2. American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial

Perhaps one of the most haunting statues in the city, thanks to its tragic subjects and the natural bronze oxidation which exacerbates their looks of dread, the American Merchant Mariner’s Memorial honors the thousands of merchant mariners who have died at sea in the course of our nation’s history. The memorial was commissioned in 1976 by the American Merchant Mariners’ Memorial, Inc. and it took more than ten years for the organization to choose an artist to create the memorial. The artist eventually granted the commission in 1988 was Paris born, Venezuelan raised, New York artist Marisol Escobar.

Escobar’s memorial stands just off Pier A on a rebuilt stone breakwater in the harbor. The bronze sculpture is based on a photograph from a tragic attack during World War II. The photograph was taken by the captain of a German ship as American merchants clung to their sinking vessel, the SS Muskogee, after it was attacked by Nazi U-boats in 1942. The fate of the Muskogee was not known for many years and the photograph became the subject of an Unsolved Mysteries episode.

It is estimated that 700 American merchant ships were lost during the conflict and mariners suffered more casualties than any other American service. What makes the memorial even more poignant is the fact that the bottom figure reaching up from the water gets covered by the high tide of Upper New York Bay twice a day, as his finger tips still stretch just above the waterline.