Sea History 144 - Autumn 2013

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tours, rheir African-American co-expedirioner, Manhew Henson, was largely ignored upon rhei r return . Imrigued by stories of rhe sea told to him by an old seaman called Baltimore Jack, a young, orphaned Manhew H enson ran away to rhe Pon of Baltimore w here a ship captain named Childs, master of rhe mercham ship Katie Hines, took him under his wing and provided him wirh a basic education as well as practical seam anship skills. In 1887, afrer Captai n C hilds had died, Henson mer Lieutenant Peary, and afrer traveling wirh Peary on an expedition to Central America, rhey began their many an emprs to reach rhe No rth Pole together. Many sciemisrs and orher explorers were involved in rhese trips, bur only Henson was asked to join Peary on all his trips. Peary found him indispensable and, on more rhan one occasion, nored rhar he could nor have succeeded wirhour him. H enson was particularly kind to rhe local Inuit and worked hard to learn their language, as well as rheir Arctic survival skills, such as h andling sled dogs and all manner of hunting skills. Ir was Henson who was credited wi rh saving rhe ream from srarvarion on several occasions. His is also a story of racial prejudice, encountered and overcome, rhar resonates to rhis day. Marrhew Henson's legacy is a powerful story to take to Camden's yo urh and beyond, and rhe city's connection wirh him gives them a direct means to do so. Blessed wirh rhis kind of inspiration, rhe museum has anracred an outpouring

Urban BoatWork crew at work in the Museum of artistic talent. A larger-than-life statue of Manhew Henson and his Inuit dog, King, designed by rhe renow ned sculptor John Giannoni, was erected in from of rhe museum in 2009, celebrating rhe cemennial of rhe discovery of rhe North Pole. To complement rhe piece, music producer Dick Wolf composed a complete music cycle commemorating Henson's exploits, which is regularly performed ar rhe museum by local school children. As news of rhe museum's ries to H enson's Arctic adventures spread, rhe museum was approached by members of rhe Inuit Dog Sled Association. Soon, a program was developed thar recruited local school children to build exact replicas of rhe A rctic freight sleds used by the Peary and Henson ream to reach rhe Pole. To dare, rwo large wooden sleds have been built by kids and entered in regional dogsled events, receiving significant local media anention.

Boatbuilding, a Priority

Statue ofMatthew Henson by sculptor john Giannotti in front ofthe museum.


Early on in rhe development of rhe new maritime museum, a key parmership was esrablished wirh Urba n Trekkers, a schoolbased program rhar rakes midd le and high school studems on outdoor activities, such as hiking the Appalachian Trail or taking canoe trips in Maine. Trekker director Jim Cummings saw boarbuilding with innerciry kids as an important tool rhat had both a spiritual and practical component. By bringing boarbuilding back to Camden, rhe kids growi ng up in rhe shadows of the once-great shipyards were reconnected wirh the river and the city's imponam

heritage in shipbuilding. Soon, rowboats, canoes, and sailboats were being built in rhe museum's old parish house by Camd en's yo urh, guided by church-based volunteers; each spring Monsignor Doyle conducts a "blessing of rhe fleer" ceremony to christen and launch rhe resulting warercrafr from a busy winter ofboatbuilding. The imense hubbub that Urban BoatWorks brings to the museum has driven away mosr of the undesirable folks who used to loiter by the museum. Withour a doubt, rhe neighborhood has a long way to go, but as a result of the museum and orher positive public-oriented local activities, real improvement can be seen already. Recent developments at the museum include rhe return of many of the an ifacrs from New York Shipbuilding, initially given to the Independence Seapon Museum across the river in Philadelphia by Joe Balzano. The birth of the Camden Shipya rd and Maritime Museum h as added to the cultural landscape of Camden C iry and rhe surrounding region. Despite rhe myriad problems associated wirh developing a new museum, rhe future looks quire brighr. !. Michael Lang is Professor Emeritus, Rutgers University-Camden, and Founding Director, Camden Shipyard & Maritime Museum. He dedicates this article to Joseph A . Balzano, CEO, South Jersey Port Corporation (1933-2011). He would like to gratefully acknowledge the assistance provided by Paul Schopp in the preparation of this article.