Musical Celebration Recalls Rick Carrier’s Conservation Legacy

Members of the MAC award-winning vocal group Those Girls were joined by singer Pamela Palmieri (in patriotic stripes) and Lynn Ramsey (in blue) at Chelsea’s National Bald Eagle Day celebration. Photo by Rebecca Fiore.

BY REBECCA FIORE | The bald eagle’s origin story as America’s national bird can be traced to June 20, 1782, when the founding fathers chose it as a symbol of strength and freedom — but the bird’s history doesn’t end there. In the 1940s, while the bird’s face appeared on banks, official buildings and stamps, it wasn’t being protected.

“Everybody forgot about the bald eagle, and the bald eagle became endangered,” recalled Lynn Ramsey, as she spoke at a June 20 ceremony at St. Peter’s (346 W. 20th St., btw. Eighth & Ninth Aves.).

Congress passed the Bald Eagle Protection Act in 1940 to try and save the rapidly disappearing species. Although National Bald Eagle Day was officially declared by President Ronald Reagan on June 20, 1982, it was celebrated six years before by a Chelsea resident who made it his mission to give the majestic bird proper recognition (and it worked; the bald eagle was taken off the endangered species list in 2007, according to the US Fish and Wildlife Service, but they are still being monitored).

Fredrick “Rick” Carrier, a World War II veteran, author, filmmaker, and conservationist saw the beauty in the national bird while in Colorado in the ’70s.

“He had a very unusual introduction to the bald eagle,” Ramsey, his partner of 41 years, said. She told the story of how Carrier had been hang gliding 14,000 feet above the Earth when he was surrounded by two bald eagles, above and below his own manufactured wings.

“He could hear the actual wind fluttering through the feathers. He got totally in love with eagles. When he came back he focused on the eagle and created the Bald Eagle Command,” Ramsey said in an interview, while wearing a turquoise Navajo-made bald eagle necklace Carrier had given to her years before.

In 1976 at St. Paul’s Chapel in Lower Manhattan, Carrier held the first celebration for the national bird where the original painting of the Great Seal of the US was hung over George Washington’s pew.

Carrier passed away last December at the age of 91, but his memory was honored at Chelsea’s first celebration of National Bald Eagle Day (organized by Chelsea Community Church, where Carrier was a longtime member of the congregation). Local musicians sang folk song classics while an audience of over 80 people clapped along, including a handful of children who waved small red, white, and blue flags.

Lynn Ramsey gives opening remarks on her late partner Rick Carrier’s dedication to the bald eagle. Photo by Rebecca Fiore.

Billed as a “Musical Celebration of America and Encouragement for the Future,” the ceremony was attended by representatives from four local non-profits, each with a mission statement in line with Carrier’s passions and beliefs (NYC Friends of Clearwater, NYC Audubon, the Wild Bird Fund, and the Coalition for the Homeless). Reverends from local churches spoke about the importance of progression, hope for the future, and the accomplishments of Carrier.

Reverend John Magisano of Metropolitan Community Church spoke highly of Carrier’s advocacy for the bald eagle.

“It may not have been on everybody’s mind in the ’70s,” he said, “but [Carrier] pushed forward and organized. They are still endangered, yes. But I have seen them in upstate New York with my very own eyes.”

Intertwined with moving speeches, including a reading from President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 Inaugural Address, performers sang Bob Dylan songs as well as folk favorites including “This Land is Your Land” and “If I Had a Hammer.”

Carrier’s own song, “Across the American Sky,” was performed by Ramsey’s nephew, Charles Ramsey, and his wife, Lesley Barth. Carrier wrote the song in 1975 about the symbolic bird. “Across the American Sky with and with the wind / the Eagle flies forever and ever,” echoed in the nave of the church as members followed along with the help of a booklet featuring Carrier’s artwork of a bald eagle.

John Breitbart, the membership coordinator and treasurer for NYC Friends of Clearwater, made a speech titled “The Bird That Saved America.”

Invoking the expression “canary in the mine,” Breitbart noted, “Coal miners used to actually carry a canary in a small cage into the mine so that if the air below became too unhealthy, with carbon monoxide or methane, the bird would pass out and warn them that they needed to make a hasty exit.”

“The bald eagle did this for above-ground Americans, warning them of the widespread presence of toxic chemicals in their environment. For some Americans, it was only when a bird they uniquely cherished was threatened that they were moved to action.”

Ramsey said it is too soon to be planning next year’s Bald Eagle Day celebration, but expressed hope that people would take away a positive feeling from the ceremony.

“We have been hammered with a lot of very dark things that have happened in our world and abroad. I wanted us to come together. Our unity to share our joys, to sing out loud, and to consider some of the non-profits there,” she said. “I just wanted this to be a joyful time to recognize we have a great country and will continue to have a great country and to keep on singing.”

For more information about Chelsea Community Church, visit chelseachurch.org.

A picture of Rick Carrier (right) in front of the original painting of the Great Seal in Philadelphia in 1982, the year President Ronald Reagan recognized National Bald Eagle Day. Photo (of the photo) by Rebecca Fiore.