1909 Hudson commemoration will be a tough act to follow

January 5, 2009 at 2:41 am Leave a comment

Ready or not, the big 400th celebration is on us, honoring Henry Hudson, Samuel de Champlain and their discoveries in New York.Admittedly, these are challenging times in which to throw a really spectacular birthday party, so don’t expect anything too glitzy. We won’t see a shadow of the spectacle thrown in 1909 to celebrate the 300th.

But, times have changed and so have expectations on what public celebrations ought to be anyway. These days, we’re easily jaded, easily bored.

It’s tough to get jaws to drop by simply stringing and then lighting 10,000 incandescent bulbs, as Troy did in 1909. Nor can I imagine huge crowds gathering in 2009 to hear hourslong speeches on esoteric subjects, as our forebearers routinely did, and then walking home feeling good about it.

Sad to say, education, enlightenment and history are not the draws they used to be.

All of this is by way of preparing you for what appears to be a slow start to the 400th, and no real big-bang showstopper moment in a contemporary sense happening at any time this year.

That doesn’t mean there won’t be some cool stuff going on, especially if you’re a history buff. Probably the single showiest item future generations will identify with the 400th is the impressive ”Walkway Over the Hudson” being built near Poughkeepsie.

A railroad bridge is being converted into the longest elevated walkway and park in the world, providing spectacular views up and down the valley. Governor Paterson put $8 million in this year’s budget, and another $8 million in the proposed budget. Good for the governor in sticking to the project, even in a year of disappearing revenues.

On Lake Champlain, a Rodin sculpture incorporated in the Crown Point Lighthouse, a gift of the French, has been restored and refurbished.

Otherwise, the bulk of the actual celebrating along the corridor will be done through grass-roots efforts from New York City to Plattsburgh, through out the year. Check out http://www.ExploreNY400.com for a complete listing.

Much of what is scheduled was going to happen anyway, but it has been branded as part of the 400th celebration. Although there is also quite an array of museum exhibits and other targeted events that were created specifically to honor Hudson and Champlain. Locally, I know of at least two fabulous 400th exhibitions coming, one at the Tang Museum at Skidmore, and the other at the Albany Museum of History and Art.

Still, the 400th is short of big-ticket items, or at least so I thought until I caught up with Joan Davidson, chair of the state’s Hudson-Fulton-Champlain Quadricentenniel Commission. That’s when I heard about the S.S. Columbia, and the docks project, both of which are reasonably impressive. Then there’s River Day on June 6, which is more problematic.

Davidson says the governor has put $750,000 in the coming budget to buy, or restore or enhance a number of public docks located from New York harbor to Lake Champlain. This is nothing short of a fabulous idea, although the funding ought to be 10 times that.
Access to the river and its reverse, access to the shore, is a big problem up and down the river, and boat owners bear the brunt of it. Albany is notorious in this respect, and so are several other Hudson River cities. There’s just no public place to dock, so a state docks acquisition plan is a great idea that should expand.
While we’re at it, how about coming up with a permanent dock in Albany for Capt. Chip Reynolds’s working replica of the Half Moon, which honors the Hudson legacy year in and year out, more than any 400th Commission ever could.

Is it possible a Hudson River day liner might make a comeback for the 400th? The S.S. Columbia, a 3,200-passenger rough beauty from the age of steam and a national historic landmark, has been purchased by the state for restoration. She was built in 1902 and resides in Detroit. I think we’ll be hearing a lot more about the Columbia before spring.

And finally, River Day. A decent idea that looks suspiciously half-baked. A flotilla of boats and ships of all sizes, hundreds we’re told, will do a relay up the Hudson from New York City to Albany over several days.

To what end, it is not clear. Where they’ll dock or what they’ll do when they get there, is murky as well. Skeptical friends in the boating community are having trouble seeing the point. So are we.

Fred LeBrun
Albany Times Union


Entry filed under: Get Wet, Public Waterfront, Region. Tags: , .

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