In the mid-1960s, the Hudson was a mess: riverfront communities dumped raw sewage into the river, industrial plants discharged a witches' brew of toxic chemicals into it, and parts of the river were summertime dead zones. In 1966, Seeger, whose home overlooks the river, and a small group of friends decided to build the Clearwater, a replica of the cargo sloops that once sailed up and down the river, and use it as a floating observatory and classroom. The Clearwater quickly became a focal point for the Hudson River cleanup campaign. To date, hundreds of thousands of people, many of them children, have since sailed on it, examined the river and its flora and fauna, and conducted tests that measured the quality of its water.
Although lingering chemicals and invasive species threaten the Hudson, the river is in much better shape than it was forty years ago: fish are no longer covered by a cottage cheese-like film, sturgeon populations are on the rebound, and people swim in the river without any ill effects. Pete Seeger and his compatriots deserve a fair amount of credit for this vastly improved state of affairs and for their continuing work on the river's behalf.
Later today, Seeger, Bruce Springsteen, Ani DiFranco, and many, many other luminaries will perform at a gala concert honoring Seeger's birthday at Madison Square Garden. Seeger, who still plays (and chops wood!) but shuns the spotlight, generally turns down honors of this sort; the only reason he allowed this concert to go on is that all proceeds from it will benefit the Clearwater.
To the best of my knowledge, Pete Seeger's personal papers are still in his possession (and I hope that he and his wife, Toshi Seeger, are pack-rats!) However, Pete Seeger's life and work are reflected in archival collections held by repositories throughout the country. Repositories that hold substantial amounts of archival material relating to Seeger include:
- Marist College Archives (Hudson River Sloop Clearwater Collection -- 78 linear feet!)
- Wayne State University, Reuther Library of Labor and Urban Affairs (Seeger is heavily represented in the People's Song Library and Folklore Archive collections, and correspondence and other materials are scattered throughout many other collections)
- Library of Congress, American Folklife Center (David Dunaway Collection of Interviews with Pete Seeger and Contemporaries, Alan Lomax Collection, and a treasure trove of sound recordings and secondary sources)
- Woody Guthrie Archives (Correspondence)
- University at Albany, SUNY, Archives and Special Collections (Norman Studer Papers)