Party Like It’s 1909

This year’s Quad celebrations have quite an act to follow: The 1909 anniversary boasted replica ships, parades, and a visit from Admiral Peary himself


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Naval Parade and Gov. Charles Evans HughesRiver regatta: Illustration of the naval parade in Newburgh; at right, Gov. Charles Evans Hughes at Catskill’s celebration (which included dedicating a statue to Rip Van Winkle)

Postcard courtesy of City of Newburgh. Photo reprinted from The Hudson-Fulton Celebration by Kathleen Eagen Johnson

“No local people got to participate in floats in the New York City parades; it was very corporate,” says Eagen Johnson. It was a different story in the river towns. Community members, labor union members, and people hawking their local businesses all hopped on the floats, oblivious to their original high-minded intent. Croton-on-Hudson wasn’t on the official list of stops for the New York City floats, so the town made its own posse of decorated cars and horses.

It wasn’t just the floats that came on land. Those scrappy Dutch sailors from the Half Moon also visited towns, where they perhaps unnerved some of the locals. “They had let their beards grow, and had a wild appearance,” says Eagen Johnson. When the crew came to Catskill, town fathers brought them to the hollow where Rip Van Winkle was supposed to have encountered the ghosts of Henry Hudson’s crew. Whether the Dutch-speaking group understood a word of what was going on is anyone’s guess.

Arguably no river town generated more excitement than Newburgh, the “pivot point” of the celebration. Naval parades from New York City and Albany — with some vessels coming from as far away as the Erie and Champlain canals — converged in Newburgh Bay.

"Living Flag" on State Capitol stepsCapital Region revelry: A “living flag” (above left) takes shape on the State Capitol steps

The parade of boats (bottom left)); flags and the Half Moon grace a building in Troy (bottom right)Hudson-Fulton Day in Albany postcards

“We made hay with it, of course,” says City of Newburgh Historian Mary McTamaney. “There was no place along the river where there were as many ships, battleships, revenue cutters, canoes. There were newspaper reports saying you could walk across the bay on the vessels, which wasn’t quite true.” Perhaps the biggest headline was Admiral Robert Peary’s arrival on his arctic ice-cutter boat, after having recently returned from the North Pole. (A century later, the closest we’ll come to all this nautical excitement is River Day, which begins on June 5 in New York Harbor and culminates on June 13 in the Albany-Rensselaer area. See page 58 for details.)

Newburgh, a center of heavy industry, also boasted that it was an electrified city, and the second place in the state (after Manhattan’s Pearl Street) to install an Edison generating plant. “People came from all over to see this marvel,” says McTamaney. “On Illumination Night, the Newburgh Light and Power Company turned on all these extra bulbs and strung lights across the streets. They lit the shapes of the public buildings­; it was like Christmas, but all done with white lights. You could walk the streets and let it dazzle you.”

Some 100,000 visitors thronged the city, staying at its 23 hotels. In addition, the eight-lane-wide main street was perfect for the enormous, hours-long parade hosted by the volunteer fire department, which ended at Washington’s Headquarters on the lawn overlooking the waterfront. Newburgh also hosted yachting and rowing races, the prize being Tiffany silver cups valued at $1,500 — quite a tidy sum for those days.

New York Central railroad brochureNew York Central railroad brochure for the celebrations

Brochure courtesy of City of Newburgh

One of the most enduring legacies of the 2009 celebration will be the Walkway Over the Hudson, the dramatic elevated park now being constructed on the old Poughkeepsie-Highland railroad bridge. Similarly, the 1909 celebration left us with a number of monuments, such as the bronze statue dedicated to volunteer firefighting that resides in Newburgh’s Downing Park. But what became of those replica boats? The Half Moon (not to be confused with the replica on the river today) was brought to dock near Bear Mountain State Park and later moved upriver north of Albany, where it burned, according to Eagen Johnson. The Clermont was sold to the Hudson River Day Line company, towed to Poughkeepsie, and became a floating museum. When the boat failed to draw crowds, she was moved to Kingston Landing, where she remained for many years before being dismantled in the 1930s. It’s said that remnants of the replica’s hull can still be seen at low tide.

Want to learn more about the 1909 celebrations?

Two local organizations host exhibits that offer a taste of the excitement that pervaded the Valley a century ago. Hudson-Fulton: Take Two, at the Friends of Historic Kingston Museum, features artwork by 10 contemporary artists. The paintings, sculpture, photographs and other pieces were created in response to memorabilia from the 1909 events; there’s a tattooed Henry Hudson, for instance, and a Half Moon made of felt.
► Sat.-Sun., 1-4 p.m. through October.
Corner of Wall & Main Sts., Kingston
Call 845-339-0720 for more information

At the Wilderstein Historic Site, visitors experience what it was like to participate in the river festivities. Photos, mementos, clothing, household gadgets, decorative arts, and printed materials from the Suckley family’s own collection are on view in their onetime home which overlooks the Hudson.
► Thurs.-Sun., 12-4 p.m. through Oct. 31. $10, $9 seniors & students, under 12 free
330 Morton Rd., Rhinebeck
Call 845-876-4818 for more information


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