Fiddlers' Green, Peter Stanford

January 16, 1927–March 24, 2016 …
The trustees and staff of the National Maritime Historical Society mourn the loss of Peter Stanford, NMHS president emeritus, longtime friend, and generous benefactor. We extend our deepest condolences to his wife, Norma, and to all the members of the Stanford family. We are truly thankful for his extraordinary contributions to preserve the maritime heritage of the United States. Peter Stanford was a national treasure—and will be greatly missed.
Fair winds, Peter.

NMHS PS_1Fiddlers Green…

Peter Stanford, President Emeritus, National Maritime Historical Society

Peter Stanford, the founding president of South Street Seaport Museum in New York, founding chair emeritus of the Working Harbor Committee, and the long-time president of the National Maritime Historical Society, passed away on Thursday, 24 March 2016, at the age of 89. Born in Brooklyn, NY, in 1927, he served in the US Navy in World War II as a radioman third class. After the war, he earned a bachelor of arts degree from Harvard in 1949 and a master’s degree from King’s College, Cambridge, England, in 1951. He then worked for a year and a half at the Economists’ Book Shop in London, while pursuing naval research at the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich.

On return to the United States in 1952, he went to work as a copy editor at the publishing firm of Alfred A. Knopf before moving to Alfred Politz Research in 1954. From there he went to McCann-Erickson Advertising, then to Ogilvy & Mather, Hicks & Geist and Compton Advertising. As a copy supervisor, he achieved notoriety with his advertising campaigns for Beefeater Gin and International Paper, including Beefeater’s “Grownups’ Hour” ads.

Photo: Us Navy, R. Koteff

Photo: Us Navy, R. Koteff

In autumn of 1966, Peter and his wife, Norma, established the Friends of the South Street Maritime Museum, a citizen committee to organize a maritime museum in Manhattan’s historic waterfront neighborhood. The little group was launched with a fee of just one dollar for new members; the now-famous dollar memberships made it easy to join, and encouraged a sense of having a stake in the cause. This drive to get people personally involved would be a recurring theme in Peter’s projects, motivating people to participate in letter-writing campaigns, to volunteer to work on historic vessels, to found organizations where, before, there had been none. Dedicated to recreating the “Street of Ships” that played such a key role in New York’s emergence as a business capital, in the spring of 1967 they founded the South Street Seaport Museum in a warehouse space on Fulton Street. The Stanfords guided the museum through its early years, and Peter remained president of the museum until the spring of 1976, when he resigned to take up full-time work with the National Maritime Historical Society, growing the Society’s nascent quarterly magazine, Sea History, and pursuing several important ship-saving efforts. He lent his considerable energy and voice to the efforts to save the schooner Ernestina (now Ernestina-Morrissey), the barque Elissa, the Liberty ship John W. Brown, the lightship Ambrose, the brigantine Black Pearl, the fishing schooner Lettie G. Howard, and the great sailing ship Wavertree. 1967.04.03.NSPS desk Retouched copyHe was also instrumental in the founding of the World Ship Trust, and he co-founded and organized Operation Sail 76, a national tall ship event that caught the country’s imagination as we marked our bicentennial, and the Statue of Liberty Parade of Sail in 1986.

NMHS PS_SHcoverPeter Stanford’s profound contributions to the maritime heritage community spanning more than fifty years have been recognized with awards from Mystic Seaport, American Merchant Mariners Museum, India House, Working Waterfront Alliance, the USS Constitution Museum, the National Park Service Foundation, the Municipal Art Society, the Parks Council and the Port Promotion Association; and he was awarded an honorary doctor of letters from the State University of New York Maritime College at Fort Schuyler. He was the author of hundreds of magazine articles and a number of museum books; Peter and Norma Stanford published their last book, A Dream of Tall Ships—How New Yorkers came together to save the city’s sailing-ship waterfront, with Sea History Press in 2013.

He is survived by his wife, Norma, five children and their children. The family requests that in lieu of flowers donations be sent to the National Maritime Historical Society and South Street Seaport.

In lieu of flowers, Stanford family requests donations be made to the National Maritime Historical Society and the South Street Seaport Museum.

mystique copy 2





  1. Dr Hugh Dundonald Turner on March 25, 2016 at 7:53 am

    A most respected naval historian this side of the Atlantic too. Your ship has lost a marvellous figurehead.

  2. 'Bill' Cumming (Maritime Historian-UK) on March 26, 2016 at 5:38 pm

    A wonderfully knowledgeable and enthusiastic ‘keeper’ of our essential maritime heritage. He was an inspiration to many of us on both sides of the Atlantic.

  3. […] Stanford, waterfront icon and founder of the South Street Seaport Museum and the National Maritime Historical Society, passed away on Thursday morning, March 24, […]

  4. CAPT Al Ponessa, USN (Ret) on March 30, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    We, at the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, extend our condolences to the Stanford Family. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  5. CAPT Al Ponessa, USN (Ret) on March 30, 2016 at 10:03 pm

    We, at the Philadelphia Ship Preservation Guild, extend our condolences to the Stanford Family and acknowledge the great contribution Peter made to maritime heritage.

  6. John Ewald, Advisor on April 9, 2016 at 1:31 pm

    Our sincere condolences to Norma, the family, and all who knew and benefitted from Peter’s many contributions. Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

    He personally helped me while I was working in the west coast projects aboard Balclutha, Eppleton Hall, and Falls of Clyde, and I enjoyed a correspondence with Peter over several decades. Norma and Peter opened their home to us too. For all of this and so much more that was given to the maritime heritage community, I am eternally grateful.

  7. Marci on April 9, 2016 at 4:34 pm

    A gentleman & a Scholar, he served with Dad in China following the Japanese surrender of WWll. I asked Dad what he was like as a young sailor – his reply “Ship mad, always mad for ships”. They spent 9 months or so in Teinsin, and Peter somehow got hold of paints, and painted a Chinese dragon on two of the walls (it was long) of the Japanese Occupation housing that was his billet. I count myself fortunate to have met him twice.