Mystic Seaport is a working museum, or so its been described to me. More than that, it is a section of a town, preserved original buildings display or work the businesses they were, some before, some after the turn of the century.
How do you preserve about 50 boats? By “parking” them along the waterfront. How do you repair historic boats? By building a shipbuilding yard and training people to do it. They employ 22 ship builders in this shop and take in outside work to help keep the cost of visiting this unique place down.
This building displays the hull of an old ship and explains in detail how it was built, what made it strong, how it was put together piece by piece. I’m guessing the building is about 120 feet long.
The boat works has some awesome tools and you can wander about, watch the restoration workers and view films on the process.
There were so many buildings and crafts, I couldn’t post and explain them all. Every element of the fishing industry in the area, from oysters to lobsters is covered here. The town had a cigar shop and had to put out fires; pubs and churches and schools were part of the community. In fact one church has a taped sermon from a former preacher in which he regales the “rum” establishments in fiery oratory. Its a hoot. Welding shops, chain makers, iron mongers, carpenters… After five hours of walking and gawking, we became weary. We could have returned after a respite but gave in and went home. The place is a must visit for everyone including great interactive areas for children.
The last whaling ship left intact, the Charles Morgan, out of 2700 that plyed this area, is in for another restoration as the bugs that eat wood, the stresses of sailing and weather take their toll. It was built in 1841. For me, this was the most fascinating exhibit on the waterfront. While she undergoes her scraping and cleaning, and milling of replacement boards etc. we were allowed to walk around inside and ask questions of a docent.
He demonstrated the various harpoons. Unknown to me, the first strike is like a hook to bring the “fish” in, not to kill the whale. The film here is amazing. You are on the small boat as the whale takes you for a “Nantucket slayride.” You see the red foam when the whale is finally bested. You are on the blubber floor as the beast is loaded aboard the ship in slabs. The danger, the muscle it takes, the weariness, the thrill of the siting, the chase. You can almost smell the pungent ambergris as it is removed bucket by bucketful from the great head.
Bringing light below into dark quarters with glass crystals built into the upper deck. Lanterns were used sparingly as the oil soaked decks were so flammable.
The second most fascinating place, was the rope making building. The 250 foot section we were in was once part of a much longer building. When you consider the whaling boats played out 1800 feet of rope as the whale tried to shake its tormentors. How do you make a rope 1800 feet long in one straight, uncut piece? Again, an amazing film shows an old time “rope walker” with fibers tied around his waist walking the rope backward when the task was done nearly by hand with very rudimentary tools to help. This building holds the old mechanical rope making equipment that the film also demonstrates. Here the machine “walks” the rope.
Rope making has changed little from the old days except for more modern equipment. Its still a matter of joining fibers, twisting them into a small strand, then winding the strands together for great, huge ropes. One building holds a model of the town on a huge platform. In the model, the rope building is the longest building in town which this building is a small section of. The original burned to the ground.
On one of their sailing vessels, the Durant, the crew was exchanging signals with another boat. The crewman yelled, “…is their a doctor aboard?” Then, “Man overboard.” Where upon the crew (in training) lowered the lifeboats and went and rescued a fake body out of the drink.
Also aboard this vessel was a canvas funnel that catches the wind at the top and brings it below deck to cool the crew on a hot day.
In the cooperage building, a female cooper explained to us the bucket and cask and barrel making procedures. It took me by surprise to learn that barrels were routinely taken apart when empty to store them then reassembled when needed. Especially when loaded aboard ship. Each stave was numbered so it
could be returned to its original tight form. Ships had their own cooper to perform this task.
At one time,l obster traps were made of wood instead of the plastic coated steel we see today.
One building held figureheads rescued from old boats.
One building had tools and stories and pictures of tugboats. I hadn’t stopped to think how these little but mighty boats connected to a great ship. The film shows how this great hook, which weighs about 250 pounds is utilized.
The hook is in the water. The tug makes several passes until it can connect to this hook, then it hauls away. Great film here, too.
Horse and buggy rides are available, as well as boat rides and a water taxi to shuttle you around the port, for an extra fee. If you go, plan to spend the whole day.
The Amistad was parked here after having just returned from Cuba. It hadn’t been completely cleaned yet since its recent voyage. It was only open for a short two hours. It has none of the chain and hooks from its horrifying days of running slaves. It has but few artifacts of slave trading, since men of the times tried to hide their nefarious purpose. It serves as an educational tool and memorial of the awfulness of slavery. Like the Holocaust Museum, NEVER AGAIN.
I took a slug of pictures if you want to thread through them: