When I started working in Building D in 1992, I was struck by how often people came to the door—banged on it forcefully because we had no bell—and were eager to talk about their relationship with Sailors’ Snug Harbor. Stories that intrigued me, ignorant as I was, included one from a friend who as a girl played in the hayloft of the Snug Harbor barn and witnessed the birth of a calf there, and that of another friend who carried a tin half-gallon can of beer for lunch to his uncle, who worked at the site. Little by little I began to comprehend the enormity and complexity of the famous home, and how important it is that it be studied.
By their eerie presence, the Snugs, who have left traces of pipe smoke in the halls from time to time, seemed to be urging us to do that, as did Noble and Peter Stanford, who charged us with bringing “the spirit of the sailors back.” (It still lingered…) We restored a residents’ dormitory, collected thousands of artifacts and documents, and the Trustees of Sailors’ Snug Harbor laced their rich collection at the museum so that we could tell with fullness and accuracy the story of the retirement home. It was a pioneer in providing access to the disabled and a ground-breaking example of an assisted-living facility.
We designed our oral history project, Haunting Building D, and prepared a questionnaire for people to use when recalling their memories of the home. If you would do that yourself, we would be grateful because these accounts tell us as much or more as an artifact would. The questionnaire is available below, or you can call or email us, and we will send you a paper copy.
You can also access the recently unveiled digital collection, a product of the labors of our wonderful partners at the Stephen B. Luce Library at SUNY Maritime College, which houses Sailors’ Snug Harbor documents, overseen by its director, Kristin Hart. The digital collection, funded by the Metropolitan New York Library Council (METRO) and hosted on DCMNY.org, includes approximately 1,500 photographs and 1,500 registry pages of mariners who came to Snug Harbor between 1860 and 1930. The registry record provides an overview of the resident’s career, health, and activities at the Harbor.
This step forward opens up new avenues for scholarly research and genealogical inquiries. On April 30 we will present a panel discussion in collaboration with the Luce Library staff that will include an overview of the Harbor in its heyday and the Library’s website and its access.