Friday, September 18, 2009

Books, Archives, and Boats: The Hudson River Maritime Museum

Welcome to Henry's River!

Now to say that I am a person with a curiosity about all things fluvial is a bit of an understatement. Well, truthfully, all things branded in the name and light of Hudsoniana.
Perhaps this inclination comes from the proximity of the Hudson River not just to my place of birth--Kingston, NY--but to the countless hours of childhood I spent combing the cobbled-stone and mud beaches of the Hudson, dodging brambles and wild raspberry pricker bushes, while searching for the ever illusive "Indian" bead stones or other hidden treasures washed up on my grandparents' estate. The sight of the old lighthouse in Saugerties or the oft frozen river in winter, broken apart slightly by the coast guard cutters, like an axe through chopped tinder, all bring back memories of the mighty river. The Hudson holds that special spot in that childhood pudding we call memory.

Not too far from these same shores in Saugerties, looking east across the river toward the Claremont estate of the Livingston clan, one will cast their vision to the very spot where Robert Fulton tested his steam-driven dream two hundred years ago. This summer, I made a pilgrimage to the Hudson River Maritime Museum, shown above and in the following photos. The museum, which I'd heard of over the year, but never visited before, has been a place of interest to me for some time. And finally, I made time to go there. It was a delightful surprise and contained a far greater variety of maritime material and historical artifacts than I'd anticipated. So anyone who is ever in the Kingston area and interested in this sort of history should definitely take an hour to stop by the museum. There is a minimal entrace fee (~$5 for adults), but it is surely worth the money.

As one can glean from the photos, there is a bit of an emphasis on Robert Fulton's role in the river's history. In the past two years, there has been a bit of fanfare over both Fulton and Hudson, being both the 200th anniversary of Fulton's steam-powered boat and Hudson's "discovery" of these waters 400 years ago. When I was traveling through the Erie Canal country (as seen in earlier posts) and up in the Lake Champlain region, there were countless proclamations of the latter celebration. In the Hudson Maritime Museum, there is this focus on Fulton especially, I'd venture to guess, because of his proximal fame to the upper mid-Hudson region. In the images provided here, from the museum, you will see a bust of Fulton, which I believe is a posthumous bust from the centenary celebrations in 1907/9. We also find a blueprint design of Fulton's ship on display.

Now to the meat and potatoes of our bookishness, we find some of the most extraordinary "book-objects" from our travels: journals, day-books, and log-books from various maritime captains, from steam-boaters to tug-boaters and more. It is truly a treasure to have this sort of historical artifact available to us, and the archives of the museum, located on the second floor of the museum and closed to the public, can attest to this multifaceted wealth. Though closed to the public, if you are a researcher in maritime history or Hudsoniana or other related topics, you can make an appointment with the archivist and keepers of the collections for further studies and conversation. I had been introduced to the staff through my own maritime connections, and found the staff to be dedicated and accommodating. So, if you are interested in further searches of Hudsoniana, stop by the museum and archive.

The placard at left details information regarding the dairies and journals shown above.

One of the most extraordinary displays of the museum was the room, which was filled with all sorts of boat-related displays. Below, we see an old catamaran-style ice-boat, which had been used to travel across the Hudson in the days when the Hudson froze more frequently.

One of the great pleasures I find in museum shops is the concentration of books on any given topic, usually (by design) something central to the subject of the museum. And the Maritime Museum in Kingston was no exception. It was ample with Hudsoniana and histories of local flavor.

Now of course, by the end of this bookish adventure, I had to take the helm to make sure everything was running perfectly: I will refrain from any "smooth sailing" jokes, for the benefit of all you kind readers, whom I'm sure I've made weary with my "boat loads" of puns. But just remember, if you're ever in those rough seas, keep your head above water, and ride out the storm.

See how dense our language is with maritime language: it's inescapable. And this is where much of it started for this country, on the waters of this great river. All aboard!

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