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News and Events
in Lower Manhattan
March 24, 2016  
Peter Stanford, the founding president of the South Street Seaport Museum and the second president of the National Maritime Historical Society, died this morning, March 24. 

The family is planning a memorial on April 9 at St. Mark's Episcopal Church in Mount Kisco. Details are not yet available.

Peter Stanford's wife, Norma, said that his death was "not a surprise." He had clearly been ill for a long time. Nevertheless, he remained engaged in the fate of the South Street Seaport Museum and its ships. Despite physical disabilities, he and Norma came to see the Wavertree off to shipyard on May 21, 2015. The 1885 cargo sailing ship had arrived at the museum in 1970 during their watch.

On May 22, 2011, when the South Street Seaport Museum was in dire straits, Stanford, leaning on a cane, came from Westchester, where he lived, to a rally organized by Save Our Seaport - a grassroots organization of South Street Seaport Museum volunteers and community stakeholders dedicated to preserving the maritime history of the South Street Seaport and to bolstering the museum.

"We have a future as well as a past, and it's you who give us that future," he said at that time. "When we made our start, we had a few hundred dollars in the bank and a lot of friends. The volunteers kept this place going through the difficult days, the thin days, when there really was no money and when the Landmarks Preservation Commission didn't approve of the concept even. It was a wonderful battle.

"Our motto was, other museums are for people. This museum is people. We've got to find a way to turn things around and we're working on it. We became what we tried to become - a center of learning, of challenge and of experience."

After leaving the South Street Seaport Museum and becoming the head of the National Maritime Historical Society, Stanford founded several other museums and maritime organizations. They included the Council of American Maritime Museums (1972), the American Society of Marine Artists (1977), the American Ship Trust (1978), the Hudson River Maritime Museum (1979), and the National Maritime Alliance (1987).

Stanford loved historic ships and saved many including the lightship Ambrose, the fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard (both now at the South Street Seaport Museum), the brigantine Black Pearl, the barque Elissa, the schooner Ernestina (now Ernestina-Morrissey), the Liberty ship John W. Brown, the steam tug Mathilda, the four-masted barque Moshulu and the four-masted barque Peking.

Stanford co-founded and supervised both OpSail 1976 for the nation's bicentennial and the Statue of Liberty Parade of Sail in 1986.

A native of Brooklyn and a naval veteran of World War II, Stanford wrote hundreds of magazine articles and a number of museum books. With Norma Stanford, he wrote "A Dream of Tall Ships: How New Yorkers came together to save the city's sailing-ship waterfront" (Sea History Press, 2013).

He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Harvard in 1949 and a Masters degree from King's College, Cambridge, England, in 1951. He also received an Honorary Doctor of Letters from the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler.

"Peter lived a long and wonderful life," said Burchenal Green, President, National Maritime Historical Society, in announcing his death. "But it is great sadness for all of us who were so very fond of Peter and whose lives were influenced by him. He was indeed an American treasure."

- Terese Loeb Kreuzer

Peter and Norma Stanford at the ceremony on May 21, 2015 marking the departure of the South Street Seaport Museum's 1885 sailing ship, Wavertree, for Caddell Dry Dock in Staten Island, where the ship is undergoing a $10.6 million, year-long restoration and stabilization. Peter and Norma Stanford founded the South Street Seaport Museum and brought the Wavertree to New York City.
(Photos: Terese Loeb Kreuzer) 

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