In 2009, the Library presented Mapping New York’s Shoreline, 1609-2009, an exhibition marking the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s famous voyage. It caught the attention of Mark Siegel, who was already steeped in the history and mythology of the Hudson, six years into the production of his serialized graphic novel, Sailor Twain, or the Mermaid in the Hudson, available at the Library Shop. This work of historical fiction tells the star-crossed love story of a 19th-century steamship captain, Elijah Twain, and the Mermaid of the North (Hudson) River. Anchored in New York City and Hudson Valley history, Sailor Twain was exhaustively researched at The New York Public Library and regional historical societies.
For Siegel, the creative process begins with uncovering evocative images, printed ephemera, and other historical documents to inform a narrative that is both visual and textual. His work references such 19th-century literary giants as Dickens, Whitman, Melville, and, of course, Twain, but it most closely resonates with their predecessor, Washington Irving, who created a mythos of the Hudson with The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
In 2010, Siegel met with Matthew Knutzen, NYPL’s Geospatial Librarian, opening further avenues of research in the Library’s map collections. Their dialogue developed into this exhibition, illuminating the fruitful relationships between cultural institutions and creators. Today, Sailor Twain returns to one of its sources, finding new life and context among NYPL collections that helped inspire its creation. The narrative that follows, in keeping with Siegel’s work, is part fact and part fiction.