Every object has a history. Unlocking that history is what interpretation is all about and is something we try and do here at PortSide NewYork with our WaterStories project. Here’s a story related to the crèche you can see outside the Red Hook Containerport.
December 2010, PortSide received an email out of the blue from a Fred DeAngelis. Here are some excerpts.
To whom it may concern,
My name is Fred DeAngelis. I am so glad to have found your website. In short I was practically raised on pier 9.
My dad worked there with JOHN McGrath for over 20+ years. Of course I would like to volunteer my time to support your project. I have not been on the pier itself since 1986 & would love the opportunity to revisit.
Fred and his wife and small child visited the Mary Whalen on 3/12/2011. While leaving, he spotted the battered crèche inside the shed on Pier 9b. He was very moved. He said “my father built that.” He got out of his car to photograph it.
When the crèche was installed outside the port this December, I emailed him to tell him it was in place in case he wanted to photograph it. I thought it might not be around forever, what with the changes in the port. He wrote back with a history of Christmas in the port from the 70s and 80s. His father was here from 1972 to 1986 when as he put it “John McGrath was the name of the company that was pier 9.”
The Holiday session on the water front was something literally out of a movie. The surrounding neighborhood wasn't as pretty as it is now becoming and the workers tried to make it as festive as possible.
Now remember these were the tough and rugged Longshoreman of yesteryear. However the special feeling of the holidays touched almost everyone. As I remember most of the waterfront would decorate a little.
My dad and his friends would cut a damaged container up and make a shed for the decorations that they would put on display. The nativity set was always the center of attraction with a lighted sign that would say "MERRY CHRISTMAS"
Santa was incorporated with strings of lights and the feelings of the holidays approaching would settle in.
Food was also another big part of celebrating the holidays. Through out certain parts of the pier they had what they would call shacks. This is a place where till today I have never tasted an Italian meal so good. Joe Black was the cook and also the forklift operator for John McGrath at the time and a special family friend.
You could picture snow on the ground, ships all docked at the piers and small shacks that would have smoke coming out of a chimney with friends inside eating and drinking together.
Indeed a special time and memories that will last a lifetime.
Happy holidays, whatever you celebrate, however you celebrate it.