Saturday, August 20, 2011

South Street Seaport Museum: Fulton St by Front St

New Ticketing Office at 12 Fulton (they've moved from 207 Front Street)
I'm a fan of experiential history.  That is, I like to look at in person, smell and touch things from history (not just read about them or watch movies about them--although these options are not bad in a pinch).  I'm not a fanatical fan (I won't be dressing up for Revolutionary War reenactments), but I will go out of my way to have an experience (see my blog about Grant's Tomb or Governor's Island).

So I was surprised and a little chagrined when I recently discovered that the South Street Seaport was more than a Disney-esque shopping mall, and that it was in fact a museum that allowed visitors to board old ships.  Could I have really lived all these years in NYC and not realized that this was available?  I had mistakenly assumed that those old ships docked at Pier 16 were only for rent for weddings or corporate parties (for which they are also available).

Unfortunately, when I went to the South Street Seaport Museum Friday evening (it's supposed to be open and free to the public from 6-8:45 pm every third Friday), it was closed.

Peking (Built in 1911 in Hamburg, Germany) Docked at Pier 16
Ambrose, Built for NY Harbor in 1908
Like numerous other visitors, I did wander the pier and took pictures of some of the old vessels docked there, but I was sorely disappointed that I could not experience the ships from on board.  The museum is supposed to include tours of the Peking (see above) and the Ambrose (see one of the 2 light towers of the Ambrose at right), and of course there is also supposed to be a gallery of shipping artifacts (but those I could not see, as the museum was closed).

I was, however, able to learn some interesting facts about these old ships from the well-drafted descriptions posted along the pier.  For example, I learned how the Peking was one of the last sailing ships used for shipping fuel and goods to South America and returning around Cape Horn with nitrates mined from Chile.  After more reliable steamship engined ships were invented, sailing ships like the Peking were defunct.  I also learned about how the Ambrose was a kind of floating lighthouse that was used when technological deficiencies prevented the establishment of lighthouses in waters that were too deep and where the ocean floor was too soft.

All in all, it was kind of a bust (see the Peking anchor at left that reflected how I was feeling about this excursion), but perhaps one day, I'll try again (after I get around to all the other wonderful and amazing places I have yet to experience in NYC -- yes, after over 100 entries there is much more).  I will say that they have quite a collection of historic ships (and even a beautiful "time keeping" lighthouse -- the ball at the top used to drop at noon signalling to nearby ships the time of day -- that is a memorial to the Titanic and marks the entrance of the South Street Seaport).

Noteworthy Aside: I would say that if you haven't already done so, the Bodies Exhibit at the South Street Seaport is definitely worth a visit.  What they were able to do in plasticizing human bodies and coloring blood vessels is truly amazing.

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