Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Your correspondent embarks on a voyage and witnesses a rescue.

On Saturday I went to Pier 40 near the west end of Houston Street in Manhattan, there to board the former Lehigh Valley Railroad tug Cornell (see above) for a cruise around New York Harbor sponsored by the Twin Forks Chapter (Long Island) of the National Railway Historical Society. The purpose of this excursion was to view sites where railway traffic became waterborne. Cornell was one of the LV tugs, known as the "Four Aces" (the others were Cornell's sister Lehigh and the larger Hazelton and Wilkes-Barre), that picked up barges loaded with railway cars from LV's eastern terminus at Jersey City and brought them across the harbor to Manhattan, Brooklyn or Queens. There they would either be unloaded and their contents delivered to local consignees or transshipped onto freighters for export, or they would be sent on other railroads for shipment to destinations on Long Island or to the north. A similar service on a smaller scale, between New Jersey and Brooklyn only, is provided today by Cross Harbor Railroad.

When I reached the gangway leading to Cornell's main deck, I saw a sign announcing that she had gone on an emergency mission, but would be back by 11:00 A.M. to pick up passengers for the cruise. Someone on deck beckoned me to come on board, and told me that Cornell had been called on to go up the Hudson about half a mile and try to pull John J. Harvey, a retired New York City fireboat that has been preserved and is also used for harbor cruises, from a mudbank on which she was stuck. There were several other passengers already aboard Cornell, and we were all delighted by this opportunity to see her perform a true tugboat task.

Not long after I boarded we left on our mission. Here you see a Fire Department crewman (an FDNY fireboat is stationed at Pier 40) casting off the bow line to Paul, who served as a deckhand on Cornell for this voyage.

After Cornell left her berth, we passed Lilac, a retired Coast Guard lightship tender that is undergoing extensive renovation.

Going up the Hudson River, we passed the former Erie Lackawanna terminal in Hoboken, New Jersey. Here passengers would shuttle from commuter and intercity trains to ferries for the final leg of their journey to New York City. The need for ferries lessened with the completion of what is now the PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) subway in 1908, and the Holland and Lincoln auto tunnels in the 1920s and 30s. Now, however, ferry service is again becoming popular, and may become more so as people forsake commuting by car because of fuel prices.

We found Harvey, flying the Irish flag from her mainmast, wedged into mud outboard of the retired, and under restoration, lightship Frying Pan (so called because she once warned mariners away from the Frying Pan Shoals near Cape Fear, North Carolina). Cornell had to be wedged into the space between Frying Pan's bow and Harvey's stern in order to make lines fast to Harvey. This task was made extra difficult by I-beams placed around Frying Pan to protect her hull. Nevertheless, we were able to get in and make fast in good time. Below is a video of Cornell making fast to Harvey, then of Harvey being pulled free.



Once we had freed Harvey, people on the pier who were waiting to board her for a cruise loudly cheered Cornell. Could I resist waving back, even though I'd had nothing to do with the operation? Of course not.

This is Matt, skipper and owner of Cornell. He was hospitable and helpful with questions about the vessel and tugboat operations generally. To top it off (literally and figuratively), he wore a Mets cap.

Ann, an experienced mariner, had the wheel and control of the engines throughout the voyage. She was sometimes "assisted" by her three year old daughter.

After freeing Harvey, we went south past the Battery and into Buttermilk Channel, between Brooklyn and Governor's Island. We pulled into a slip on the Governor's Island side, next to the small harbor tanker Capt. Log, from which Cornell took on fuel. The large white hulled vessel beyond Capt. Log is Islander, which used to ferry passengers and cars from Woods Hole, Massachusetts, to Martha's Vineyard.

While we were refueling, a group of kayakers paddled by. The yellow vessel in the background is a New York Water Taxi, part of one of the ferry services that have started up in the past few years.

Near the southern end of our voyage, we passed the small tanker Tradewind Passion, anchored just inside the Narrows separating Brooklyn from Staten Island. In the background is the port of Bayonne, New Jersey.

These are docks for car floats; that is, barges carrying railroad cars. The tracks on the decks of the floats connect to tracks on land, so that the cars can be coupled to locomotives and pulled off the floats. These docks, in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, have recently been restored to working condition but have not yet been put into operation, as the fencing attests. Car float traffic to Brooklyn now goes to docks further north, in the Bush Terminal.

Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson designed four large artificial waterfalls that are in operation this summer: one at the northern tip of Governor's Island, one just below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade, one below the eastern tower of the Brooklyn Bridge (shown in the photo as seen from Cornell going north on the East River), and one on the Manhattan side between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges.

Between the Manhattan and Williamsburgh (seen in the background) Bridges, we passed the classically proportioned yacht or excursion vessel Lexington, as she was overtaking Glen Cove pushing a loaded barge.

Ann's steady hand is on the wheel.

As we approached the site of the former Brooklyn Navy Yard, we saw the beneficiary of our earlier rescue, Harvey, come out into the River ahead of us.

While we were passing the Downtown Heliport, a chopper soared up in front of the massive 55 Water Street office building.

Here is Cornell back at her berth, displaying the Lehigh Valley's "black diamond" (carriage of coal was the road's principal revenue source) logo on her funnel. Update: Cornell now has her own website.

Monday, July 28, 2008

On the trail of the Continental Army with Brenda Becker and a bunch of Brooklyn bloggers.

Behold Brenda Becker in her tricorn hat, about to guide a bevy of Brooklynite bloggers through a bit of what Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, best remembered as the designers of Central Park, considered their real masterpiece, Prospect Park in Brooklyn. Brenda, who produces the fascinating Prospect: A Year in the Park, is holding a copy of John J. Gallagher's The Battle of Brooklyn-1776 while briefing us for a short journey that will traverse both recent and Revolutionary War history. Behind her is the Music Pagoda, rally point for our expedition.

A few steps from the Pagoda, we crossed a bridge over a stream connecting a small pond to a larger one. this is a view of the smaller pond. Xris, of Flatbush Gardener, was able to identify the purple flowers on the pond's bank at the right. Perhaps he'll remind me what they are. (Update: He reminds me--see comments--that it's "Pickerel Weed, Pontederia cordata, a native, semi-aquatic plant.") Brenda said that these ponds were the source of all the watercourses of the Park, so we had to be at a considerable elevation here. (Correction: I must have misheard Brenda, as both she and Xris--see comments--tell me that the source is further up, near a place called "Dog Beach".) Indeed, our path led downhill for some distance.

We had hoped for a chance to ride the Park's carousel (which would have been my first since my daughter celebrated her fifth birthday here), but found it closed. Brenda told us that the carousel began its life on Coney Island, where it was designed by Charles Carmel (see a history of the carousel here), noted for a style featuring horses with flaring nostrils and flowing manes.

Here we go back almost two and a third centuries into history, to the beginning of the first real battle of the Revolutionary War. Concord's "rude bridge" and its "embattled farmers" are etched in our memories, thanks to Emerson, but Concord and Lexington, though of momentous historical significance, were skirmishes in which local militias held their own against regular British troops. It was in Brooklyn, and initially in what is now Prospect Park, that a Continental Army, under the command of George Washington, would first come into battle with the Royal Army. Brenda is standing in front of the Dongan Oak Marker, which commemorates a great tree felled by American troops to block a path from use by British troops advancing from the south.

Brenda is perched on a rock bearing a marker commemorating Battle Pass, where American troops fought a holding action that allowed most of their compatriots to escape to westward. This and a later, particularly valiant stand by a Maryland regiment which took horrendous casualties at The Old Stone House, allowed the majority of Washington's army to escape to Brooklyn Heights, then later to Manhattan, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Here we turn from scenes of valor and carnage to those of bucolic delight. According to Brenda, this style of structure, made entirely of logs, is typical of what Olmstead and Vaux wanted for their park; that is, one that was simple and rustic, or, in New York State lingo, "Adirondack". She contrasted this with Robert Moses's later, mid-twentieth century additions, which were neoclassical and decidedly civilized and urbanized.

Beyond the rude gazebo, we descended into a ravine to a bridge crossing a stream just below this waterfall. Brenda said that the first post on her blog featured a photo of the falls, with the caption, "This is Brooklyn?"

Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Relative Environments", BWAC outdoor sculpture show.

The 26th annual Brooklyn Waterfront Artists' Coalition ("BWAC") outdoor sculpture show is set up in Empire/Fulton Ferry State Park and adjoining Brooklyn Bridge Park, along the waterfront in DUMBO, and will be on view through September 7. Here are some of the works on display:

Laura Paris, "Sculptural Bench":


Lucy Hodgson, "Oh Swell":


Bernard Klevickas, "Untitled":


Henry Royer, "Study 8":


Beth Bailis, "Fusion Painting":


Matt Johnson, "ESB #6":



Update: For images from the 2009 show, "Abundance", see here.

Fresh Air Fund - last chance!

The week before last, I posted about the need for families to host City kids for summer breaks under the auspices of the Fresh Air Fund. Response to that post, as well as those of other bloggers, has been gratifying, but the Fund still needs some more hosts, with the summer's end quickly approaching. Accordingly, I'm reposting the text of my earlier appeal:

In my immediately previous post, I mentioned having taken my daughter, Liz, to a camp in Maine. This is the third summer she's been able to enjoy some time on a lake shore in the woods, hiking, swimming, sailing, learning archery and so on. Anyone who has been reading this blog for some time knows that I'm a confirmed urbanite, thoroughly in love with my adopted home, New York City, and especially the Borough of Brooklyn. I think the City is a great place to raise kids, and that City kids, on the whole, kids of all colors, persuasions and income levels, are great kids. But, much as the City provides these kids with a rich environment in which to grow and learn, they also need occasional respite from its busy-ness and a chance to enjoy things that the City cannot offer.

Unfortunately, not all City kids have families who can afford to send them to camps, take them to country houses, or even get away for a long weekend. For over 130 years, the Fresh Air Fund has been providing economically disadvantaged youngsters with summer vacations in the country. To do this, it has relied on people with primary or vacation homes in rural areas not too far from the City to host a child for a week or ten days. Details of the program can be found at the Fresh Air Fund website.

This year, the Fund is in need of more families willing to host City kids for a short but very important vacation. Volunteers are especially needed to host older children (9-12) and boys. The Fund, of course, checks all volunteer hosts for suitability, and the vetting process for this summer must be completed by the end of this month. So, if you have a house in upstate New York, northern New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, central Massachusetts or Cape Cod, and would like to share a small part of your summer with a City child, please go to the website (there's a schedule of what areas and communities will be hosting Fresh Air children on what dates on the web page) and contact the Fund through the links provided on the site. If you cannot host a child, but want to help the Fund in its good works, you may also make a financial donation through the website.

Please give this your consideration, and be aware that time is of the essence. Unless more host families can be found quickly, as many as 200 children may not be able to enjoy summer vacations.
Again, thank you for your consideration and please help if you can, or, if you know someone who could, please pass this along to them.