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Rediscovering the Work that Built America
A Personal and Historical Journey

**Winner, 2010 ASJA Outstanding Book Award, Memoir**
by Jessica DuLong
A celebration of craftsmanship and hands-on work, MY RIVER CHRONICLES is a deeply personal story of a unique woman's discovery of her own roots-and America's-that raises important questions about our nation's future.

"An engaging narrative"-The New York Times
"Elegantly written"-Gay Talese
"Powerful reading"-Kirkus, starred review



Fifteenth Anniversary of September 11th Discussion

Tuesday, September 6, 2016 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

For five years now I’ve been deeply immersed in documenting the largest ever maritime evacuation that unfolded in the aftermath of the September 11th attacks. At long last I’m in the final editing stages of my book, which will be published by McGraw-Hill next year.

Here’s more about the book:

On September 11, 2001, nearly half a million civilians caught in an act of war at the southern tip of Manhattan escaped when hundreds of mariners conducted a spontaneous rescue that became the largest waterborne evacuation in history. Rooted in eyewitness accounts and buoyed by contemporary and historical sources, Calling All Boats: Untold Stories from the Maritime Evacuation of September 11th offers a pointillist, minute-by-minute chronicle of the dramatic and risky, improvised boatlift through the stories of the people saved that day and the mariners who saved them: operators of ferries, tugs, dinner boats, sailing yachts, and other vessels who lent their skills and equipment to serve as emergency responders.

Calling All Boats breaks new ground in the historic understanding of September 11th, capturing the transformation of an age through astonishing acts of courage and compassion. It reveals how tragedy creates new, often unlikely, alliances, and brings to light the resourcefulness and resounding human goodness that rises up in the face of the darkest human evil.

Written by a mariner who served at Ground Zero, Calling All Boats provides a breathtaking account of a little-known chapter in the most significant and devastating hours in recent American history.

This Thursday, to commemorate the 15th anniversary of the September 11th attacks, the Lilac Preservation Project is hosting an event about the process of documenting the boatlift.

I’m honored to participate in a discussion with Tricia Wachtendorf and James Kendra, authors of the new book American Dunkirk: The Waterborne Evacuation of Manhattan on 9/11, which examines, from a disaster research perspective, what lessons can be learned from the mobilization of boats that day; Eddie Rosenstein, producer of the film Boatlift; and Captain Patrick Harris, owner and operator of the sailing yacht Ventura, a mariner who participated in the evacuation. The reception that follows will include a screening of Boatlift as well as audio recordings of mariners’ reminiscences, courtesy of PortSide NewYork.

Join Us!
Thursday, September 8, 6:00 PM
LILAC, Hudson River Park’s Pier 25
Free admission

Hope to see you there!

Filed in Uncategorized • Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Seeking Interviewees: Boat lift mariners & 9/11 evacuees

Wednesday, July 18, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

At long last, I’d like to announce my latest project. I’ve been commissioned by International Marine/McGraw-Hill to write a book about the evacuation of half a million people from Manhattan by boat on September 11, 2001.

Within minutes after thick gray smoke started rolling through the airplane-shaped hole in the North Tower, even before a message from the Coast Guard calling for “all available boats” crackled out over marine radios, white wakes from vessels racing toward Lower Manhattan zigzagged across the harbor.

Soot-covered refugees–some injured and disoriented, some splattered with blood from people who had fallen or jumped from the burning tower–fled to the water’s edge. Soon after the second plane hit, authorities shut down the bridges and tunnels, trapping millions of people in the city. Never was it clearer that Manhattan is an island.

A massive, unplanned mission rescue mission ensued. Ferryboat captains, tug crews, dinner-boat and sailing-yacht operators, and other mariners delivered 500,000 people from Lower Manhattan to points north, and off the island entirely. Later they shuttled rescue workers and critical supplies. In the aftermath of an inconceivable assault, mariners stepped in, spontaneously, to provide invaluable, irreplaceable assistance. Still, more than a decade later, their crucial contributions have gone largely unrecognized.

I’m honored to have been given the opportunity to collect and share the stories of boaters and evacuees who participated in this pivotal event in American history.

Can you help me locate individuals willing to share their experiences? I’m currently interviewing commercial and recreational boaters, people facilitating the evacuation dockside, and individuals who were evacuated by boat either from Lower Manhattan to points north or off the island entirely.

Please email me at: jessica[AT] with any leads. Much appreciated.

Filed in Hands-on work, History, Hudson River, New York Harbor, September 11, Working Waterfront, Writing • Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Wine, words and writers

Monday, January 9, 2012 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

About four or five years ago I workshopped some early material for My River Chronicles in a Sackett Street Writers’ Workshop class with Nancy Rawlinson (a demanding and insightful editor with whom YOU too can work, either one-on-one or in a class setting).

Just recently I stepped back into the Sackett Street fold by attending a stellar reading by faculty, including Alison Espach, Julia Fierro, Benjamin Hale, Heather Aimee O’Neill, and Karen Thompson Walker.

Later this month, I’m honored to be able to take the podium at Brooklyn’s own BookCourt, reading along with EMMA STRAUB (Other People We Married), KEIJA PARSSINEN (The Ruins of Us), and TED THOMPSON (The Land of Steady Habits). Hope you can join us for what Sackett Street founder Julie Fierro describes as “wine, words and the heavenly buzz of many writers in one room.”

Monday, January 30th at 7pm

163 Court Street (between Pacific & Dean)
Brooklyn, NY 11201

Filed in Uncategorized, Writing • Tags: , , , ,

Ten Years Later: Closure is a myth

Monday, September 5, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Over these past few weeks, I’ve struggled to prepare for four separate September 11th-related projects and events:

Through all this I’ve been trying to take some comfort in sociologist Nancy Berns’ argument that closure is a myth: “While grief can diminish over time,” explains Boston Globe reporter Christopher Dreher, “there is no clear process that brings it to an end—and no reason that achieving this finality should be our goal.” Maybe that’s why, a decade later, this all still feels so raw.

In honor of the tenth anniversary, I’ve posted an excerpt from chapter four of My River Chronicles, “Fireboat John J. Harvey Serves Again.” You can read it HERE.

My best to everyone during this difficult week.

Filed in Fireboats, History, Hudson River, New York Harbor, September 11, Uncategorized • Tags: , , , , , ,

Fireboat John J. Harvey faces Hurricane Irene

Wednesday, August 31, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

The news about the impact of Hurricane Irene on the Manhattan waterfront was grim so we fired up engines aboard fireboat John J. Harvey at 0500 on Saturday morning and headed upriver with a skeleton crew (Huntley Gill, Karl Schuman, John Browne, Tommy Whyte, and I), in search of a safer berth.

Goodbye NYC

The whole river was peppered with large tug & barge units at anchor—at least one at every wide spot in the road. And we saw lots of commercial traffic northbound. Meanwhile every port was littered with what Huntley calls LSPBs (Large Shitty Plastic Boats).

We tied up in Kingston’s Rondout Creek at about midday on Saturday, which gave me time to double-up lines on Tug Gowanus Bay and complete other preparations before the storm hit on Sunday. And then all that was left to do was petition the universe for a little consideration. Our goal: Keep the boats on water, not land.

Still hours before high water

By 11 am on Sunday the creek was ripping. Water flowed over the bulkhead though high tide wasn’t until 1330. The power went out, killing the small submersible pumps that were keeping afloat the barge that the fireboat was tied up alongside. The barge, of course, started to sink. I got air up and prepped the engines for a quick fire-up if a sudden exit was necessary, and tried not to stress about the fact that it was raining in the engine room. Our poor boat has such a hard time keeping the water out on all sides.

Disappearing minivan trick

We watched a minivan begin to get swallowed up by the flood, and as the last bollard we were tied to vanished underwater, I warmed up engines, just in case. Ducks and fish swam down Strand Street, enjoying their new territory.

Huntley, Karl, and I set up two 3-inch trash pumps on the barge to keep it from sinking. Before long the rushing brown creek filled with rainbow swirls—evidence that some fuel tank must have let go upstream. Then more solid debris started careening by: somebody’s deck, a whole field’s worth of pumpkins, and a slew of sailboats that had been ripped off their moorings and began smashing into our bow.

Karl was able to secure a 20-footer with a grappling hook and tie it to a port-side bitt, but before he could figure out salvage rights laws a heavy wooden dock zipped downstream, smashed into the boat, and ripped the line right off. The pair then shot toward wooden tug W.O. Decker, who was tied up several hundred yards behind us. After a clunk, they managed to fend off the attack.

Here comes the sun

At three o’clock the sun finally broke through the clouds, but the water stayed high—way too high to get off the boat. So we scavenged around for food and counted our blessings that both boats seemed to be holding their own.

Around midnight I fired up the 2-71 again to top off the air tanks in preparation for the next high tide, due around 0200. I watched as the bollards our lines were tied to disappeared again, but the boat seemed stable. Down to the bunk for a nap.

By 0730, mud showed where there had been a good three feet of water, so at last we were able to step off the boat. But the creek was running way too fast (a good 10-12 knots, they say) for us to drop lines and make the spin to head toward the Hudson. So we’d have to ride out one more night.

Disappearing barge trick

At 0730 on Tuesday morning we discovered the barge had vanished overnight. Fortunately most of our lines ran to bollards on the shore, but we worried that once the tide rose, then fell again, the fireboat might land on top of the sunken barge, causing who knows what kind of awful damage. It was time to go home.

This is not the Mississippi

We made it off and down the creek unscathed, riding the runoff downriver at a speedy 11.5 knots, despite bucking tide. The river was so brown it was almost orange. Iridescent even. At around 1815 we arrived back at our berth at Pier 66, which had weathered the storm nicely, after all.

Filed in Fireboats, Hudson River, New York Harbor, Tugboats • Tags: , , , , , , , , , ,

Onshoring Trend Spurs “Made in USA” Comeback

Thursday, June 30, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Call it what you will—reshoring, insourcing, repatriating, onshoring—the movement toward manufacturers expanding production on U.S. soil has established itself as a trend, according to a survey by and Reuters.

MOJO, the blog, reported:

Forty percent of North American manufacturers with offshored production are investigating bringing that work back to the US within the next year. Of all the companies surveyed … 15% say they have repatriated production back into the US in the past 2 years.

A Reuters Insider video, “Made in the USA Makes a Comeback,” cites a “sea change” for the U.S. labor market, due to more manufacturers choosing to reinvest in domestic plants.

Last month, meanwhile, Boston Consulting Group announced predictions that a “manufacturing renaissance” would occur within the next five years, explaining that rising Chinese labor costs, among other factors, would spur repatriation of manufacturing operations.

“All over China, wages are climbing at 15 to 20 percent a year because of the supply-and-demand imbalance for skilled labor,” said Harold L. Sirkin, a BCG senior partner. “We expect net labor costs for manufacturing in China and the U.S. to converge by around 2015. As a result of the changing economics, you’re going to see a lot more products ‘Made in the USA’ in the next five years.”

According to BCG, the trend has already begun:

Caterpillar Inc., for example, announced last year the expansion of its U.S. operations with the construction of a new 600,000-square-foot hydraulic excavator manufacturing facility in Victoria, Texas. Once fully operational, the plant is expected to employ more than 500 people and will triple the company’s U.S.-based excavator capacity.

“Victoria’s proximity to our supply base, access to ports and other transportation, as well as the positive business climate in Texas made this the ideal site for this project,” said Gary Stampanato, a Caterpillar vice president.

NCR Corp. announced in late 2009 that it was bringing back production of its ATMs to Columbus, Georgia, in order to decrease the time to market, increase internal collaboration, and lower operating costs. And toy manufacturer Wham-O Inc. last year returned 50 percent of its Frisbee production and its Hula Hoop production from China and Mexico to the U.S.

Reuters reports that the onshoring trend will affect, in particular, the manufacture of “higher-value goods made in lower volumes, such as home appliances and construction equipment … especially if they are large and expensive to ship.” The four-year, $600 million expansion of General Electric Co’s appliance unit in Louisville, Kentucky is just one example. The company has said it plans to add 830 new jobs.

CNN, meanwhile, tells the story of Ebonite, a company that has brought its bowling pin production back to the U.S. CEO Randy Shickert explained the benefits of the move this way: “Here we’d have much better control over our manufacturing, our quality, and our cost structure,” adding that compared with the Mexican plant, “our actual dollars of labor per pin is less here in Hopkinville.”

These companies will, no doubt, be the first of many to bring manufacturing back home. And the impact on the economy remains to be seen.

Filed in Hands-on work, Jobs, Manufacturing, Unemployment • Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

German Giant Says Skills Gap Results from Education Weaknesses

Wednesday, June 22, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

On Monday, the Financial Times ran a story about the skills gap, provocatively titled “German Giant Says US Workers Lack Skills.” Eric Spiegel, chief executive in the US for Siemens, the German engineering group, said the problem exposed weaknesses in education and training in the US, explaining that his company has struggled to find the workers it needed for its expansion plans, even amid an unemployment rate of 9.1 percent.

The troubles Siemans faces are common among many employers, particularly in manufacturing. The story continues:

A recent survey from Manpower, the employment agency, found that 52 percent of leading US companies reported difficulties in recruiting essential staff, up from 14 percent in 2010.

In manufacturing in particular there is evidence of a mismatch between workforce skills and available jobs: while employment has fallen since January 2009, the number of available job openings has risen from 98,000 to 230,000.

Mr Spiegel’s concerns about skills are shared by many other US business leaders, and were reflected this month in the first recommendations from President Barack Obama’s advisory council on jobs and competitiveness.

I’m always interested in comparisons that reveal how different countries educate their workforces. Certainly the U.S. has much to learn from Germany, Great Britain, and other nations about how best to prepare young people for productive employment. (For more on this, read Ilana Garon’s Dissent Magazine piece Tunnel Vision: How a “College for All” Philosophy Leaves Everyone Behind.)

But I found this line in the Financial Times story particularly telling:

As a result of the shortage of workers with the right skills, Siemans has had to “to invest in education and training to meet its staffing needs, including apprenticeship programmes of the kind it uses in Germany.”

Um… yeah. *Of course* companies need to play a larger role in training workers. Who better to impart marketable skills than employers hungry to hire on people with those particular qualifications? For an example of competing manufacturers teaming up to do exactly that, read my piece “Moving from Help Wanted to Help Found: Attracting the next wave of skilled workers.” Note the publication date: August 2008. That’s nearly three years ago, people. Have we made any progress on this at all?

At least the press is beginning to get the message. It’s fascinating to watch the media finally clue into the “industrial tsunami,” which has been bearing down on this country for a generation—the very same generation that has been raised on the notion that making things and physical labor are dumb, dirty, and in decline. As John Ratzenberger explains:

With a dearth of wrench-savvy workers, there aren’t enough people to repair the nation’s crumbling bridges, buildings and water systems, let alone operate the gears of America’s mighty military machinery.

Will ringing more alarm bells bring about actual change? That remains to be seen.

Filed in Craftsmanship, Hands-on work, Jobs, Manufacturing, Uncategorized, Unemployment • Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Outsourcing the Law to India

Friday, June 17, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

Check out Brandi Moore’s op-ed “Outsourcing the Law to India” from “Need to Know” on PBS.

She begins:

Memo to this year’s graduating law students: Your first job is already gone — to India.

The law firms of America, and their clients, have quietly decided that the work a first-year associate typically performs — such as document review, research and contract drafting — can be done more cheaply. And the cheaper team lives in India.

… and continues:

When the American Bar Association surveyed its membership last fall about the use of Indian outsourcers, 83 percent refused to answer. Instead, they offered evasive responses: “That is something that I don’t think we’ll be discussing” and “I don’t think that is something that we can comment on.”

Law firms aren’t talking, but Forrester Research estimates by 2015, legal process outsourcing in India will grow to $4 billion. What is most important about Forrester’s numbers is that they predict a shift in belief from rejecting the idea that legal work can be done in India, to relying on it. This started during the recession.

How interesting that law firms seem reticent to admit to this practice. I wonder why.

I also wonder if perhaps the REAL costs involved with offshoring will garner more attention now that “blue-collar work” is no longer the only kind being outsourced. Will the fact that the “professional classes” are suffering job losses too change the game?

Filed in Jobs, Unemployment • Tags: , , , , ,

What’s Writing, What’s Just Typing, and Who’s to Say Which Is Which?

Wednesday, June 1, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

The General Society Reading Room

If you haven’t yet been to The General Society of Mechanics and Tradesmen building at 20 W44th Street, you’ve missed something spectacular. The façade of the National Register building is a New York City Landmark, and the three-story, skylighted library reading room is simply stunning.

Now, here’s your excuse to come check it out…

On Tuesday, June 7 at 6 pm, I’ll be joining two esteemed authors, Kamy Wicoff (founder of She Writes, the largest online community for women who write, and author of I Do But I Don’t: Why The Way We Marry Matters) and Sarah Saffian (journalist, teacher, and author of Ithaka: A Daughter’s Memoir of Being Found), on a panel to address the questions:

What’s Writing, What’s Just Typing, and Who’s to Say Which Is Which?

Changes in technology continue to offer expanding opportunities for writers, both amateur and professional, to share their work. But how have these new publishing platforms, and the ensuing pressures placed on more traditional publishing outlets, affected the craft of writing? What does it mean to be an “author” as opposed to someone who writes just for pleasure, when new technologies equip anyone to publish? And how do we preserve quality without excluding new voices that might not fit the standards of the elite?

Our panelists, Kamy Wicoff, Sarah Saffian and Jessica DuLong, will explore the ramifications of new publishing platforms, and discuss whether their effects vary according to genre, while highlighting the importance of rekindling respect for craft as a cultural ideal in American society.

Advance registration is suggested: $15 General admission, $10 General Society members, $5 Students. Contact the General Society at 212.840.1840 prompt 2, or email

This program is supported, in part, by public funds from the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs.

Filed in Craftsmanship, Gender, Uncategorized, Writing • Tags: , , ,

Energy and skill we can “ill afford to lose”

Monday, April 18, 2011 - Save & Share - Leave a Comment

At nine o’clock on Sunday morning, I was dashing down a hallway at the Franklin D. Roosevelt Home in Hyde Park, NY on my way to deliver a lecture for SUNY’s Empire State College when a painting on the wall stopped me in my tracks.

Alden Krider, NYA artist, 1936

“Art of the New Deal” celebrates the work of the National Youth Administration, a New Deal agency that provided education, training, and jobs to young people. NYA artist Alden Krider created the painting for an agency exhibit at the 1936 Kansas State Fair.

The quote at the top says it all:

“We can ill afford to lose the energy and skill of these young men and women.” —FDR

Given the subject of my talk—rekindling respect for hands-on work—I could imagine no more fitting pause in my pre-lecture scramble than before this painting—this piece of American history.

When will we have a leader willing to create and nurture such a powerful program that will benefit not only the youth of today, but our country as a whole?

Filed in Art, Craftsmanship, Hands-on work, History, Jobs, Manufacturing, Unemployment • Tags: , , , , , , , , ,