Pete Seeger’s greatest legacy after a long life filled with music and activism may have been saving the Hudson river, according to those who worked with him to save the waterway.
“The Hudson was saved by a lot of people,” said Robert Kennedy Jr, who has sued industry for polluting the river as an environmental lawyer for the Waterkeeper Alliance. He said he had known Seeger for 30 years.
“But for a lot of us, Pete was the first guy. He started the train, and we all jumped on the moving train.”
Seeger’s environmental activism didn’t stop with the river. Last September, he put in a surprise appearance with Willie Nelson and Neil Young at a Farm Aid benefit. He added an extra verse to his anthem “This land was made for you and me” by singing: “This land was made to be frack-free.”
The folk singer also campaigned for the shutdown of the aging Indian Point nuclear reactor.
But it was the Hudson river – close to where Seeger lived in a log cabin he built himself in the 1940s – that was the main focus of his activism.
The river was a raging sewer when Seeger set out to save it in the 1960s, a liquid dump for industries that grew along its banks, full of PCBs from the electrical industry, sewage discharges, pesticides, and other contaminants. The main traffic was cement and oil barges. The public largely stayed away.
Local lore has it the chemical stew was so potent and so toxic it was seen as a cure for bore worms and other parasites feeding off wooden hulls. Sailors from the Caribbean would reportedly come up to cleanse their boats.
Seeger, with his late wife, Toshi, built his own 19th-century wooden sloop, the Clearwater, and as he sailed the river, he began asking commercial fishermen to work with him to bring the river back.
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