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The Pilot Boat New York, Part II

The path to discoveries often take unexpected turns.

Recently, I did another newspaper archive search for articles about the Zircon’s life after World War II. Specifically, I was looking for somethinganything about the ship after John W. Mecom, Sr. purchased it from the Sandy Hook Pilots Association. It had served for about twenty years in New York Harbor by that time, and was about forty-three years old.

I couldn’t find anything substantive, although in my previous post I wrote about possibly having found it’s post-New York name. (Heavy emphasis on possibly.) I then searched again for anything about the ship when it was still the New York. Of course, trying to search for a ship with that name can be futile—to say the least—when there’s a city and a state by that name and probably thousands of businesses with it in their names.

I did an eBay search for Sandy Hook Pilots Association with the thought that maybe, just maybe someone have a press photograph of the ship for sale. I got lucky a couple of years ago when I purchased a copy of a press photo of the ship taken when it was undergoing the conversion from Navy vessel to pilot boat. So, you never know!

I found nothing on eBay, but somewhere, somehow along the way, I found a reference to the book, Always On Station: The Story of the Sandy Hook Ship Pilots, by Francis J. Duffy After looking to see if Duffy might still be alive (he isn’t), I found that he was associated with the Steamship Historical Society of America (SHSA), whom I contacted to see if perhaps the group happened to have a photo of the New York in its collection. Sure enough it does.

Aimee Bachari, SHSA’s Education Director, let me know that she had two negatives of the ship on hand, but no means in-house by which to scan the them. As a matter of wanting to know exactly what she had (I expected 35mm negatives), I asked her if she wouldn’t mind holding a negative up to a diffused light source and taking a photo of it with her mobile. I half-expected that she’d tell me to take a hike, but a day or two later, I got an email with this photo attached. A big, beautiful 4″ x 5″ negative! And well-exposed to boot!

I took the image into Photoshop, inverted from a negative image to a positive, corrected the perspective a little bit, converted it to black and white, and cropped it to get rid of most of Aimee’s hand. I cropped it again to little more than the ship.

In this form, it’s not great, but it is nonetheless gold.

Yesterday, I contacted a photo lab about a mile from where SHSA’s offices are to see how much it would cost for scans of the negatives (surprisingly not much) and then emailed Aimee to offer to pay for them. I’m even willing to pay additional as a donation. I’ve yet to hear back.

I then set about to determine where the photograph had been taken by opening up Google Maps and scanning the Manhattan and Brooklyn shorelines in 3D mode to see if I could recognize the buildings. They look pretty distinct to me, so I was hopeful. But then, the photograph was taken 29 May 1951, and there’s the possibility that the buildings were no longer there.

I contacted a friend of mine back in Michigan who grew up in New York to see if she might recognize the buildings. As luck would have it, she has an 85-year-old uncle who worked on the New York City waterfront during the 1950s. She sent him the photo and he immediately recognized the Whitehall Building, which is just above the boat in the middle of the 1951 photo.

Via Google Earth, this is the area where the ship was photographed. The Whitehall Building appears to have been having some work done on its façade when the image was recorded as there is black fabric covering the south side of the building.

The waterfront area has change quite a bit as almost all of the docks have been replaced by landfill.

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