Christmas in the Red Hook Container Terminal, back in the day

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.


Send off to Old Man Winter

Is shipboard life romantic? You decide. Here's some of life on Pier 9B since late December.  

Below is a video from the Christmas blizzard where Carolina and her brother Antonio get ready to put out another bow line due to 50mph winds whipping around the end of the shed and hitting the bow. A few hours later, the winds were pushing the ship so far off the pier, they decided to raise the gangway on the boom so the gangway didn't come off the pier. We've kept the gangway rigged to the boom, which has allowed us to raise it and protect it from wake damage at high tide. This has given the office crew an athletic interactive feature they use several times a day, and Chiclet has become expert at catapulting herself off it at high tide. 

In order to spring the spring that has not sprung, we offer this tribute to Old Man Winter on what he does for us on the Mary A. Whalen!  
Block the view
Coat everything
Have us go for salt from the pile
Prevent office staff getting carpal tunnel by having regular shoveling breaks. Here, Dan Goncharoff demonstrates excellent shovel technique.
Provide opportunity for Smoke 101, or How to Use the Damper, a
short intensive class for Stephanie Ortiz, our planning intern from Puerto Rico.
Beat up on the gangway chainfall until it snags, kinks and chokes and 
needs rescue lubrication. Thank you ASI for sending this forklift 12 minutes after the request!
Oblige us to call Rich Naruszewicz of the Captain Log for diesel fuel deliveries to run the galley stove. Like the mail boat, he comes with sea stories (Brownwater Edition) new and old (he used to be a tankerman on the Mary A. Whalen).

Attract better dressed shovellers on Volunteer Days! Here Claudia Steinberg, who writes about design and fashion for the New York Times and German publications, joined a shoveling committee, needed after our director Carolina Salguero was hit by a truck in January and couldn't shovel for most snowfalls after the blizzard. 
Set off the ship colors so nicely
Make lovely patterns, such as this March snow where the frames under the deck, warmed by the sun the day before, are still warm enough to melt the damp coating of an early morning.

Krumkake-a Norwegian Christmas tradition

John Weaver here:

As stories go, this one has more than its share of nostalgia. Going back in history, there was a time when the S.T. Kiddoo was re-christened the Mary A. Whalen. On that occasion, command was given to Captain Alf H. Dyrland. It was 1958.

Alf Dyrland’s story goes back, across the Atlantic, to 1931 and the fishing village of Skudeneshavn on the southernmost tip of the island of Karmoy just off the southwestern coast of Norway. That year, having completed his seventh grade studies, 14 year old Alf went to sea as a “cabin boy.”

We dissolve to Christmas, 1979. Alf was retired after twenty years as Captain of the Whalen and yours truly, courting his daughter Karen, was a guest for the holiday in the house he built in northeast Connecticut. Of the many ritual observances associated with this holiday, perhaps the most intense, as well as joyous event was the baking of traditional Christmas cookies…Norwegian Krumkake.

The recipe was handed down from Alf’s mother. The batter, mixed and chilled overnight, was cooked by Alf on the stovetop using the iron from his mother’s kitchen and rolled into its cone form on a hand turned wooden dowel. You can find recipes for Krumkake on the web and in Scandinavian cookbooks. Alf’s has a wrinkle or two that are special and, in as much as the holiday always was a gathering for an extended family, it produces between ninety and one hundred cones.

Alf taught me how to bake and roll, and Karen prepares the batter from her grandmother’s recipe. For a few years after Alf died (1996) I used the old iron. Then an electric Krumkake baker became available and we purchased it at one of the last surviving outposts of Norwegian culture in Brooklyn, “Nordic Delicacies” on 3rd Avenue and 69th St.

When Carolina founded PortSide NewYork and rescued the Mary Whalen from the jaws of the scrap heap, she invited the public to visit for Open House New York in 2006. Karen and I arrived and were warmly welcomed by Carolina. The welcome was so warm, we never left and, now Carolina and the Mary Whalen have become part of Alf’s extended family and her ration of Krumkake graces the galley table every Christmas.

(Top photo: Captain Alf Dyrland the day the S.T. Kiddoo was re-christened Mary A. Whalen, and converted from gasoline service to heavier oil products.)

(Bottom photo: Bill & Karen Dyrland, two of Captain Alf's children, in the Whalen wheelhouse in 2008)

Note: In 2009, Skudeneshavn only has a population of 3,229. Imagine how small it was when Alf Dyrland left in 1931.