Sea History 099 - Winter 2001-2002

Page 15

The World Trade Center Towers Stood for Dreams We Should Pursue powerful pumps into action to provide Hudso n River water for the firefighters ashore. Chief Engineer Tim Ivory reported a nightmare of confusion with mismatched connections and improvised solutions. The old ship was soon christened "the battleship" by the lesser craft who clustered around her, and as such she stayed in continuous action from Tuesday through Friday, her engines refreshed with fuel oil pumped into her bunkers by the Army Corps of Engineers. The Harvey, along with other vessels, also served as a place of refuge and refreshment for exhausted firefighters, police, and other workers on the site. And "the site" was what the workers called it, eschewing the medi a's dramatic "ground zero." There was drama and to spare in the actual situation, and one sought relief from it as one co uld. T he venerable Seamen's Church Institute, down Fulton Street from the Trade Center, performed miracles of service in feeding workers on the site and providing needed respire. A yo ung couple of our acquaintance were among the volunteers who turned our to help rhe strungout SCI workers led by the Rev. Canon Peter Larom. They ended up with the unusual assignment of carrying water for the dogs rhar were used to sniff out human scents among the wreckage. Something important needs to be said for rhe people of New York. There was concern that they would come to gawk at the terrible spectacle of destruction. Bur people came as on a pilgrimage, speaking in hushed tones and standing silent with rears on their faces-that is how my wife Norma and I saw them when we joined them to visit the sire a few weeks later. It was good to stand with these people-yo ung and old, of every race and economic backgro und-and to exchange expressions of sorrow with them, all of us total stran gers bur drawn together in grief. Ir did not sofren the harsh image of the shards of the destroyed buildings looming through rhe smoky air, bur ir gave a sense of continuity and rh e reassurance of our humani ty to a horrific picture now etched forever in our m emories.

The City as the Teach er of Man "The city is the reacher of man," said Aristotle, writing of the Greek cities of two thousand-odd years ago which stand in the early morning of Western civilization-


and which still stand tall, though in ruins, in the minds and spirits of people around the world. New York has inherited some of that mission; witness the replicas of the Statue of Liberty which Chinese students carried in their demonstrations some years ago at Peking's Tienanmen Square. Teaching is surely an important function of New York City. Ir has been New

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The fireboat John J. H arvey York's mission to graduate the new people constantly arriving here into full citizenship and full participation in the American democracy and the life of the American Republic. T his function has grown more important, not less, as our economy and society have grown increasingly complex. But today many New Yorkers have no workable understanding of what people do inside the rowers of the city. The smooth steel and glass walls give no hint of what is being produced within, unlike the countinghouses of only 150 years ago, with barrels, bales and boxes coming in from the ships at the end of the street, and srreercorner shipping negotiations broken up by the need to make way for a fresh cargo arriving. T he work of the port, honest labor under the open sky, was visible to all and reasonably accessible. More than classroom learning is needed to get the fundamentals of modern commerce across to eager yo ung minds, and it was very much with this in mind that the South Street Seaport Museum was founded a generation ago, at the far end of Fulton Street from the World Trade Center. The founding chairman Jakob Isbrandtsen is famous for having said, in conversation with a group of cadets aboard the rail ship Libertad on her first visit to the new museum: "What we are doing here is nor just going back to the past; we are getting back to fundamentals. " N orhing is more needed in the city, or in America, today. Young people of al l backgrounds respond eagerly to the story of the voyagers that built our city and nation. Even such an untrained, inexperienced person as myself found that out, leading high school students from the Bronx through the waterways, piers and even the office buildings of

the working port, whose traffics connect us to the rest of the world. And in South Street Seaport I remember kids arguing out for themselves how the gear aboard the 1893 fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard was worked-a self-taught lesson reinforced by handling the gear themselves. And the yo ung have no monopoly on their need of learning and this positive thirst for exploring the experience of our storied city through rime. In my work for our National Maritime Historical Society I constantly find old dogs like myself on this kind of quest and responsive to its call. This kind of experience, which fosters both initiative and cooperation, also encourages people to think and behave as individuals, which is to say as citizens, rather than members of some special group in our society. The !are Albert Shanker, president of the American Federation of Teachers, warned against the trend of our times which encourages people " to think of themselves not as individuals but primarily in terms of the membership in groups." Learning from rhe experience of our city, rather than from tendentious ideology, encourages people to think independently, standing on their own feet, as members of the broader human race. Thinking of the city as the teacher of man, then, surely what we build as the new Trade Center should link strongly and specifically with port history through the South Street Seaport Museum and its active programs. And active educational programs should be conducted con ti nuously in the Center itself. We of the National Maritime Historical Society stand ready to commit ourselves to that steady effort for the long-haul future of New York. And we look forward to installing in such a learning center the Dutch anchor of the 1600s which was dug up in the foundations of the World Trade Center. Thar anchor, now in our keeping, would stand as a symbol of hope and as a sure, strong tie to the bedrock experience of New York as a city of people able to conceive great voyages, and to make them.

The anchor found during the excavation far the foundation of the World Trade Center.