PortSide Exhibit: Mariners' response to 9/11

Exhibit on the steamer LILAC - on Hudson River Park's Pier 25, Manhattan

PortSide NewYork, a waterfront-themed non-profit organization, is mounting a multi-media exhibit (photography, videos and oral history) and presentation about the extraordinary and little-known maritime role in 9/11, from evacuation to rubble removal. 

The exhibit venue Lilac and PortSide's base of operations, the Mary A. Whalen, survived Irene unharmed. Despite Irene's disruptions and delays, we are proceeding with plans for the exhibit.

Sponsors are still being sought for this exhibit. Please contact PortSide NewYork, Director Carolina Salguero,917-414-0565, portsidenewyork(at)gmail.com

Opening:   Thurs 9/8/11 6:00-9:00pm.

Talk:         Wed 9/14/11 7:00-8:30pm by Carolina Salguero, photojournalist on 9/11 and now Director of PortSide NewYork and journalist Jessica DuLong 

Location:   Historic ship LILAC, Hudson River Park’s Pier 25 at North Moore Street, Tribeca,Manhattan

Hours:        During September on Thursdays from 12:00pm to 6:00pm and Saturdays from 1:00pm to 6:00pm, plus scheduled visits by school groups.  Additional open hours for the public may be announced by early September.

Download press release here

related event: U.S. Coast Guard 9/11 New York City Response Retrospective on the Intrepid, Sat 9/10, 10 am to 4pm. Open to the public. more info

Photo by Carolina Salguero

The Coast Guard estimated that, on the morning of 9/11, between 350,000 and 500,000 people were evacuated from lower Manhattan by water during just a few hours.

Particularly noteworthy is that the process was started spontaneously by the operators of the boats themselves.  Within hours, five Coast Guard cutters, 12 small boats, and more than 100 public and private vessels operated on scene. For four days following the attacks, the boats continued to provide rescue workers with fuel, crucial supplies, and river water for firefighting.

The marine role continued, largely unsung, for months as all the rubble - 2,400 barges or 93,346 trucks' worth was removed from Manhattan by water, save for the ritual last column which left by truck.  The fact that it was removed by water made it possible to finish the job in just eight months, and spare the city incredible truck traffic.  In creating the exhibit, PortSide NewYork makes the point that the maritime 9/11 story has workaday implications for New York City as it develops new plans for its waterfront.

To bring home the point, the exhibit will be mounted on a ship docked at a pier from which Ground Zero rubble was removed.  PortSide will mount the exhibit on the former U.S. Lighthouse Tender Lilac, at Hudson River Park’s Pier 25, at North Moore Street, New York City in partnership with the non-profit Lilac Preservation Project

The exhibit will include photography and oral history by the award-winning photojournalist Carolina Salguero, who went on to found PortSide NewYork, plus contributions from vessel crews, and other institutions.

Photo by Carolina Salguero

Related talk:

On Wednesday, September 14, from 7:00-8:30pm a related talk will be given by Carolina Salguero (www.carolinasalguero.com) and journalist Jessica DuLong (www.jessicadulong.com), author of the critically acclaimed My River Chronicles: Rediscovering the Work That Built America, and chief engineer of retired New York City Fireboat John J. Harvey (www.fireboat.org), which was called back into service to supply firefighters with Hudson River water—the only water available for days following the towers' collapse. DuLong and her Fireboat Harvey crewmates were recognized in the Congressional Record for valor in aiding FDNY’s rescue efforts, and appear as characters in Maira Kalman’s award-winning children’s book FIREBOAT: The Heroic Adventures of the John J. Harvey.

The Lilac where the exhibit will be installed
As a ship-based museum, our role is to educate New Yorkers about our maritime heritage, and the story of the heroic role of mariners in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks has received little attention," said Lilac's Museum Director, Mary Habstritt.  "We are really honored to help recognize their contributions and to share this story on board a ship, at Pier 25, which itself played a role as a shipping point for debris removal."

Carolina Salguero, Founder & Director of PortSide NewYork said “I was really concerned that the story of the 9/11 maritime evacuation was so overlooked. That was one of the things that prompted me to found PortSide NewYork as a way to bring attention to the waterways. Doing this exhibit is a way to both commemorate what happened ten years ago and to help the city move forward with its new waterfront plan Vision 2020.  PortSide hopes, that by illuminating how those boats worked ten years ago—and the impediments they found—we can help the city better plan its future waterfront for both good days and bad."

"It's an honor to help share the largely untold story of the maritime community's contribution in New York City's hour of greatest need," said Jessica DuLong, chief engineer Fireboat John J. Harvey and author My River Chronicles, "The spontaneous mobilization was truly remarkable, but for mariners it's just a part of the job. Among those who work on the water the notion that panic leads to peril is as deeply ingrained as the tradition of helping those in need."

The exhibit includes:

Photography of the maritime evacuation:
  • featuring the work of Carolina Salguero, Founder + Director of  PortSide NewYork and an award-winning photojournalist. More about Salguero's reporting from ground zero in this video  
  • Photographs from Rich Naruszewicz, Captain of the New York Fast Ferry "Finest" evacuating people during 9/11 and former tankerman on PortSide's Mary A. Whalen
  • Photographs from crew of the retired fireboat John J. Harvey which served at ground zero.
Photography of rubble removal
  • by Carolina Salguero of Pier 25, North River and Pier 6, East River. 
Oral history
  • Of tug crews who evacuated people and removed rubble gathered by Carolina Salguero
  • MARAD video "Rescue at Water’s Edge,” a 10th anniversary tribute to the Merchant Mariners who sailed directly into harm’s way on September 11 and evacuated more 300,000 people by water.
  • Video by Mike Mazzei, dockbuilder who worked at 9/11 rubble removal site on Pier 25
  • Center for National Policy new video "Boatlift" the story of the armada of civilian watercraft which came together with no prior planning to evacuate hundreds of thousands of people from lower Manhattan on 9/11.  It was the largest sealift ever – greater even than at Dunkirk during World War I
More about PortSide NewYork www.portsidenewyork.org
PortSide NewYork is a young, innovative non-profit organization. Our mission is to show New York City better ways to use the BlueSpace, or water part of the waterfront, to educate the public and policy makers about the waterfront, and to help revitalize our home neighborhood of Red Hook, Brooklyn while doing that.

We promote sustainable waterfront planning that increases use of the water. This includes fostering waterborne transportation, the greenest way to move people and goods, and providing educational, cultural, and social service programs for the community on a water theme.  PortSide engages in harbor advocacy and runs an H2O Arts program that offers ship tours, talks, walks, readings, concerts, movies, and performing arts.

We use a historic ship, the coastal oil tanker Mary A. Whalen, as our office, mobile cultural platform, and teaching tool.  She was built in 1938 and is 172'  long.  She is famous for her role in incidents leading to the 1975 Supreme Court decision U.S. vs Reliable Transfer.

More about the Lilac Preservation Project: www.Lilacpreservationproject.org
The U.S. Lighthouse Tender Lilac was launched on May 26, 1933. Built for the U.S. Lighthouse Service, she carried supplies and personnel to lighthouses and maintained buoys.  The duties of the Lighthouse Service were later absorbed by the U.S. Coast Guard. Lilac was decommissioned by the Coast Guard in 1972. She was the last ship in the Coast Guard fleet to operate with reciprocating steam engines and is unique in still possessing her original engines. Lilac is on the National Register of Historic Places and is eligible to become a National Historic Landmark. The ship is owned by the non-profit Lilac Preservation Project.

Related 9/11 info:

Event: US Coast Guard 9/11 New York City Response Retrospective, Intrepid Sea, Air, & Space Museum. Saturday 9/10 10 am to 4pm. Open to the public. more info

Coast Guard 9/11 oral history project:

National September 11 Museum Interactive timeline
Downtown Alliance list of 9/11-related events and programs


Hudson River Park's Pier 25. Cross West Street at N. Moore St. or Harrison St.

1 at Canal Street and Franklin St.
A,C,E at Canal St.
1,2,3 at Chambers St.

M20 and M22


Exhibit Design + Planning
provided pro bono by
Paul S. Alter

Lee H. Skolnick Architecture +
Design Partnership

To join our sponsors of this exhibit
Please get in touch with PortSide NewYork
Carolina Salguero, Director

9/11 on Pier 9B

It’s funny how life works sometimes. 7 years ago, two planes flew into the World Trade Center, and 7 years ago I snuck into the Red Hook containerport to make photos of the burning buildings. 7 years later, I’m living on a retired oil tanker on the same pier from which I made a widely-published photo of the disaster (and Homeland Security funds have since built a new port fence that makes such sneaking-in impossible.)

I’ve been interviewed and awarded aplenty for my photojournalism work at ground zero; but up until now, I have refrained from writing anything about 9/11. What I’d like to do here is acknowledge the work of others who I think deserve appreciation.

First, starting with the personal: Many thanks and much credit should go to Debby Romano. She’d only steered a boat one time before 9/11. That was a few days before 9/11, when I was shooting Robert Buchet bagpiping on the tug Amy Moran at dawn for a long term National Geographic project. I told Debby to hold a course right off the tug’s beam and just outside the barge wake. She did it, and that ain’t easy in a 26’ runabout. I told her she was a natural.

When 9/11 happened, I called her boss Greg O’Connell, baron of Red Hook, and asked if Debby could get off work to join me on my boat going to the World Trade Center. The Brooklyn Bridge was already closed, I had tried to bike over it after sneaking into the port. He said yes. Debby and I watched the 2nd tower go down from the water, and we got involved in getting one cop from shore to the Sandy Hook Pilots boat just off the Battery. As I left her in North Cove and handed her my bag of exposed film in case I didn’t get out, I told her “When you dock, remember that boats keep moving after you decelerate more than cars do. Take that into account and also the wind; and so long as you approach the dock very slowly, you can’t damage anything, and good luck.”

With only that for experience and instructions, she got the boat home. She reported that, on the way to Red Hook, she passed a slew of tugboats steaming out of the Kill Van Kill -- some 20 of them roaring towards ground zero. More on them later.

I shot for several hours at ground zero, and went to go as I felt bad vibes (building 7 collapsed shortly thereafter). I spotted the tug Nancy Moran on the seawall and her engineer Gina Sikes, who I knew. Gina has since passed away, but still I’d like to thank Gina and that crew for their assistance in getting me out and for being friendly faces on a dark day.

I reached L&I Color lab in the photo district and had the weird good luck to have Kathy Ryan, photo editor of the New York Times Magazine, walk in as soon as my developed slides hit the light table. I needed the bag of unexposed film, the bag I’d left with Debby, and I’d like to thank Richard Dennis and other Red Hook friends who tried to get to Manhattan in my powerboat. The Coast Guard turned them back, so they gave the film to Joe Martin, a Red Hook townie who has since been pushed out of here by gentrification; and he biked over one of the bridges - after attempting several - to deliver the film.

As to the bigger picture, I’d like to acknowledge the tremendous role of the marine industry in 9/11. Their contribution on that day, and for the weeks and months thereafter, has not been duly registered, analyzed nor appreciated.

When Debby and I approached the Battery, thousands of citizens were crammed along the seawall. As I left ground zero on the tug Nancy Moran only 2 or 3 hours later, there were none; all evacuated by boat in what was a spontaneous, civilian-initiated operation. It began before the Coast Guard asked for it. Tugs, ferries, excursion boats, pilot boats, police and park police boats, historic vessels, dinner boats -- all sectors of the marine industry on all sorts and sizes of craft showed up and got people moving.

They sorted themselves out by size, the shallow draft vessels took people to locations with shallow waters. Boat crew sprayed bedsheets with destination signs; they got out torches and cut the (stupidly) designed fences of Battery Park City that had no removal sections nor cleats or bollards for boats to tie to. Tugs and then barges brought fuel for fire trucks and generators, and fresh water. Boats brought food from the Jersey shore. I remember standing knee deep in rubble and water on West Street and Liberty within an hour of the second tower collapse, shortly after a firefighter shared their grim estimate “we’ve lost 340 men,” to see a college kid coming out of North Cove pushing a shopping cart with snack bars, Gatorade and water. Hats off to the boats that brought that all over.

As the “rescue” period with its hope of survivors eroded into the “recovery” period with its goal of finding body parts, the marine industry soldiered on removing the rubble. Floating cranes unloaded trucks and loaded barges. Tugs took the loaded barges away. The larger steel pieces left from Pier 11 on the East River. The smaller stuff, which was really none too small, left from Pier 25 in Tribeca.

Mike Mazzei, videographer and diver who day-jobbed as a dockbuilder, put up a series of banners at Pier 25 documenting the tonnage and number of barge loads they removed. He shot the job and made a video.

Still, most of the media drove past the pier to do stories from the pile, then the pit, from firehouses, from city hall, stories about steelworkers, medics, cops, shrinks, priests and even photographers. Much of that media continues to chime that the working waterfront is dead. (A special Broken Record Award goes to the New York Times for reiterating that old chestnut.) Is the working waterfront dead, or is the media just blind?

Other media ignored the significant maritime story even when they had it. National Geographic considered running my tugboat project, with it’s unpublished content about the 9/11 marine evacuation, on the first anniversary of the attacks. The Director of Photography decided not to “since we have two other water stories in the same issue.” So, rather than doing a water-themed issue, they put meerkats on the cover — I got many an angry call from tugboat captains on that one. They never published the tug work and held on to it so long it was un-publishable anywhere else. My apologies, fellas; but you can see why I left the media biz.

But back to ground zero: When the politicians got around to concocting a ceremony for the last piece of steel removed, they didn’t include a tug or barge in the choreography. They put a huge beam on a truck and slowly rolled it out of Manhattan. The Pier 25 rubble removal crew watched as the departure ceremony started north of them.

Why is this all important?

Everyone should get their due.

We should understand what really happened.

We should be prepared for the next one.

We should understand where we live (an archipelago) and build to suit.

There’s been a whole lot of waterfront revitalization going on, leading to a rash of newfangled piers without cleats, piers too weak to dock a tug and barge, piers designed for pedestrians-only, silly piers whose planners want them designated “water dependant.”

We shouldn’t be doing that.

Not only because of disaster preparedness, but because the seam between water and land should be a porous membrane with people and things coming and going across it. Not only would that make the most useful (or what 2008 plannerspeak calls “green and sustainable”) waterfront, it would also make the most interesting and fun one.

And with that, I leave you all to your prayers and memories and your own rituals of thanks and acknowledgment. 9/11 was a public episode, but many of us have private ways of handling it. Today, this happened to be mine.

More on the marine role in 9/11:

List of Boats involved in Manhattan evacuation on 9/11

Book “All Available Boats”

Interviews associated with South Street Seaport exhibit on the topic

Video Merchant Marine heroes of 9/11 by MARAD (US Maritime Administration)

Interviews with local tug crews on www.carolinasalguero.com see section “Maritime 9/11” under section WTC. Slow to load – it’s an old Flash site.