Rescues on the River

Stories of tragedy, heartbreak, and heroism

Explore the disasters that unfolded as the Delaware developed into a watery highway for trade and commerce while experiencing the misfortunes, the miracles and the lessons learned.

Since the foundation of Philadelphia, the Delaware River has been vital to its life, growth and prosperity. Like today’s highways, the Delaware River is a bustling thoroughfare, teeming with commercial, passenger, and military vessels.

Because of the volume and variety of traffic it has seen, the Delaware River has also been the site of many maritime disasters over the years. Rescues on the River is a survey of these catastrophes – from shipwrecks and collisions to fires and explosions. Beginning with the explosion of the frigate HMS Augusta in 1777 to the explosion of the Polish Freight Polanica in 1953, the exhibition explores the causes and effects of these tragic events, as well as highlights the heroic first responders who risk their lives to save others.

These stories will be told through surviving ship wreckage, life jackets, interactive games and activities and other artifacts, as well as through the personal accounts of those who were there. Rescues on the River will also introduce historical prints and newspaper headlines that were used to broadcast and memorize these terrible marine catastrophes.

A series of contemporary prints were produced by Cannonball Press, a Brooklyn-based cooperative of artists specializing in woodcut designs. These prints reinvigorate the tradition of remembering disasters through popular graphic imagery. These print editions not only provide illustrations for forgotten disasters that only survive in descriptions, but also insure their remembrance as they are made available to the public via the Museum’s shop. Visitors to the exhibition can also take home a free 20-page tabloid keepsake, produced in partnership with the Philadelphia Weekly, which includes illustrations and more details about some of the events featured in the exhibition.

Hurricane Sandy truly affected the maritime community in our area. Our hearts go out to those affected and need to rebuild their homes and lives. Read the article titled, "Hurricane Sandy: Unprecedented Storm; Superior Collaboration," by CAPT Kathy Moore, Captain of the Port Sector Delaware Bay, in the current issue of The Beacon to find out how the entire Marine Transportation System exercised their plans in preparation for Hurricane Sandy (article on page 3).