MYSTIC — Mystic Seaport opened the traveling exhibition that accompanies the historic whaleship Charles W. Morgan on her 38th Voyage for the first time in New London on Saturday. The public could experience the exhibition and board the ship, which just completed a five-year restoration and was moved to New London last week.
The Morgan is berthed at City Pier near the New London town center as she completes her fitting out for the voyage.
Visitors to the pier were able to learn about the Morgan, whales, and whaling and their importance to American history in the 22,000 square-foot exhibition. There is a video on the history and significance of the 173-year-old vessel plus a series of panels that explain the role the American whaling industry had in this country’s history; how the Morgan and whaleships were an early connector of different cultures; and how America’s perception of the natural world has changed since the Morgan’s whaling career. Hands-on activities include knot-tying, handling samples of wood used in the restoration, and searching the ship’s crew lists for familiar names or hometown connections.
A focal point is Spouter, a 46-foot-long, life-sized inflatable model of a sperm whale. Visitors can participate in a “What Bubbles Up?” activity by writing down their whale-related memory, question, or sketch and attaching it to a humpback whale sculpture.
People could watch Mystic Seaport interpreters demonstrate a number of 19th-century maritime skills, including those of a cooper, shipsmith, ropemaker, and whaleboat rower. There were live performances including sea chanteys, the interactive “Tale of a Whaler” play, and a condensed rendition of Moby-Dick – “Moby-Dick in Minutes.” Visitors even had the opportunity to try their hand at rowing a whaleboat under the instruction of a skilled boatsteerer.
Voyage partner, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, was present with an exhibit booth to explain how the National Marine Sanctuaries interpret America’s maritime past, promote ocean conservation, and engage in cutting-edge research. People could learn how whales feed and what they feed on, and watch videos that feature information on the National Marine Sanctuary System, whales, whale research, and whaling heritage. Kids were able to create their own whale hat. In July, the Morgan will sail to the Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary off Provincetown, Mass., as part of her voyage. Stellwagen Bank is a popular feeding ground for whales in the summer months.
Of course, the high point of the experience is boarding the newly-restored Morgan. With the new crew in place to show people around, visitors can explore the deck and go down below to see what it was like to sail on a whaleship in the age of American whaling.
The ship and dockside exhibition will be open on May 24, 25, 31, and June 1 from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. each day. There is a suggested admission of $5 per person for those ages 6 years and older. Children ages 5 years and younger are admitted for free, as are current Mystic Seaport members with their membership card
In addition to the Mystic Seaport exhibit, New London Landmarks, the Custom House Maritime Museum, the New London County Historical Society, and Flock Theatre have created a schedule of events to celebrate New London’s whaling heritage. Events include walking tours, exhibit and house tours, a parade, a “chowda fest,” and several Flock Theatre performances of the one-act play “Ile,” by Eugene O’Neill. For more information, please visit www.newlondonlandmarks.org/events.html
The Morgan will be in New London until June 14, when she departs for Newport, the next destination on a voyage across Southern New England that will include stops in Vineyard Haven, New Bedford, the Cape Cod Canal, Provincetown, and Boston.