Tag Archives: Museum

The NEW AND IMPROVED South Street Seaport Museum

Entrance to the South Street Seaport Museum

Rarely am I impressed at any institution that plies me with food and alcohol.

This Tuesday, however, was a rare exception.

It may have been the salmon wraps…the booze…the gentle rolls of the floorboards (more on that later)…or a combination of the three. In any case, the new and improved South Street Seaport Museum is definitely worth a visit—both by your class and on your own.

“New and Improved?” you may ask. “But Mr. D, didn’t you toot SSSM’s horn way back when covering places for field trips?”

Well, things have changed since our last jaunt down to the waterfront.

Built in 1967 in an early 19th century building with musty smells and buckling floorboards (the floors alone gave you seasickness), the South Street Seaport Museum has been, at least in museum terms, something of a Mom-and-Pop operation. It focused mainly on maritime history and New York’s seaport life, and its one dank floor of exhibits brought mostly seafaring enthusiasts and wandering tourists enjoying a summer day at the corner of Fulton and South Streets.

Like the proverbial working girl on the docks, this museum has had a hard life. Apart from the odd school field trip, SSSM’s fairly seasonal clientele could not sustain the place financially. By last year, the museum was in so much debt that a third of the board resigned and half the staff were let go. When the New York Times uses the word “beleaguered” multiple times in describing its status, it can’t be good.

Enter the Museum of the City of New York.

MCNY has risen in recent decades to become one of the preeminent cultural institutions in New York. In my mind, no other museum connects with historians, educators, students, tourists and casual observers quite like it. So it made perfect sense that MCNY took over operations at South Street in the fall of 2011.

The folks uptown gave SSSM the royal treatment, taking charge of the building as well as the fleet of aging schooners, tugboats and barques sitting in the East River. Upon arrival on Tuesday for an Educator Open House (the free food and booze sealed the deal), I was floored at the finished product.

A one-floor dankhole has been expanded to three floors chock-full of exhibits and classroom space. Sixteen galleries now highlight different aspects of the city and the waterfront through a combination of artifacts, photographs, video and multimedia exhibits.

(By the way, the floorboards still buckle—it is an 1812 building after all.)

Some highlights include old Seaport favorites like model ships, old tools and seafaring paraphernalia that survived the overhaul. Other additions include an impressive photo exhibit of the Occupy Wall Street movement, exhibits covering products made in New York, and the highlights of MCNY’s Manahatta exhibit (it’s great that the light-up interactive map of Manhattan made its way downtown).

For school groups, MCNY installed two spacious classroom spaces, with plenty of primary artifacts, text sources and activities that connect students to New York’s maritime past. Furthermore, a number of school programs are available, including a New Amsterdam Walking Tour that used to be offered up at MCNY—guess it just makes more sense to base it here.

Finally, never fear…the Pioneer is still there! I had the pleasure of sailing on this 1885 schooner around New York harbor and even help hoist one of the sails (it inadvertently got me into a short sailing craze which future Mrs. D regrets). The old rust bucket is still there, and still available for tours of the harbor, focusing on history, ecology, commerce and navigation.

Yet all is not well on Schermerhorn Row.

The MCNY experiment is brief, and there is a real danger that the South Street Seaport Museum may not survive once its on its own again. They really need membership (there’s those financial problems again) and a steady stream of visitors to keep the place afloat.

Like it or not, New York’s history is tied intrinsically to the waterfront. We’re blessed not only to have a historic district like South Street, but also a museum that showcases New York’s deep connection to the sea. As commercial and crass as it is, the South Street Seaport offers the only glimpse of what New York looked like before the age of skyscrapers and subways, and the South Street Seaport Museum provides an important educational service in connecting New York’s past and present.

Make sure you give South Street a look, and not just during good weather. Bundle up and get your butt over to Fulton Street—either on your own, or with your class. If you can contribute to becoming a member, great…but come down even if you can’t.

And as always, since we crave attention as much as the aforementioned harbor chick, do tell them the Neighborhood sent you.

South Street Seaport Museum (phone # 212-748-8600) is located at 12 Fulton St., between Water St. and South St.

Take the 2,3, 4, 5, A, C, J,M or Z to Fulton Street Station, then walk down Fulton Street until you see the tall ships. It’s the marine-colored entrance on the right-hand side.


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Student Historian Internship at the New-York Historical Society


DeWitt Clinton (1769-1828) visionary NY politician, founder of the New-York Historical Society, avatar and guardian angel of Mr. D’s Neighborhood

Yes, Virginia, there are teenage students out there who would prefer to dive into musty museum exhibits and artifacts instead of making money for a car or a prom dress.

These teenagers are history nuts, just like those who are regular readers here at the Neighborhood.  Thankfully, the New-York Historical Society offers summer internships to satisfy the Ivy League professor in all of them.

I’ve always been a huge fan of the Society, New York’s oldest museum going back to 1804.  Their rotating exhibits, and the upstairs attic collection, offer a feast of the eyes and the intellect.  Unfortunately, the Society is undegoing a massive renovation that will be completed November 10.  So for many high schoolers in the tri-state area, the Summer Historian internship at N-YHS offers the only way they can interact with the museum’s collection before graduation and college.

The Internship is open to all 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in the tri-state area, thanks to a grant from the Pinkerton Foundation.   If you’re a city kid, it gets better: NYC high schoolers are eligible for PAID internships, with compensation provided (not sure whether its a one-shot stipend or a weekly check thing).  If you don’t get one of those, city students will still be eligible for the unpaid internships available to out-of-city students.

There are two internships, one for the summer and one for the school year.  The summer internship is what’s open now: according to the N-YHS website, participants will be interning Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays from 10:00 am to 4:45 pm, July 5-August 11.  Furthermore, interns will be involved in the following:

  • Researching art, artifacts, and documents from the N-YHS collection to create guides, tours, and videos for museum visitors and the N-YHS website
  • Meeting with experts from the museum and library departments to discuss both the museum’s collections and career options
  • Visiting museums throughout New York City
  • Creating supplementary materials for N-YHS School Programs
  • Assisting with public programs, family programs, and other special events

(Thanks again to the N-YHS website for providing a thorough description)

The deadline for applying is April 29, 2011.  Applicants should have their parent/guardian’s permission, as well as valid working papers from the New York State Department of Labor (Information on working papers can be found on a NYSDOL link located at N-YHS’ site).  There is an application to fill out and two letters of recommendation.

(A word of advice: don’t ask your parents to recommend you.  Stick with teachers, coaches and administrators that know your academic skills and your work ethic.)

If you love history, love museums, heck even love New York City, you should be running, not walking, to take advantage of this opportunity.  For you juniors applying to college, this is the sort of thing that makes admissions officers drool (I should  know…I conduct admissions interviews for my alma mater.)  Please send this to all high school teachers and students eligible.

Here’s the link again. Best of luck to all applicants, and remember to tell them the Neighborhood sent you.

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