While researching in the East Hampton Star, we discovered a letter to the editor written in 1989 by Frank Dayton in which he detailed what happened to the gondola that Thomas Moran had purchased in Venice, Italy. Born in 1903, Frank Dayton was a well-known builder who collected historic photographs of East Hampton while also taking his own pictures. Although the letter is long, it contains wonderful details that we wanted to share with you in full.
“I knew Ruth Moran, [Thomas Moran’s] daughter, very well. We were both members of that very enjoyable organization known as the Guild Hall Players, and I, with others, spent many an evening rehearsing my lines in her studio. She was completely devoted to the memory of her father and that gondola was her pride and joy. We often heard the story of its coming to Sag Harbor, lashed to the side of the New York-Sag Harbor boat, and then to East Hampton by way of a specially lengthened wagon. Her father used it on Hook Pond, and his gondolier was a Montauk Indian descendent, a Fowler or Butler, I don’t recall which.
“When it was no longer used on the water, it was brought to Mr. Moran’s yard and carefully stored on blocks, where it lay for years. In my years as a building contractor, one of our annual tasks was to see that the gondola was carefully protected from the weather. The little carved “cab,” which could be lifted off the boat, was stored separately in a small shed especially built for that purpose. The seats were kept in the house, beside the fireplace.
“At her death, Miss Moran left the gondola to the East Hampton Library, where it caused no end of problems, as it was of no use to them and there was no storage building available. As my wife was president of the library board at the time, I was well aware of the problems they had for its disposal. It was offered to several museums, with little success. The only one to show any real interest was the marine museum at Newport News, VA., where we both went to discuss the matter and make arrangements for its transportation. The cab, seats, and other accoutrement were brought to our shop and crated, and together with the gondola after some difficulty, they were loaded on a railroad flatcar and sent on their way south. As far as I know, they are still there.
“It is unfortunate that, at the time, the East Hampton Historical Society did not have the Marine Museum at Amagansett. That beautifully shaped thing with its high pointed ends and carved woodwork, which Thomas Moran took the trouble to bring to America, would have been a fascinating attraction. It was certainly our loss.”
While the East Hampton Historical Society did not yet have the Marine Museum, the organization stored the gondola at Mulford Farm for two years after Ruth Moran died in 1948. Historical Society Board President, Hilary Osborn Malecki discovered that the East Hampton Library loaned it to the Historical Society and LVIS, not long after they jointly purchased the Mulford property. In October 1948, the East Hampton Star published a photo showing the gondola in transit. In 1950, when the LVIS rejected an offer to house it permanently, Ruth Moran’s “pride and joy” was shipped to Newport News, just as Frank Dayton described, where the gondola is currently exhibited at the Mariners Museum.
Visitors to the Moran Home & Studio can see the blue shed, mentioned by Frank Dayton, that housed the gondola cab and a photograph of Mary Nimmo and Ruth Moran seated in the gondola with George Fowler working as the gondolier.