South Street Seaport Museum Working To Reopen After Hurricane Sandy

In Susan Henshaw Jones’ words, Hurricane Sandy dealt the South Street Seaport Museum a “body blow.” The entire Seaport area was flooded and many shops, restaurants and attractions have had to temporarily close. Henshaw Jones has now issued a financial plea this week to defray the costs incurred by storm damage.

“It is not just that there was five feet of filthy, oil-laced surge in our lobby, wiping out the systems that run the escalator, the elevators, and the heating and air-conditioning, it is not just the clean-up: it is the loss of revenue that we had been building so diligently,” Henshaw Jones said in her email.

The Museum may be down, but it’s not out. And it was spared severe damage. The Seaport Museum encountered five feet of flooding on its first floor, where the lobby, ticket sales stand, a food cart and gift shop were located; the museum is preparing to open once power is restored and electrical damage can be repaired.

Additionally, the Museum’s seven vessels docked at the Seaport suffered no damage – thanks to staff and volunteers.

“At the South Street Seaport Museum, all the vessels rode out the hurricane Sandy and the surge with very little difficulty, thanks to the days of preparation and a right on-the-money calculation about the amount of slack needed for the lines securing the Peking, the Wavertree, and the Ambrose to Pier 15 and Pier 16,” said Henshaw Jones said. “The vessels sustained little to no damage. The power of the surge, though, is reflected in huge fenders’ transit during the storm: shooting upward and landing on Pier 16.”

Henshaw Jones credited Waterfront Director and Captain Jonathan Boulware and his crew and the many volunteers who worked non-stop– logging about 350 man-hours – to add and adjust and balance the lines to secure the vessels.

Dedicated South Street Seaport Museum staff members remained at the Museum for two days during Hurricane Sandy, watching the ships and the surge from a high window at the Museum while preparations for the storm were carried out in the days prior.

However, the South Street Seaport district did suffer severe flooding and damage. Bowne & Co., which is located in buildings owned by the South Street Seaport Museum along Water Street, and its collections of letterpresses and type were affected by two and a half feet of floodwater.

Over the last week and a half, staff members and dozens of volunteers – new and old – have been cleaning up the space and drying off historic letterpresses and drawers of historic 19th century, wood and lead type, under the direction of Robert Warner, Ali Osborn and Gideon Finck.

Bowne & Co. Stationers, located in buildings owned by the Seaport Museum along Water Street, was poised to spin off Bowne & Co., Printers this month. But the storm has delayed that opening. Bowne & Co., Stationers is an historic print shop that has been in operation since the early 1970s, and over the years historic type has been collected and amassed, along with letterpresses and a host of letterpress miscellany.

The collections of letterpresses and type, including 38 larger wood type and 175 lead type, were soaked by two-and-a-half feet of floodwater. Since the storm, Museum staff and volunteers have made progress to restore the collections and worked through the weekend. Volunteers laid out sheets of paper, assembling wood type on top to let them dry for two days. Type was then rubbed with isopropyl alcohol to remove salt deposits, and placed in dry paper-lined cases. Each drawer of lead type, meanwhile, was submerged in freshwater and then mineral water, and once dry was placed in a case.

Preservation of the collection has been a priority during the clean-up process.  Contrary to media reports, none of the historic presses and fonts were discarded.

Volunteers and donations are appreciated.  Volunteers are welcome seven days a week and are encouraged to arrive at 12 Fulton Street. Please email Franny Kent at fkent@mcny.org.