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Issue Date: March 2005 Issue

Into the Mystic

Discover living history in Connecticut's 19th-century seaport.
Doris Larson

If You Go:

Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea


At Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea, a panoramic landscape of white sails is set against a brilliant blue sky. The sails top the tall ships berthed on the Mystic River, where a fleet of more than 500 vessels comprise America's leading maritime museum.

As I walk along the dock, a lusty sea chantey draws me to the Charles W. Morgan, circa 1841, the country's last wooden whaling ship from a once-great Yankee fleet.

Kids are clambering up the gangplank of this square-rigger, settling on the deck to watch young, blue-shirted Mystic staffers climb the swinging rope ladder to set the sails. A few lucky kids are chosen to help steady the ropes.

With sounds of clanging bells and a strong wind against the sails, I join the cluster of families huddled against the rail. We follow our Mystic guide into the bowels of the ship, stooping in the dank chambers to get to the cell-like rooms where sailors slept.

From the Morgan, it's a short walk to the preservation shipyard, where historic vessels are restored by people working with19th-century tools. The freedom schooner Amistad was built in this shipyard.

The aroma of cooking over an open-hearth fire draws me to the Village Green, where I'm sidetracked by "A Tale of a Whaler," a play in progress on the Performance Stage. Actors in this interactive drama pull audience members into the action several times a day. As I wander the village, I make stops at the cooperage and the shipcarver's shop and lunch on clam chowder at Spouter Tavern, named for Ishmael's "very spot for cheap lodging in ‘Moby-Dick.' "

After a morning with the kids, I'm ready to visit Mystic's exhibit galleries lined up around a center green known as Anchor Circle. I stop to view the collection of ships' figureheads, those "silent pilots" of the sea, lining the walls of the Wendell Building. Another exhibit, Women & the Sea, takes a look at the role women played in maritime history.

As I leave, one last chorus of a sea chantey follows me.

Way, hey, blow the man down ...

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