Today's Featured Artifact is this beautiful brass engine room gong, once found on a steamboat owned by the Homer Ramsdell Transportation Company, based in Newburgh.
Most steamboats and many diesel tugs were known as "bell boats," meaning the captain or pilot and the engineers communicated by a system of bells. Up in the wheelhouse, the pilot could only control the direction of the boat, with the pilot's wheel. If he wanted to change direction or speed, he had to communicate with the engineers down in the engine room. Imagine driving a car where one person is steering, and another person, who cannot see the road, is controlling the gas pedal and brakes. Thankfully, most boats are not as fast or maneuverable as a car, but the changes still had to be quickly executed to ensure safe and smooth operation of the boat.
The larger, louder bell, called a "gong," signaled a change in direction. Smaller bells, called "jingles," usually signaled a change in speed. Controls in the pilot house were connected to the bells in the engine room, making them ring. Many transportation companies had their own code, although New York Harbor had a code shared by many boats.
In this sound clip, collected by steamboat sound recording enthusiast Conrad Milster, we can hear the gong and jingle aboard the Newburgh ferryboat Dutchess.
Here are some examples of simplified bell signals, to give you an idea of how the system would work.
When the steamboat was stopped:
When working ahead or backing (moving forwards or backwards):
Jingles to change speed:
Signals could also be combined. For example, when stopped:
Mystic Seaport operates a historic steamboat that still uses the bell and jingle system. In this video, the captain of the Sabino explains how he and the engineer communicate. The video includes great footage from the engine room as well.
You can visit the museum's engine room gong, which is on permanent display in the East Gallery, along with many other fascinating maritime artifacts, at the Hudson River Maritime Museum. We hope to see you soon!
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Today's Featured Artifact is this sign from the Newburgh Ferry terminal. Reading "Ferry Entrance - Pay Toll Here" with a red arrow in a red frame, this striking sign was designed to show the way for vehicles to drive onto the ferry.
Although it is unclear when exactly the sign was created, you can see it in this photo of the Newburgh Ferry Terminal, c. 1957. The sign is on the toll booth in the lower right-hand corner. The Newburgh-Beacon Ferry departs in the background. If you look closely, you can see the words "New York State Bridge Authority" on the side of the ferry, and the name of the ferry on the pilot house - the Beacon. The Bridge Authority had purchased the ferry service in preparation for the construction of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge and operated three car ferries - the Beacon, the Orange, and the Dutchess.
Here is a zoomed in shot of the same photo, where you can see the sign more clearly.
The Newburgh-Beacon ferry continued to operate until November 3, 1963, when the ferry service was ceased following the opening of the Newburgh-Beacon Bridge. The ferries themselves were scrapped over a series of years, and the Newburgh Ferry Terminal, which dated back to 1899, was demolished with Urban Renewal in the 1970s.
If you'd like to see the "Ferry Entrance" sign in person, come and visit it at the museum! It is on display in the East Gallery.
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This barrel piano is a more recent addition to the museum's collection and is believed to have been used to provide music for the Merry-Go-Round or carousel at Kingston Point Park.
A barrel piano, also known as a street piano, uses a hand crank to turn a pinned barrel. The pins in the barrel hit the levers of the piano hammers, which then strike the piano strings, making a sound. How the pins are placed on the barrel determines what song is played. The person operating the crank must move it in a steady rhythm, or the music will come out jumbled.
Sometimes confused with other crank instruments like the barrel organ (which uses forced air and pipes to make sound) or the hurdy gurdy (which turns a rosined wheel against the strings of a violin-like instrument), the barrel piano was often a feature of amusement parks. Also not to be confused with the steam calliope, which would have provided music aboard steamboats and was powered by their steam engines.
The museum's particular barrel piano, also known as a cylinder piano, was manufactured by E. Bona & A. Atoniazzi in New York City. Little is known about the original owners, but the company became known later as the B.A.B. Organ Company. You can read more about the company history here.
To hear what a barrel piano might have sounded like, check out this video of one playing a very complex piece of music.
If you would like to see the barrel piano in person, come visit the Hudson River Maritime Museum and head to the East Gallery.
In this "Featured Artifact" post, we're examining two cloth items in our collection - a pair of hat bands from the Hudson River Day Line.
Much like Naval ships, steamboat crews wore formal uniforms and there was a hierarchy of crew within each department. Of the two hatbands, one is a more general one that simply reads "Day Line," indicating the crew member worked for the Hudson River Day Line steamboat company.
The other hatband, reading, "2nd Mate," indicates the rank of the bearer. Second Mates are usually third in command of a vessel (behind the Captain or Master and First Mate) and usually act as watchkeeper, ensuring crew rotate through four hour watches and managing vessel safety and security. Sometimes they also serve as navigator.
Both of these hatbands date to the 1930s, a time when the Hudson River Day Line was at its height.
In this photograph of Hudson River Day Line senior staff of the steamboat Peter Stuyvesant, from 1947, you can see the uniforms and the clear ranks on their hats. The captain (Frank Briggs) wears a white hat to differentiate him from other officers. His hat band insignia is larger and clearly reads "Captain."
Although difficult to read in this image, the other officers are also wearing hatbands clearly denoting their ranks. To the left of the captain is the Chief Engineer, and to the left of him, the First (1st) Mate. To the far right, seated, is the Purser, the man responsible for ticketing and purchases aboard the ship. Can you tell what the other hat bands say?
Note also that the senior officers wear double-breasted jackets, and the junior officers single-breasted jackets.
Unfortunately, only Captain Frank Briggs is identified in this image. If you recognize any of these men, please let us know!
By the 1960s, all crew hats were changed to white, but the uniforms were changed and, depending on the department, became less formal.
Did you or anyone you know work aboard a Day Line vessel? What was their role? Tell us in the comments!
Thanks to Dan Donovan for assistance with today's blog post!
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The Hudson River Maritime Museum has thousands of artifacts and ephemera in its collections. On a regular basis, we will be sharing our favorites as part of our new "Featured Artifact" category of the blog.
We have been posting a lot about ice and winter sports here on the History Blog, so it's only apt that our first Featured Artifact is this beautiful piece of ephemera [paper items meant to be thrown away] from the Ray Ruge Collection. Ray was instrumental in reviving the Hudson River Ice Yacht Club in the 1960s and was an avid ice boater. His widow donated his large collection of ice boating history, photographs, ephemera, correspondence, and more to the museum. You'll be seeing more of Ray and his collection in the coming weeks.
This issue of Harper's Weekly (coincidentally ALSO from January 16, although in 1869, rather than 2021) featured "Ice-Boats on the Hudson" on the cover. Harper's Weekly: A Journal of Civilization was a national weekly political magazine published out of New York City between 1857 and 1916. Often beautifully illustrated with lithographs based on photographs, Harper's Weekly chronicled daily life, and many of its illustrations grace the museum's walls.
"Ice-Boats on the Hudson"
The original article, transcribed:
"The ice-yacht is a boat on skates, and is impelled by the wind in the same manner as an ordinary yacht. There has been for some time at Poughkeepsie, in this State, and Ice Yacht Club, modeled after the New York Yacht Club. Thus the frozen waters of the Hudson do not by any means impede the winter navigation of the river; indeed, with a strong wind and upon a smooth surface of ice, one of these ice-boats will attain a speed of one mile per minute, thus outrunning the locomotive, and literally flying with the speed of the wind.
"For several winters a race has been contemplated between these singular yachts; but the condition of the ice has never been favorable at the time agreed upon. Our illustration on this page shows the fleet at Poughkeepsie. This fleet consists of eight boats: the Flying Cloud, owned by IRVING GRINNELL; the Icicle, by JOHN ROOSVELT; the Snow Squall, by THEODORE V. JOHNSTON; the Una, by AARON INNIS; the Flying Dutchman, by THEODORE VAN KLEEK; the Haze, by JOHN JAY INNIS; the Restless, by Commodore O. H. BOOTH; and the Snow Flake, by THOMAS PARISH."
Editor's note - the Icicle is on display at the Hudson River Maritime Museum.
This blog is written by Hudson River Maritime Museum staff, volunteers and guest contributors.
Hudson River Maritime Museum
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