On Martin Luther King Day 2018, PortSide NewYork shares news about the launch our first African American Maritime Heritage programs this year.Read More
PortSide blogs about our WaterStories programs, urban waterways issues, the BLUEspace, development plans for the NYC waterfront, our ship MARY A. WHALEN and other historic vessels, boats and ships of all sizes.
PortSide NewYork is excited to welcome you aboard our historic flagship, the tanker MARY A. WHALEN in honor of her 78th birthday!
Sat 5/28/16 from 10am-5pm
Sign up for tours on-site. Groups of 20 will be admitted every 20 minutes. No tours at 1:00 & 1:20 as we break for lunch.
Can't make it? For other ways to experience the MARY, see Visitor Info
Flat soled shoes recommended. Directions here
More Ships! On the next pier at the Brooklyn Cruise Terminal, Fleet Week will have three ships open to visit at the same time. Those ships will be open Thursday through Monday of Memorial Day Weekend. More info here.
Visit historic Red Hook, home to great restaurants, bars, cultural institutions and parks! Info
Please support our restoration of the MARY and other programs, donate to our Red Hook WaterStories campaign. Help us raise $20,000 by the end of June to match a grant. Red Hook WaterStories is funded in part by Councilman Carlos Menchaca and the NYC Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature.
More about the MARY A. WHALEN
The MARY A. WHALEN is the only oil tanker cultural center in the world and an icon of Red Hook maritime history. She is the last of her kind in the USA and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. She is significant for her role in the 1975 Supreme Court legal decision U.S. vs Reliable Transfer, a major case in US maritime law. The MARY is a symbol of resiliency because PortSide's crew rode out superstorm Sandy on the ship, and then brought our office equipment ashore to set up and run a hurricane Sandy pop-up aid station.
The MARY A. WHALEN's story is woven into Red Hook WaterStories because she was built for the Red Hook company Ira S. Bushey & Sons and has been based in Red Hook for a good half of her life, first as a working tanker, later as a floating dock and office for Hughes Marine, and as PortSide's flagship since 2007.
The MARY was launched May 21, 1938 at Mathis in Camden, NJ and built for Bushey's, an innovative and unusually diverse maritime company which closed in the 1980s. Bushey's was based at the foot of Court Street and ran a ship yard, fuel terminal and fuel delivery fleet of tugs, tankers and barges. Bushey's built over 200 ships for the Navy and commercial service and had ships built at other yards. Today, the Bushey property remains an active maritime site with the fuel tanks operated by Buckeye and their fuel moved by our friends at Vane Brothers. Vane runs a fleet of tugs and fuel barges and has often towed our MARY A. WHALEN for free. Vane also introduced us to their paint supplier International Paint who has donated all the paint to recoat the decks and house.
Please donate now to support our restoration of the MARY A. WHALEN, public programs aboard which include TankerTours, TankerTime,
and our summer preservation internships with the WHSAD high school,
programs off the ship such as
our Sandy recovery and resiliency work and
Red Hook WaterStories which tells Red Hook maritime history over 400+ years.
Help us match a grant and raise another $20,000 for Red Hook WaterStories by the end of June and donate here!
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. ]