by Johnathan Thayer, Archivist
On December 8, 1941, one day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Lay Vice President of the Seamen’s Church Institute’s (SCI) Board of Managers and President of the United States Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the Declaration of War against Japan. Three days later, Germany and Italy declared war against the U.S.
1942 was a busy year at 25 South Street. In January, SCI sent its youngest chaplain to serve as the first Chaplain to the Maritime Service, a position newly created to provide spiritual aid to seafarers in the merchant marine during wartime. SCI’s facilities housed the Maritime Pool, where trained seafarers waited for assignments on ships. The Institute’s auditorium (typically used for film screenings and live entertainment) hosted daily muster drills and calisthenics for men about to head out to war.
An increased production at the shipyards meant increased demand for trained seafarers. SCI’s Merchant Marine School expanded all the way through the 13th-story roof of the building to provide rooftop instruction and pilothouse training. Meanwhile, the iconic Titanic Memorial Lighthouse on the top of SCI’s building remained illuminated even when the U.S. government mandated a dim-out along the east coast—its light deemed too valuable to shut off for ships navigating in and out of New York Harbor.
The war brought men from torpedoed vessels to SCI’s doors in great numbers; the survivors from 56 crews in total arrived at 25 South Street for refuge by June of 1942. The Atlantic Ocean was a very dangerous place for seafarers in 1942, and SCI did its best to support the men on the ships as the U.S. entered the war.
Click here to explore the second part of a digital exhibit detailing the role of SCI and the Merchant Marine during World War II.