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Thursday, September 25, 2014

Postcard Thursday: Hudson-Fulton Celebration

Collection of the authors.

On September 25, 1909, New York launched one of the largest and most ambitious festivals in its history, the enormous Hudson-Fulton Celebration, which commemorated 300 years since Henry Hudson had sailed into New York Harbor, and a century (give or take a couple of years) since Robert Fulton's North River Steamboat had been launched.

This rare, embossed postcard emphasizes the improvements in navigation over three centuries.
Collection of the authors.

Among the many events that took place during the celebration (some of which can be seen in the small type at the bottom of the top postcard) was a naval parade that included everything from replicas of Hudson's ship Half Moon and Fulton's sidewheeler steamer to the RMS Lusitania. As a nod to the direction in which transportation was headed, Wilbur Wright took to the air as well, circling the Statue of Liberty on one day, and flying up the Hudson to Grant's Tomb and back to Governor's Island on another. In 1909, it's safe to say most New Yorkers had never seen an airplane flight before.

Of the many parades connected to the festival, the Historical Parade in New York City on September 28 was probably the most important. The entire celebration was an attempt to boost New York (the state, but mostly the city) in the public's mind as key player in American history. As the commission noted in their wrap-up after the festival:
A glance at the book-shelves of any great public library will show how industrious the historians of Massachusetts and Pennsylvania and Virginia have been in recording the annals of which they are justly proud and how comparatively indifferent our own writers have been in this field. And this disparity has resulted in a very general ignorance of the full part played by our Colony and State in our national history.
courtesy of Hudson River Valley Heritage.

The Historical Parade featured floats from every period of New York's history, from the Native American era to 1909, with a special emphasis on the city's Dutch roots and its role in the American Revolution (as shown in the float above). You can see many more postcards of floats from the parade -- along with souvenir programs from 1909 and other ephemera -- at the Hudson River Valley Heritage website dedicated to the celebration.

A century later, in 2009, the city once again celebrated the arrival of Henry Hudson (albeit in a somewhat more subdued fashion). One permanent souvenir from that celebration is the Dutch pavilion in Peter Minuit Plaza in the financial district, which we write about in the first chapter of Footprints in New York.

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Explore more NYC history in

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