The Hudson River Maritime is soliciting spooky stories, historic or personal, about or on the Hudson River in preparation for its upcoming Halloween event, "Legends of the Hudson River."
HRMM staff will choose the best of the stories to be featured in our October blog post, where readers can vote for their favorite story! The winner will receive a free Household Membership to HRMM, good for 12 months.
Your story may also be featured in the "Legends of the Hudson River" program!
Legends of the Hudson River
Sunday & Monday, October 30th & 31st
Join the Hudson River Maritime Museum and the Hudson River Sloop Clearwater for two days of family-friendly programs, with no-scare events for small children and slightly spooky events for older children and adults. Public sails on the Clearwater, storytelling, crafts, and more. Full schedule TBA.
To volunteer for our Halloween event, please email email@example.com
The Hudson River Day Line was the premier steamboat line on the Hudson River from the 1860s through the 1940s, carrying millions of passengers between New York City and Albany with stops at the major towns in between. The elegant and speedy steamers of the Day Line were widely known and popular with the traveling public.
Many travelers took the Day Line boats to the Catskill Mountains region for summer vacations accompanied by family and large trunks of clothes. Others took the boats to riverside parks like Bear Mountain State Park and Kingston Point Park where they could spend the day picnicking and relaxing, and then catch another steamer home again in the evening. Many groups from schools, clubs, and other organizations took yearly outings on the Hudson River Day Line.
Whatever the reason for travel, the Hudson River Day Line provided its passengers with comfort, elegance, and some of the most beautiful scenery in the world at reasonable prices. The Hudson Highlands and West Point were known to travelers from Europe from illustrations in travel books, and a visit to New York was not complete without a trip on the Hudson to see these famous sights. A band or orchestra was always provided on board for pleasant travel, as was a fine restaurant and a cafeteria for less formal meals. Other amenities provided included writing rooms, news-stands, barber shops, and on one steamer, a darkroom for passengers to develop their own photographs en route.
The term "floating palaces" aptly described the Hudson River Day Line steamers. Millions of people had happy memories of pleasant summer days on the Hudson River Day Line boats including the Chauncey Vibbard, the Daniel Drew, the Albany, the Hendrick Hudson, the Robert Fulton, the Washington Irving, the Alexander Hamilton, and the Peter Stuyvesant.
The 1920s were perhaps the most successful years for the Day Line with nearly two million passengers carried in the peak year of 1925 when seven steamers were running. The Depression years of the 1930s, though, were down years for the Day Line, as they were for many other companies. After an upsurge of business during World War II in the 1940s because of gas rationing for cars, the company's fortunes declined. With a postwar return to prosperity, and a huge increase in the production of passenger cars, travel by steamboat seemed old-fashioned to many.
The Hudson River Day Line of the Van Santvoords and the Olcotts, the original owners, finished with the sale of the company in 1948. In the early 1950s three steamers remained on the successor Day Line-the Robert Fulton, the Alexander Hamilton, and the Peter Stuyvesant. In the early 1960s there were two steamers left, and in September 1971 the last survivor of the Day Line, the Alexander Hamilton, finished the glorious run of the steamboat on the Hudson River.
In 1923, the Hudson River Day Line created a recreational park at Indian Point, south of Peekskill on the east shore of the Hudson, for Day Line passengers. The original purchase of 320 acres, a former farm, extended more than a mile along the riverbank. Indian Point Park was a day trip destination for Day Line passengers set up to rival the popular park at Bear Mountain.
A 1923 Hudson River Day Line magazine article described the park as a “shady and always cool resting spot for those who wish to escape the city’s heat.” The park featured a cafeteria, picnic tables, swings, two baseball diamonds “for boys and young men” and lots of shade trees. The amusement area had rides and games for all ages, a dance hall, a beer hall and miniature golf.
Water activities included the riverfront beach, a swimming pool, rowing on a “tranquil mountain lake” and speedboat rides.
Indian Point Park provided a woodland respite for city dwellers. The Hudson River Day Line steamers left New York City docks in mid-morning, arrived at Indian Point Park at lunch time, giving passengers three hours to spend at the park before returning to the New York City docks in the late afternoon. The park property backed up to the Croton and Mt. Kisco reservoirs that provided water to New York City. Walks through the forested lands and along wildflower paths were outlined in Day Line brochures. In addition, a farm on the property provided produce for the meals served on the Hudson River Day Line steamers.
From 1923 to 1948 Indian Point Park was operated by the Hudson River Day Line. In 1948 the park was closed to be reopened under new ownership in 1950, at which point cars and buses brought visitors to the park. By the mid-1950s the amusement park closed and the property was purchased by Consolidated Edison Gas and Electric Company for the nuclear power plant that opened in 1962.
Earlier in March, the New York Times wrote an article about the digitization efforts of large museums across the globe. Dramatic increases in visitor traffic have endangered some collections and digitizing them – taking high-resolution photos or scans of documents, images, and objects – is one way of protecting the collections. But digitization is also about democratizing access and making collections available to people unable to visit the museum.
When we first opened in 1980, digitization was a distant dream and physical exhibits served the needs of our community. But today improvements in technology quality and cost have allowed even the smallest museum to begin digitizing its collection to become accessible beyond regular operating hours.
Starting with volunteers in 2006, the Hudson River Maritime Museum began digitizing its photo collection. Until recently the majority of these digitized images were relatively inaccessible to the public, although they are frequently seen in HRMM’s “Shipping News” feature in the Kingston Times.
In 2012, the Hudson River Maritime Museum undertook a large project in preserving several oral histories from local fishermen. We had received a grant from Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), in partnership with the Sound & Story Project of the Hudson Valley, to record and digitize these histories so that researchers and the community would have access to the stories. We uploaded this project to Hudson River Valley Heritage, an online digital repository for cultural organizations throughout the Hudson Valley, and it is both accessible on our website and HRVH’s research portal. This small project – digitizing 20 cassette tapes – took three years of digitizing, training, and metadata creation and was an important first step in our digitizing efforts.
As we move into the twenty-first century, we have become accustomed to having a world of information at our fingertips. Archival information – the bulk of what historians and genealogists use – still remains locked away to the general public. While we at HRMM open our archives door to researchers and help researchers unable to travel to Kingston, NY, sharing our archives online allows for broader access. Recently museum and libraries have pushed to digitize their collections; the New York Public Library made tens of thousands of public domain items available to the public this past winter. Despite concerns that showing the public exhibits and archival material would drive down museum attendance, for the majority of institutions, attendance continues to increase in part because of these ongoing efforts.
Our new Assistant Curator, Carla Lesh, has been digitizing more of our Donald Ringwald Collection, which consists of thousands of photographs and pieces of ephemera, including extensive information on the Hudson River Day Line and Steamer Mary Powell. Mr. Ringwald quite literally wrote the books on the Hudson River Day Line and the Mary Powell.
Many of these images are already available online at HRVH.
Our plans are to continue to digitize our entire collection and share it with the public. Please continue to check our social media for updates on release dates for when these collections go live. We will also update our website to reflect these changes with links directly to the HRVH portal.
By Sarah Wassberg, Director of Education and Allynne Lange, Curator
Much has been made of the American shad. A large, silvery herring, this celebrated fish was once one of the three most often commercially caught fish in the Hudson River.
Shad is an anadromous fish, meaning that like salmon it is born in fresh water, lives its adult life in the ocean, and comes back up Atlantic coast rivers to spawn. Unlike salmon, shad do not then die but rather swim back out to sea to live and breed again.
Although shad begin their runs up rivers as early as March, April is usually the month in which shad return in significant numbers to the Hudson, their arrival heralded by the blooming of the “shad bush,” also known as the serviceberry or Saskatoon. The shad run generally lasts until the end of May or early June.
Shad are a prey fish for many larger fish such as striped bass, as well as food for humans. Ever since humans first lived in the Hudson Valley, the annual spring shad run provided much-needed protein after the long winter.
Shad are valued for their tasty flesh, which has almost twice the levels of omega 3s as salmon, as well as for their rich eggs or roe. Although delicious, as a herring shad is very bony, taking eleven cuts to fillet. Traditionally, the female or “roe” shad was much more desirable than the male or “buck” shad due to its eggs and larger size. Roe was either harvested by gently squeezing it out of the female or by gutting the fish and removing the whole egg sack, which was generally lightly battered or floured and fried in bacon fat for an extra-rich dish. Shad roe was historically considered a spring delicacy in the Hudson Valley.
Although you can sport fish for shad, they have traditionally been caught with stake nets in the lower Hudson and drift nets in the mid-Hudson and north. The stake nets were long, rectangular nets affixed to long wooden poles in the shallower areas of the Hudson River. Drift nets, also long and rectangular, were cast from the shad boats on a favorable tide. As the tide flowed the fish were caught in the nets which hung vertically like curtains with weights on the bottom edge. Nets must be pulled up and fish removed by hand before the tide changes. If left in the nets too long the shad will die or, as happened to fisherman Edward Hatzmann, eels will go up inside the live roe shad and eat the eggs right out of them.
Over the past ten or more years, the yearly shad run has dwindled dramatically, and shad is now considered endangered and may not be caught. Reasons for this change are many, including predator fish like the striped bass, as well as offshore fishing. Whatever the reasons, the shad, once the harbingers of spring, are much missed.
Shad boats are specially designed rowboats (later powered by outboard motors) which are wide with a relatively shallow draft. Working two or more men to a boat, one man would row while the other would run out the nets in the morning, and then collect the net a few hours later, generally removing the shad to the bottom of the boat as the nets were pulled in. A special wooden platform at the stern of the boat made it easier to pile the nets and remove the shad. You can see a restored shad boat in the East Gallery of the museum. Port Ewen fisherman George Clark recounts working in all weather.
Fishing for shad commercially was hard work. Often fishermen were up as early as 3 or 4 AM and worked one or sometimes both tides. Because shad was a seasonal fish, most fishermen had other jobs. A good shad run meant extra income during a lean time of year, but fishermen in the 20th century rarely made enough money to do much more than break even, especially the larger operations which hired on extra men. George Clark tells of a fish dealer who tries to buy shad from his father for a penny a piece.
Historically shad has been an important food fish, especially during times of hardship. During World War II all fishing was banned in New York Harbor. Fisherman Frank Parslow recounts the impact of rationing and the harbor fishing ban on Hudson River fishermen.
By Allynne Lange, Curator
The most famous of the fourteen keepers of Kingston/ Rondout’s lighthouses was Catherine A. Murdock, who faithfully served for fifty-one years. Born Catherine Parsell in the town of Esopus, she married George W. Murdock in the 1850s.
According to government records, Mrs. Murdock arrived at the old wooden lighthouse, built in 1837 on the south side of the entrance to the Rondout Creek, in 1856 when her husband was appointed head keeper. She arrived with a host of personal belongings, including furniture, and two small children – George and Emma. A third child, James, was born in the lighthouse.
Within a year of his appointment, George W. Murdock, who had gone ashore to Rondout to purchase groceries, was found floating drowned near his loaded rowboat. Despite this tragedy, his widow continued to faithfully maintain the light while also caring for her three young children.
Although there were many applicants for her late husband’s position, Mrs. Murdock was officially appointed by the United States Lighthouse Service as Head Keeper at Rondout on July 11, 1857 with the help of local friends. Her appointment was also due to her own diligent efforts in maintaining the light.
Mrs. Murdock spent ten years, including those of the Civil War, living in the old wooden lighthouse which each year became more and more rickety. The building was threatened by severe storms and the spring freshets, or floods, which regularly occurred. One storm was so fierce that “the house rocked to and fro like a church steeple.” Despite her fear that the building would collapse, Mrs. Murdock faithfully kept the light shining in the tower. Had the light gone out it could have resulted in scores of boatmen losing their bearings and wrecking the vessels with loss of life.
In 1867 when the substantial bluestone lighthouse was built Mrs. Murdock moved her family into their new home. Characterized by a newspaper of the day a “little waterborne castle… where the children were raised to the music of merry waves and dashing spray…,” the new lighthouse must have been a cozy and delightful home. The house was roomy and pleasant with four rooms on each of its two floors. Photographs taken in the family parlor indicate that it was filled – in typical Victorian fashion – with dark furniture that obviously belonged to the family, and wallpapered walls covered with framed photos and prints.
For more than forty years Mrs. Murdock made her home in this bluestone lighthouse. For her vantage point on the river she witnessed the sinking of the passenger steamboat Dean Richmond, the burning of the steamboats Thorn and Clifton, and the barge Gilboa. She effected several rescues, usually with the help of her sons, sometimes nursing the victim back to help. However, due to the extraordinary paperwork required with each rescue, she seldom officially reported these efforts.
One morning before the dikes were built on each side of the Creek’s entrance, as Mrs. Murdock sat in her “little sewing room”, she heard a loud crash and the sound of breaking glass. She turned around and saw a schooner’s bowspirit sticking through the window and half way into the room. The schooner had been crowded into the lighthouse by a steam tug and a large tow of barges which was leaning the Rondout Creek.
According to her own accounts, the worst time that Mrs. Murdock experienced was the night of December 10, 1878 when a large flood occurred in the Rondout Creek and the Hudson River. As the weather worsened the previous day a family friend visited the lighthouse and urged Mrs. Murdock to take her family and go ashore. She replied, “I’m a woman, I know, but if the lighthouse goes down tonight, I go with it.” At midnight Mrs. Murdock went to the top of the tower where she was greeted by the pitch dark night and the sound of rushing and rapidly rising water. At three in the morning, the guard lock at Eddyville gave way. The waters swept everything before it: boats, barges, and tugs were town loose from their moorings and caught up in the raging flood. The lighthouse remained steadfast.
In 1880 her son James Murdock was appointed assistant keeper, and officially began to help his mother in her duties at the lighthouse. James and his wife lived in the lighthouse with his mother. When the new lighthouse was opened in 1915 James was its first keeper.
In 1907 Catherine Murdock, who had by this time remarried someone named Perkins, retired from the lighthouse service and moved ashore. Her fifty-one years of service as a head lighthouse keeper made her the oldest lighthouse keeper in continuous service in the United States at the time of her retirement.
Living full time on the mainland must have been quite an adjustment for this indomitable woman whose whole adult life had been spent on a small island.
Mrs. Murdock Perkins out lived two husbands, both of whom died by drowning. She herself died in 1909 and is buried in the Port Ewen Cemetery with her family, the Parsells.
This blog is written by:
Hudson River Maritime Museum
50 Rondout Landing
Kingston, NY 12401
The Hudson River Maritime Museum is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to the preservation and interpretation of the maritime history of the Hudson River, its tributaries, and related industries.
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