14. Seaman’s Church Institute
One of the several former locations of the Seaman’s Church Institute at 241 Water Street. The original location, where Billy would have gone to was at 25 State Street (since demolished). You can see a photo of it in the book Anchored Within the Vail: A Pictoral History of the Seamen’s Church Institute
The Seaman’s Church Institute of New York plays a recurrent role in the story of Billy Gawronski and the Antarctic expedition. The Institute is a direct descendent of the floating churches that once dotted the New York City waterfront, providing much needed services to visiting sailors, like housing, mail delivery, religious services, and temperance societies. The New York Times reported that in 1931 that 8,000 to 12,000 sailors visited the Seaman’s Institute daily, such was its importance! One of the institution’s main buildings was at 25 South Street.
George Tennant, the chief cook of the expedition had “lived since his youth on South Street” in the Seaman’s Church Institute. In the celebration after the group’s return to New York City, fifteen out of town sailors who did not have families in New York City or funds were hosted at one of the two Seaman’s Church hotels, paying $0.75 a day. Captain Gustav Brown, who commanded the Eleanor Bolling, continue to live in the Seaman’s Institute, after the celebrations was over, looking for his next job.
And in the fall of 1932, many of the expedition members happened to converge on the Seaman’s Church Institute for Thanksgiving, partaking in the Soldiers and Sailor Club’s free Thanksgiving meal, including Billy, Harry King (a second mate on the Eleanor Bolling), Arthur ‘Hump’ Creagh, John Cody (the Bolling’s first engineer), Kess from the Bolling’s stokehold, and Isaac Erickson. The impromptu reunion was reported in the Associated Press.
Finally, in 1958, Billy would take his second wife, Gizela, from Poland to the Seaman’s Institute to show her “how the men there had helped him ride out the roughest days of the Depression, and about the day he unexpectedly ate Thanksgiving dinner with so many of his old friends,” writes Shapiro.
The Seaman’s Church Institute still has a location downtown and a far more recent location at Newark Airport. The location may be unexpected, but given the move of the port to New Jersey, it’s a much more practical location. Take a special look inside this church in our previous Untapped Cities article. There are also Norwegian and the Swedish seaman churches still located in Manhattan.
Get a copy of The Stowaway: A Young Man’s Extraordinary Adventure to Antarctica by author Laurie Gwen Shapiro on Amazon.