by Johnathan Thayer, Archivist
On Maritime Day, May 22, 2013, SCI launched an exhibition at the Kings Point American Merchant Marine Museum titled “Sermons to Sea-Land: The Seamen’s Church Institute and the History of Maritime New York” featuring artifacts and documents from the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) rich archival collection.
After closing temporarily for summer break, the Museum has reopened as of August 2 and features SCI’s exhibition through November 1. Occupying one of the main galleries of the Museum’s expansive property, “Sermons to Sea-Land” traces the history of the Port of New York and New Jersey through the perspective of SCI’s institutional history along the waterfronts of Lower Manhattan and Port Newark. Beginning in the 1840s with a model of SCI’s famous Floating Church of Our Saviour displayed next to journals kept by SCI’s first waterfront chaplain, the Rev. Benjamin C. C. Parker, a mix of archival photographs, ephemeral documents, ship models and artifacts build a narrative that ends with the development of Port Newark and the advent of the era of containerization—a turning point which changed the shape of New York’s ports forever.
Highlights of the exhibition include documents and artifacts related to the sinking of Titanic, which by tragic coincidence occurred just hours before SCI laid the cornerstone of its first headquarters at 25 South Street. Other displays showcase labor pamphlets and newspapers from the 1930s New York waterfront, items related to survivors of torpedo attacks during World War I and World War II, and audio-visual displays with clips from oral history interviews conducted with veteran merchant mariners recalling their experiences at sea.
The Museum itself is the former residence of William S. Barstow, a former mayor of the town of Great Neck. Built in 1910 by architect Greville Rickert, the Museum typifies Long Island’s grand Gold Coast mansions, consisting of twenty rooms situated on eight acres overlooking four hundred feet of waterfront. The mansion housed the Museum since 1978 when Kings Point alumni donated the estate to the Academy.
To explore “Sermons to Sea-Land,” visit the American Merchant Marine Museum, located at 300 Steamboat Road, Kings Point, NY 11024, Tuesdays through Thursdays from 10am to 3pm.