-Krane.jpg

PortSide applied for funding to reverse Sandy damage to the Hyster and to the replacement parts for MARY A. WHALEN's engine which were in the shed. The grant does not cover damage to historic documents which were flooded by Sandy. 

We applied for for the Hyster, and for damages to MARY's engine parts we would use. (The grant would not cover damage to those engine parts we planned to sell to support the restoration of the MARY A. WHALEN's engine.)  Earlier this year, we applied for FEMA Sandy recovery funds for Sandy damages, but we do not yet know if we will get funding.  We did not apply until May 2013 because we were told in a November 2012 funding workshop that we were not eligible; that was corrected in May, at which point we immediately sought Sandy recover funds. 

Our total Sandy damages amount to $134,000

Crash course into the National Register of Historic Places

In short, getting on the National Register of Historic Places is a two-stage process: being "deemed eligible" and actually being listed. PortSide did the MARY A. WHALEN in two steps.  For something to be on eligible or listed, it has to be deemed historical significant in some or all of the following ways:

Is it associated with an important person, event, or movement in history? Does it represent a significant design or technology, or is it a special example of a particular style? Is it the work of a recognized master? Could it yield important archaeological information about our past?

Here is our full application to SHPO in two parts.

Determination of Eligibility (DOE) for listing on the National Register

Supplemental History of Michael Cowhey

SHPO's response was "{C}{C}{C}Thank you for pulling together this very compelling and fascinating history of the "Karry Krane"  in such a short amount of time!  Both myself and my colleague, Kath LaFrank of our NR Unit, have reviewed your submission and, based on the information provided, the Hyster "Karry Krane" is eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places.  The only other somewhat similar type of property in NYS that we've called eligible is a historic steam shovel in LeRoy, NY. "

We copy excerpts from our DOE application below.

The Hyster Karry Krane is currently parked alongside the MARY A. WHALEN in the Red Hook Containerport. PortSide will be moving to a publicly accessible site in Red Hook at GBX-Gowanus Bay Terminal, known as the site of the Port Authority Grain Terminal. It would be parked in a diagonal parking spot on Columbia Street due west of the Mary A. Whalen almost opposite the crosswalk coming from the southern end of IKEA’s waterfront park (the former Todd Shipyard). This would make it highly visible to people coming southbound to us on Columbia Street.

 
 

This site also puts it between two sites of great industrial significance during the period it represents.

To the west is IKEA which was the mighty Todd Shipyard, major to the war effort in WWII. To the east is our prospective landlord's property, currently called GBX, with the huge grain silo built in 1922.

The property just east of GBX is where our MARY A. WHALEN began her working life in 1938, the shipyard and fuel terminal of Ira S. Bushey & Sons. See attached photo to see what that looked like in 1946. Bushey built over 200 vessels in their day, and had many more built at two other yards. Vessels built at Bushey's are listed here

http://shipbuildinghistory.com/history/shipyards/5small/inactive/bushey.htm

Ira S. Bushey & Sons shipyard in 1941

Ira S. Bushey & Sons shipyard in 1941

Todd Shipyard boomed during WWII. There were mobile cranes like ours in use at Todd. We have yet to check if the grain terminal used them.

In short, on southern Columbia Street, our 1941 Hyster would be in a perfect spot to tell local industrial history and how and where such Hyseters were used. Forklifts are still being used both sides of Columbia Street at GBX, IKEA, Arizona, Erie Basin etc, so the Hyster will be relevant to ongoing industrial and commercial activity in Red Hook. We plan to hang an exhibit banner on Erie Basin's chain link fence with history of forklift machines. Our goal is to make the currently empty and dull Columbia Street esplanade into an open air museum with historical info and explanations of contemporary working waterfront activities installed all along it.

On Columbia Street, PortSide NewYork will be creating center of historical exhibitry. With the MARY A. WHALEN, already on the National Register of Historic Place, combined with PortSide public events using the street and esplanade, the Hyster will be central to a Columbia Street activated via cultural tourism, creating a new attraction within the industrial theme and history of this immediate site and emblematic of the Red Hook and Brooklyn working waterfront as a whole.

History In brief

The “Karry Krane” name was first used July 14, 1941. PortSide’s Crane is from 1941. PortSide’s crane is both one of the original Karry Kranes made and, while once common, is now one of the last of its kind.

This crane type was developed by Hyster during WWII and was very significant to the war effort here and overseas. It was used in shipbuilding facilities, in ports for cargo handling and for rebuilding after the war effort. It was such a useful vehicle that Hyster produced it overseas when it opened its first plant outside the USA in 1951. It became an international workhorse. We find documentation that shows it was used in New Zealand in addition to Europe.

This particular Hyster crane was last used by Cowhey Brother Marine Hardware in Red Hook which closed in 2005 and donated their final inventory to PortSide NewYork. The Cowhey family was in several forms of maritime business in Red Hook for about 140 years when three Cowheys wound down the business.

Cowhey’s bought the crane from the Staten Island Bethlehem Steel shipyard when that closed in the 1960s. We presume that the crane was new when purchased by Bethlehem Steel when that yard boomed during the war effort.

Physical description of the crane

The crane dimensions are:

Body length 12’ 4”
Length of boom 10’ 1”
Overall length 22’ 3”
Height of body 3’ 3”
Height of boom 10’ 8”

1940: By experimental use of tractor frames, an advanced type of mobile crane is developed, later named the “Karry Krane."

1952: Hyster opens its first plant outside the USA, in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. The Hyster 40” and the Karry Krane are the first machines to be assembled there.
Criteria for evaluation.

This 1941 Hyster Karry Krane meets the following National Regsiter criteria:

(a) that are associated with history of a prominent Red Hook family and business. It is the last sizeable artifact of that business. It is related to a collection of other artifacts we have for that business. This particular crane is related to maritime history of NYC (two sites, one in Red Hook, one in Staten Island). And the crane model is particularly related to WWII history everywhere this crane became a major workhorse
(d) that have yielded, or may be likely to yield, information important in prehistory or history. It is a means to tell stories related to the Cowhey family and business in Red Hook, the Bethlehem Steel shipyard in Staten Island, WWII and reconstruction operations in civilian and military applications.

History of the Hyster company

This is a 2.5 ton Hyster,the most popular World War 2,dock, lift and carry crane.they first came over on lease lend in 1941.

COLLECTION HYSTER KARRY KRANE MOBILE CRANE USAF USNAVY WWII

Establishing Willamette Ersted Co.
The company that would be known as Hyster Co. was founded by E.G. Swigert in 1929 under the name Willamette Ersted Co.[2] Initially, this company was established to manufacture logging winches for the forestry market in the Pacific Northwest, with headquarters in Portland, Oregon.

The Early Products
1934 saw the development of the straddle carrier with forks, which was one of the company’s earliest forklifts. Following this was the development of the BT, a forklift with a cable hoist system, able to lift 6,600 pounds (3,000 kg).[3] By 1940, the company began to manufacture its first piece of mobile lifting equipment, a mobile crane on a tractor frame, first known as a Cranemobile, later to be renamed Karry Krane. The Karry Kranes would prove to be very profitable for the company, as these lift trucks were used for loading and unloading massive cargo ships for importing and exporting purposes. In 1941, Willamette Ersted began recognizing a need for a smaller lift truck, and designed a new smaller model known as the Handy Andy. The following year, the Jumbo was introduced as the company’s first product to use pneumatic tires and a telescoping mast.

Operations in Peoria
In the company’s early years, one of its prominent customers was Caterpillar Tractor Co. Caterpillar held an exclusive contract with the company, whereby Willamette Ersted Co. would manufacture specialized winches for Caterpillar’s logging tractors. In light of this, the company decided in 1936 to open a warehouse and distribution center in Peoria, Illinois, where Caterpillar was headquartered. By 1940, Willamette Ersted Co. had begun full-scale manufacturing of products at its Peoria location.

For more info check out...  http://www.ritchiewiki.com/wiki/index.php/Hyster_Co.

 

History of the Cowhey family and their business in Red Hook

The story of this business is a means to cover several topics: how an immigrant family rises in stature, the growth of a marine business from “speculator” (eg, the maritime version of the scrap collectors with shopping carts today, someone who collected scrap metal by going boat to boat in the harbor), to a purveyor of nautical antiquities to the wealthy, then a marine hardware supplier and the operator of a port in Albany.
The Cowhey family grew in prominence in Red Hook from their speculator days in the 1860s, and at the peak of the business, they owned most of a block in the vicinity of their final outpost at 440 Van Brunt Street.
In 2005, as the business wound down, the Cowhey family operated a terminal in Albany of Federal Marine Terminals http://www.fmtcargo.com/.
Chronology of Cowhey family in Red Hook (for more, see attached history about Michael Cowhey)

John Cowhey started his business about 1862 [1937 obit says business started about 75 years ago]

By the time his son Michael Cowhey was running it, the business, John Cowhey Sons at 400 Van Brunt was a ship wrecking and salvage firm. The company was well known to decorators looking for nautical articles.

John Cowhey was famous for purchasing in 1911 the RELIANCE a racing yacht which one the America’s cup, dismantling her and selling her fittings and scrapping her parts. The 110-foot mast went to the Federal Baseball League park.

Michael Cowhey. d. 1937 had a wife Regina [or Margret according to a different source], a daughter Regina and two sons Thomas and John.

Thomas M. Cowhey in 1990 was the title holder to 440 Van Brunt which was built c. 1931, altered in 1957.

A Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Jan. 20, 1931 article describes John Cowhey as "one of the influential citizens of Red Hook" in his day.

The same article tells that Michael had in his yard several large old church bells that he had bought for scrap but had decided to hold on to. The bells rang eerily in the night but:

"If some one suggested that the ghost of an old Bailing ship skipper might be behind the tolling, he would nod solemnly. Then he would ask if his questioner had ever heard how in 1880 the wind blew so hard that Red Hook was white with scales, blown clean off the harbor fish, and how all the houses on the Hook had to be held in place by anchors. And how once it was so cold that he, Michael Cowhey, was able to walk barefooted over the ice to Staten Island. "