Saturday, May 23, 2009

How Snug the Harbor

Snug enough for sailors, I hear! The Staten Island attraction, today called the Snug Harbor Cultural Center, was created "as an asylum or home for aged, decrepit and worn out sailors" in 1833, funded by an endowment from privateer turned philanthropist Robert Richard Randall. The placid dominion was landmarked in the 60's and bought by the city in '76, thus thankfully spared the developers' wrecking ball. The people working the gift shop at the Chinese Scholars' Garden reported that Jackie Onassis was one of the forces behind Snug Harbor's preservation.

At one time more than 1,000 retired sailors lived in the sprawling acreage organized around several impressive Greek Revival buildings that face the Kill Van Kull, built long before the alternate shore became an industrial panopoly of tightly nested gas tanks. 7,000 sailors are interred in the nearby cemetery on Monkey Hill. How astonishing it would be to join them in the mess hall back then to take in a few salty stories and some sea worthy language, and the sound of the creaking weather vane.

The advent of Social Security and decline in maritime trade (and piracy?) may have played a part in the asylum's demise. Good news, though, if you are a sailor or pirate entering retirement, there's a new Snug Harbor in Nelson Bay, North Carolina. More details at rootsweb. More good news, the Cultural Center is a haven of rare rewards which include Botanic Gardens, a really excellent Children's Museum, theatres and more than this traveler can get a handle on.

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