Experiencing History Through Mystic Seaport Museum
Maybe it’s just me, but the idea of visiting a museum that is a historic village is a little hard to wrap your head around. While I’ve been to museums and historic sites aplenty, including the Historic Cold Spring Village in Cape May or Colonial Williamsburg, which might be the closest comparisons, it’s hard to grasp the scope of the Seaport Museum without actually visiting it. This is, I’d like to add, something I highly recommend you do. Situated on 19 acres about a mile away from the Olde Mistick Village shopping center’s ersatz recreation of a Colonial hamlet, the Seaport Museum is, in fact, the real deal. Consisting of over 60 historic structures that were moved to the museum’s grounds, walking the streets of the Mystic Seaport Museum does feel like stepping into another time, giving what (to me) felt like a true sense of the experience of exploring a shipping town a century and a half ago. It’s a strange sensation, one that that I can’t say I’ve felt at similar sites. With over a dozen ships built from 1860 to 1950 either moored on the waterfront or displayed on the property, many of which you can board and inspect, it’s hard not to find yourself imagining what life would be like for mariners a century or so ago, and helpful, well-written displays enhance your understanding of the experience. There’s even a 40-foot long, 1/128 scale replica of the entire town as it appeared in 1870.
The Mystic Seaport Museum was founded in 1929. The Marine Historical Association, as it was known then, blossomed when it acquired the Charles Morgan, the oldest surviving American commercial vessel and the only wooden whaling ship still in existence. As one of the first living history museums in the United States, visitors can go to the various homes and businesses and talk to docents who demonstrate trades. You can go to the printing office and see how newspapers were produced or walk over to the cooperage, and someone will show you how barrels were made. As someone who enjoys reading about history, it felt like I absorbed at least a few books worth of information about lighthouses, shipbuilding, rope-making, and oyster shucking. The historic buildings themselves are beautifully preserved and offer a wealth of small details to take in: the low ceilings in a home, for example, or the looping belts in a woodworking shop invite you to consider not just the mechanics but the visceral experience of life in a seaside town. Looking up at a display of ornate masthead sculptures, you can almost see what it would be like to watch one emerge from a thick fog on a dock lit only by a lantern.
The museums exhibits and programs include a planetarium, a gallery space, sea shanties, and even programs where you can ride some of the vessels into the harbor. The tapestry of musicians, storytellers, academics, and craftspeople coupled with models, film and video displays, and artwork are the best kind of overwhelming – the kind that leaves you feeling like you’ve only scratched the surface of what the museum has to offer, and eager to return. There are many wonderful museums out there, full of things to discover and learn, but the Mystic Seaport Museum is one of the very best: it’s a place that all ages can enjoy, and everyone will experience differently. I can’t recommend it highly or enthusiastically enough.
Matthew Christopher CT Stonington Dec 05, 2023 Back in Time Museums Reviews
Location: Stonington, CT
Matthew Christopher Dec 05, 2023
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