Seaport Museum to get rid of boats?Posted: April 21, 2011
“It seems to me the museum is trying to somehow manage to shut down,” said Michael Abegg, former chief mate of the museum’s schooner, the Lettie G. Howard, who was fired last week for violating a media policy.
A clear indicator of this, Abegg said, is the museum’s decision to no longer advertise programming on its boats. “The current regime doesn’t really see the importance of the boat or the education program,” he said.
Only two staff members remain in the museum’s education department, according to Abegg, and they’re not currently booking trips on its sailing vessels.
The captain of the Pioneer schooner, who ran a very successful volunteer program, was let go on Feb. 2 amid other recent layoffs and furloughs that have led to a loss of more than half the museum’s staff, according to sources.
The museum is thinking about doing away with its entire fleet, according to Abegg and other museum advocates. Three of the ships — the Pioneer, the Lettie G. Howard schooner and the W.O. Decker tugboat – have been leased at no cost for a year, according to Abegg.
The museum’s spokesperson wouldn’t confirm, this, however, and only said, “Seaport Museum [NY] is exploring various options regarding the maintenance of its historic vessels.”
But the mere thought of the ships leaving the harbor distresses many Seaport museum lovers. “The [Economic Development Corporation] is telling the museum to cut costs, get rid of anything they can, and basically hunker down until they can somehow restructure the place,” said Robert Ferraro, the first president of the Friends of the South Street Seaport Museum, a volunteer group that helped get the museum up and running in its first years of existence.
Fingers are being pointed at Mary Ellen Pelzer, the museum’s president, who is an allegedly “autocratic leader.” Both the Mayor and the Economic Development Corporation have also been cited as proponents of eliminating the boats from the museum.
Will the South Street Seaport Museum sell its ships? Will it close? Only time will tell.