One of Connecticut’s top attractions is a living history museum full of historic ships and exhibits in a reconstructed 19th century seafaring village. It is a wonderful place to visit with so much to see that one day isn’t enough, although we did our best to see most of it. For those that like historic vessels and all things nautical, this is the place to come. The centerpiece of the museum is the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship built in 1841 and launched from New Bedford, Massachusetts, a town I wrote about in a recent blog. At one time there were more than 2700 whaling ships but the Morgan is now the oldest commercial ship still afloat in America.
The Morgan is a very special ship and it was a delight to be able to walk around and explore her. For being so old, she has been kept in remarkable shape. During her whaling years she completed 37 voyages all over the globe in pursuit of whale blubber to make oil. Whaling was a dangerous and difficult business and many ships and their crews did not survive their journeys. Below is a photo of a docent demonstrating how a whale was speared with a special hook.
We were able to explore not only the main deck but also the cabins below. There wasn’t much room down there for all the men but they made do with small bunks and living spaces. The captain had a more luxurious area, although his space was quite limited too. Below was also a larger area where the oil was stored. Here is a photo of the seamen’s bunks.
It was a neat feeling to wander around this ship and think about how men lived and worked here in days past on the high seas, risking their lives on long voyages. One of these seamen, Nelson Cole Haley was aboard this ship for four years from 1849 -1853. He worked as a harpooner, responsible for first spearing the whale, one of the more dangerous jobs. He wrote a book called “Whale Hunt” about his experiences on the Morgan, a book that brought to life the fascinating life of a whaler. It was an enjoyable read after our visit to this historic ship.
Above is a photo of the Joseph Conrad sailing ship as seen from the deck of the Morgan. This ship was launched in 1882 in Denmark and used to train Danish sailors for merchant service. Later she served as a training ship for the U.S. until 1945 when she came to stay at Mystic Seaport as a museum ship. This was another tall ship we were able to board and tour.
The museum offers a chance to go for a ride on several of their boats including the Sabino pictured above. This is the oldest wooden coal fired steamboat in the U.S. in regular operation. It was built in 1908 and used to ferry passengers and cargo between Maine towns and islands. The Sabino took us on a pleasant cruise around Mystic harbor. It was a nice chance to see the Seaport Museum from the water. I also went below and watched coal being loaded into the furnace.
The museum has businesses that were important in a seafaring town of the 19th century and offers a number of classes and demonstrations. Besides a tourist destination, the museum is a research and educational facility. A large shipyard is also on the premises and inside the huge building you can watch the old practices of building and repairing wooden ships. In another building the 60 year old Mayflower II wooden ship was being reconstructed in preparation for 2020 and the 400th anniversary of the pilgrims arrival in 1620.
In addition to the permanent exhibits the museum had a fascinating temporary exhibit on the Vikings with artifacts brought from Sweden on tour in the U.S. beginning at Mystic Seaport. There were 1,300 year old items of warfare such as helmets, shields and swords that had been excavated from a burial site. They were beautiful with much detail and for their age in amazing shape.
Of the many nautical exhibits, my favorite was the room filled with figureheads. Figureheads are carved wooden decorations found at the bow of ships and popular during historic sailing times, especially the 1800’s. The ornamentation represented gods, spiritual beliefs and were used to protect and enhance the ship as well as symbolize what the ship stood for. The carvings are very detailed and are a classic symbol of America’s seafaring history. In the photo below are several examples although there were many more on display. The horrible lighting in the room made taking good photos difficult.
I hope you enjoyed a little of what can be found at Mystic Seaport Museum. This is just a sample of what is awaiting the visitor here. This was definitely one of the highlights of our travels and on my top ten best museum list.