Henry Hudson 400

300th Anniversary Celebrations – 1909

The New York Times' accounts of the extraordinary preparations and celebrations surrounding the 1909 Tercentenary of Hudson's voyage leave no doubt as to the public's appreciation for the nearly unparalleled effect of Hudson's discovery on the course of history.

On July 23, 1909 a meticulous reproduction of Hudson's storied ship the Half Moon (Halve Maen), a "little oaken craft" not much larger than a contemporary tugboat, arrived in New York Harbor aboard the Holland-America liner, Soesdyk. She was on her way to the Brooklyn Navy Yard where "the Yard's powerful crane" would lift her onto the river and finishing touches would be applied. Paid for by a committee of prominent Amsterdam citizens, the boat would be outfitted in the minutest detail, with two small and two large cannon, "sand glass, log glass, old compass and sea chart, a 'Jacob's Staff' and other primitive nautical instruments of all sorts, sea chest, and even the exact library" that Hudson carried.

Celebration plans called for eight days of spectacle, games and ceremony. A chain of signal lights, thirty foot bonfires guaranteed to burn in even a heavy rainstorm, were lighted simultaneously on mountaintops the length of the river to Troy on a signal given by President Taft in Washington D.C. There was a huge parade of historically themed floats down Fifth Avenue and a second, military parade of 25,000 soldiers of the Army, Navy, National Guard and National Militia. There were sailing and motor boat races, aeronautic feats performed, an airship navigation contest for a $10,000 prize.

Electric lights were still a novelty and no expense was spared festooning public and private buildings and monuments, streets and thoroughfares with glowing bulbs. The effect was "expected to make the annual New Year's Eve celebration look like a May party in a country village", according to the Times. A full 14,000 bulbs bedecked the Queensborough (now 59th Street) Bridge alone.

Throngs of people gathered on the slopes above the river at 110th Street to see the Half Moon escorted to the landing by a flotilla of American men of war, cutters and steam launches, tugs and fireboats and a variety of ships of other nations (including Her Majesty's ship, the Utrecht). On the reviewing stand: the Vice President, several Governors, the Mayor, officers of foreign fleets, representatives of the governments of Europe, Mexico and South America and one Prince Kuni, cousin of the Japanese Mikado, with a gift of 2,100 cherry trees to be planted along the Riverside Drive.

350th Anniversary Celebrations - 1959

By the time of the 350th anniversary of Hudson's voyage, electric light was firmly established as the main means of illumination. For the 1959 celebrations, on June 11th, the city arranged a thoroughly modern light fantastic by asking owners of the city's skyscrapers to leave their lights on all night. In The New York Times' accounts, one bedazzled gentleman, viewing fro Hoboken, New Jersey, recalled the Empire State Building "silhouetted in the moonlight, without a light showing, all during the war".

"A dimpled Princess Beatrix" of The Netherlands sailed into New York aboard the new Holland-America liner, the Rotterdam, on September 12. Details of everything she said or wore were chronicled in the daily papers including her impulsive decision to see the movie western Destry Rides Again (James Stewart and Marlene Dietrich) rather than a Broadway performance of The Music Man. The engaging Princess wanted to meet "as many regular Americans" as she could and they came out to meet her at a variety of events as far north as Albany, including the groundbreaking ceremony for a Henry Hudson Planetarium adjacent to that city's Dudley Observatory, a project that was never realized.

A Meeting of the Rivers event brought costumed representatives of 59 countries together aboard a Circle Line excursion boat to commingle the hand-carried waters of their homelands in a single cauldron to be poured into the Hudson River, water conveyed in French wine bottles, frosted gin and straw-covered tequila bottles, pewter and silver pitchers, beaded flasks. The ever-practical Dutch sent water from the Maas River "in a plastic fruit-juice container zipped up in a K.L.M. Royal Dutch Airlines overnight bag".
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