I don’t make much fuss about Christmas for reasons I explained here 10 years ago;  when I really want something and I can afford it, I just get it.  Of course, I have no problems with anyone going all out with gifts.  Books and experiences make the best gifts.  Experiences . . . teach you and you can remember them forever.

Books . . . you read them once and then read them again or give them to someone you think will enjoy them as much as or more than you did.  See the book cover below . . .  great cover and fabulous book.  Inside you find crisp photos, reproductions of painting of McAllister vessels,  family stories,  . . . even an owners’ family tree that clarifies some of the boat names.  The story starts in 1864 as James McAllister (generation 1) stood on the northeast coast of Ireland about to emigrate across the Atlantic.

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One of my favorite stories involves the boat below, launched from Newport News Shipbuilding Co. in May 1909 as John Twohy, Jr, for Lambert’s Point Tow Boat Company.  Renamed J. P. McAllister, this boat served as a platform for the one-and-only Harry Houdini‘s escape from handcuffs and leg irons inside  a nailed-shut, weighted packing case.  Here’s a reference to this event in a recent NYTimes, but in this book, you get two photos of the event and facsimiles of the contemporary news story and the J. P. McAllister logbook entry, all attesting to the tremendous research involved in this beautifully produced volume.

One more great story . . . typical of struggles to divide up ownership in any family business.  When disagreement came to a head in on a cold Easter Sunday morning in 1904, “the partners decided to work out the percentages once and for all by meeting on a tugboat, taking it offshore, and not returning until they had an agreement.”  Now Capt. Jim (generation 2) told his 6 year-old son A. J. to wait at the pier until they all returned.  Which happened to be as night fell.  Here’s how it’s told:   “Capt. Jim … his face covered in blood . . .  jumped off [the boat onto the pier where A. J. had waited all day], grabbed A. J. by the hand, and said, ‘That’s it.  It’s settled.  The issue is settled.'”

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Below is one of my many favorite full-page photos in the book.  Another photo a few pages later adds detail not unlike Birk Thomas and collaborators do here.

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A book like this focuses not only on a family business but also New York City, with all six of its boros,  and the country.  The photo below shows the McAllister yard behind Ellis Island, real estate taken over in the 1970s for the creation of Liberty State Park.  Today’s margins of the harbor are that way only because of thousands of decisions.

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The author, Stephanie Hollyman has a website that highlights an impressive breadth of work.

Click here for ordering info.

Since we’re looking at books, here’s one that might be ripe for updating.   Another one I’ve reread and enjoyed recently is Buckets and Belt:  Evolution of the Great Lakes Self-Unloader by William M. Lafferty, Valerie van Heest, and Kenneth Pott.

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