Collector discovers early color slide of the Yankee


A Pennsylvania collector has discovered an early slide of the Yankee Ferry — the historic ship that was docked in Tribeca from 1990 until late last year when the ship was forced to move by the Hudson River Park Trust.

The collector, Gregory Ramsey of Harrisburg, Penn., found a reference to the 1907 ship’s original name, Machigonne, in a recent Downtown Express article and e-mailed us a copy of the slide. The oil lantern slide was likely to have been made around 1915 and may be one of the earliest color depictions of the vessel, which is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Below are excerpts from Ramsey’s e-mails:

Greetings from Pennsylvania!  I’m not sure whether it was Forrest Gump who said that Internet research is like a box of chocolates, but here is support for the idea.  For the past week I have been scanning and researching a box of about 200 glass lantern slides, circa 1915, that once belonged to the wealthy Joseph McAleenan family of New York City and Centre Moriches.  Among the slides was the attached view of a ship which, when I looked at the slide with magnification, bore the (to me, strange) name “Machigonne.”  I was pleased and delighted when my initial Internet search led me to the Naval History Center home page (www.history.navy.mil) and specifics of the ship’s history, but then utterly stunned to find Ellen Keohane’s article from the October 14-20, 2005 issue of the Downtown Express, “This Yankee may be out for more than one season,” and learn that the nearly 100-year-old ship, a.k.a., the Yankee Ferry, still exists!  I am reeling from the serendipity of it all!  I would be very happy if you could forward a copy of this image to the ship’s owners, together with my best wishes for the Yankee’s preservation….

The photo is one of a related group of glass lantern slides I bought from an antique photography dealer roughly 20 years ago.  I retired this past June and am finally getting to some of my long deferred projects.  Fortunately since the time I acquired this collection, tools such as computers and scanners have come along or developed to the point that copying, sharing and researching information is now so much easier.  The slides are 3 1/4 by 4 inches and are hand-colored (transparent oil colors were commonly used).  I am speculating the circa 1915 date based on two other slides in the collection, one with a dated inscription and another showing a car with a visible license plate.  Also, I assume the slide shows the use of the ship prior to being chartered by the Navy for military uses in October, 1917.  All of the slides seem consistent in date based on subject matter and general appearance….

I have a long way to go in researching this group of lantern slides, the McAleenan family and all, but it should be fun.  (The head of the family at that time was Joseph A. McAleenan, a well-known New York City pawnbroker who lived at 410 Park Ave. and had a large summer home in Centre Moriches — the slides depict the lifestyle of an extremely well-to-do family — family members, clothing, architecture, pets, yachts, sports, etc. and are striking artistically as well.)  Discovering your articles on the Yankee was a wonderful surprise and encourages me to keep “digging.” 

“That’s a great shot,” said Jimmy Gallagher, who owned the Yankee for most of its Tribeca stay. “It is the earliest colored photograph of the ship that I have seen.”

Gallagher said he is certain the picture was taken in Battery Park and he remembers once seeing a similar black-and white photo of an event in the park involving many dignitaries. The Machigonne was built by the Harpswell Steamboat Company in 1907 and was first used to carry passengers between Portland, Maine and the Calendar Islands in Casco Bay.

John Moore brought the ship to New York harbor in 1914 and used it to take new immigrants arriving on cruises back and forth between Ellis Island to be processed. The vessel, which at one time was docked at Battery Park’s Pier A, also was a Statue of Liberty ferry. Moore was the likely owner when the slide was made.

In 1947, the Machigonne was renamed the Yankee and ferried vacationers to Block Island, Rhode Island until the 1980’s, when the ship was retired and neglected. Gallagher discovered the decaying ship and tugged it to Tribeca’s Pier 25 where he restored it. In 2003 he sold it to Richard and Victoria MacKenzie-Childs, who continue to preserve it.

In December, the Hudson River Park Trust forced the ship to move in order to build the Tribeca section of the park. The couple moved the ship to Lincoln Harbor Marina in Weehawken, N.J., where they will be able to stay at least until April.

“It’s very calm here,” Richard MacKenzie-Childs said in a telephone interview last week. “It’s very easy watching the boat in a marina, but we prefer being part of a community in Tribeca.”

He has had discussions with the city Parks Dept. about moving to Flushing Meadows Park, although he said that is an out of the way location. He said the couple’s furniture design business has been busy lately and he is thinking about selling the Yankee.

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