NEW BEDFORD — With a welcome fit for a prodigal son, the City of New Bedford has thrown open its arms to honor and celebrate the homecoming of the Charles W. Morgan this week.
The Morgan, of course, has a deep connection to the city. She was built and launched just upriver at the Hillman Brothers shipyard in 1841, and New Bedford was her homeport for 60 of the 80 years she was active in the whale fishery. When her whaling years were over, she was opened as an exhibit in nearby Round Hill at the estate of Col. Edward Green. It was only after his death in 1936, when no provision in his will had been made for the upkeep of the Morgan, did the ship find her way to Mystic, Conn., where the Marine Historical Association, now Mystic Seaport, took over her stewardship in 1941. She has not been back to New Bedford, or even left the Mystic River, since that time.
The city held an opening ceremony at State Pier on June 28, the first day the ship was open to the public. Civic leaders and politicians, among them Sen. Elizabeth Warren, U.S. Rep. William Keating, and New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell, praised the ship and the 38th Voyage project and hoped the visit inaugurates a new era of prosperity for the city.
Mystic Seaport President Steve White told the gathered crowd that the Morgan was not the Museum’s ship, nor New Bedford’s ship, but that she is America’s ship.
“We undertake this voyage to teach and to help America understand its maritime heritage more fully and to make it possible for you to teach our younger generations that this ship and this voyage are important, and that they should take notice and agree that they will become her stewards when all of us are gone,” White said.
As Mayor Mitchell raised the city’s flag on the ship, two descendants of whalers—Daniel Rodriguez and Bruce Gamaranzo—rang the Morgan’s bell 38 times to commemorate her 38 voyages, after which the ship was declared open.
An Immersive Experience
To date, thousands have flocked to the pier to take in a remarkable experience. In addition to touring the ship, visitors can learn about the Morgan, whales, and whaling, and their importance to American history in a 22,000 square-foot dockside exhibition. There is a video and display panels that explain the history and significance of the 173-year-old vessel, the important role the whaling industry played in this country’s economic history, how the Morgan and whaleships were an early connector of different cultures, and how America’s perception of the natural world has changed over time. Hands-on activities include knot-tying, handling samples of wood used in the restoration, and searching the Morgan’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.
Mystic Seaport interpreters demonstrate the 19th-century maritime skills of a cooper, shipsmith, ropemaker, and whaleboat rower. There are live performances including sea chanteys, the interactive “Tale of a Whaler,” and a condensed rendition of the novel Moby-Dick – “Moby-Dick in Minutes.” Visitors even have the opportunity to try their hand at rowing a whaleboat during select times.
Voyage partner, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, is 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. They show how whales feed and what they feed on, and present videos that feature information on the National Marine Sanctuary System, whales, whale research, and whaling heritage. Kids can even create their own whale hat.
The Morgan and the dockside exhibit will be open to the public in New Bedford through July 6. The hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last boarding of the ship at 4 p.m.
The next leg on the ship’s 38th Voyage is a short sail to the Massachusetts Maritime Academy at the mouth of the Cape Cod Canal scheduled for July 7. The ship will not be open to the public, but will overnight there in preparation for being towed through the canal en route to Provincetown the following day.
She will return to the Maritime Academy after a stop next to the USS Constitution in Boston, and be open to the public from July 26-27.
For the latest updates on the Morgan‘s status and opportunities to board her and experience the dockside exhibit, please visit our 38th Voyage page.