South Street Seaport Museum: Newly Renovated; Surprisingly Cool

South Street Seaport Museum in Lower Manhattan.

You can be forgiven for not feeling too excited about the grand reopening, after a year of rethinking and redesigning the galleries within its historic building (and figuring out how the near-bankrupt institution can pay its bills), of the South Street Seaport Museum. Yes, there is an actual museum down there, right in the thick of the chain stores and bad restaurants that make the stretch one of the most mallish in all of Manhattan. Even more surprising: the South Street Seaport Museum, at least now, post-renovations (we admit, we'd never been before), and with lots of new exhibitions, is actually pretty cool. It's interesting, well thought-out, mostly entertaining, and features lots of artifacts and information the likes of which we've never before seen. And they've kept the admission price low at Seaport Museum NYC, at only $5 for ages 9-and-up (8 and under are free), so you can pop in and spend 30 minutes or so and not feel like a rube in your own town. 

Artifacts on display at the South Street Seaport Museum in NYC.

Intricate replicas of ships in a gallery at South Street Seaport Manhattan.

So what's the South Street Seaport Museum all about? Some galleries–there are 16 now open to the public–have on display things you might expect, such as intricate replicas of famous ships, presented both in bottles (kind of amazing) and out (less amazing for us landlubbers), as well as an incredible assortment of hand tools. The design of these galleries is terrific, and had us staring at. for example, rusty awls and planes and compasses for far longer than we would have predicted (this room also has an interactive video element, which describes the workings of most of the tools). And don't miss the newly-revealed remnants of the 1890s Sweet's Hotel, which are delightfully creepy, as well as the historic graffiti wall, covered with the creative expressions of 1870s sailors, presumably drunken.  

Visitors of South Street Seaport Museum admiring the replicas of famous ships in bottles.

Print in Edward Burtynsky Shipbreaking room at the South Street Seaport Museum.

Photographs at the South Street Seaport Museum's Occupy Wall Street exhibition.

But there are also several galleries at the South Street Seaport Museum which we would never would have predicted, some a good deal more successful than others. We loved the Edward Burtynsky Shipbreaking room, which showcases about 20 of the photographer's brilliant prints from his series on the Bangladeshi beach that serves as a landfill for monstrous, decommissioned ships, which are then stripped by bottom-of-the-rung workers in what you can imagine are pretty horrific conditions (one quibble: none of the most hellish of Burtynsky's images in the series are here). Powerful stuff. Also a bit of a shocker: the South Street Seaport Museum's Occupy Wall Street exhibition, featuring photographs from the ongoing political movement's time in Zuccotti Park. We also really liked Eric Sanderson’s "Manhatta" room, which shows in stunning, back-lit fashion what the island of Manhattan looked like prior to 1609 (hint: there were tons more trees). Definitely worth a visit.   

Eric Sanderson’s "Manhatta" room at South Street Seaport Museum.

South Street Seaport Museum details 

The South Street Seaport Museum is located on Fulton between Water and South Streets, within the cobble-stoned, pedestrian-only plaza there. The Museum is open each week from Wednesday through Sunday, from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. For (slightly) more information, please see the South Street Seaport Museum website, here.      

Inside the gift shop of the South Street Seaport Museum in NYC.


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