Connecticut: Mystic Seaport
A trip back in the past at an old whaling station – elegant sailing ships, printing, working an old forge and flogging a dead horse
We awoke to a beautiful day in Groton. Our first port of call (quite literally a port) was Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. After the previous long day, we were all very tired but decided to get up early anyway to make the most of the first day of our great adventure. Breakfast at the Econolodge was not exactly a culinary experience but it filled the proverbial hole – after which we were charged with a modicum of energy.
Mystic Seaport is a fantastic day out and for those who have not been before we would recommend it highly. It is essentially (apologies to those who already know this) a museum of the United States and the Sea. There are tall ships you can go aboard and reconstructions of 19th-century houses and shops.
Throughout the day there are demonstrations, which involve people much braver than us climbing up the masts of tall ships and also demonstrating the trades of the day. Jack and Emily got to work in the local printers where they learnt about type-setting the old fashioned way. It was interesting to hear how some of the phrases in common use come from this profession, such as upper case and lower case (these were the boxes the type letters were stored in), “putting to bed” (which is setting the final typeset onto the printer bed) and “creating a good impression” (getting a good quality print from the printing machine). Jack and Emily both got to have a go at printing a notice. There is also working blacksmith there who was demonstrating making a decorative leaf, which he later rubbed with a brass brush and gave to us as to carry on our journey. We offered Jack up as an apprentice – as they would have done in times past. It seemed a good way to get him off our hands until the age of 21 – but we didn’t have time for the indenture papers to be written up.
After a good day at the Seaport we went into downtown Mystic, which we found to be a delightful place – helped by the warm balmy weather. Our first stop was the Drawbridge Ice Cream store – so named as it is next to a huge drawbridge. We left with the usual mixture of sticky fingers and faces, and drops of brown tell-tale stains on the clothes. Whilst there were plenty of eating houses available we decided to take advantage of the Tasting Festival that was taking place on one of the local streets. Armed with $40 of vouchers we pigged out on Thai chicken, corn on the cob and some delicious little tartlets. The day was rounded off with a trip around the town. Fortunately, most shops were closed but it was still difficult to stop Karen and Emily going into a few stores. The selection was limited to an Army Surplus store, an upscale clothing shop and a couple of gift stores. We also saw the Mystic Pizza store – made famous by a “coming of age” comedy film starring Julia Roberts. By the way, the store in Mystic was too small so they actually used a warehouse to create a set in Stonnington, CT. Our finale to the day was a mad moment in one of the aforementioned gift stores.
Yet another spectacular day in Groton. We decided that we had had so much fun the previous day in Mystic Seaport we would visit again to catch some of the activities we had missed the day before. On particular event on the agenda was the “Dead Horse Ceremony”. In the days of the great sea voyages on the wooden tall ship, sailors were given an advance by the ship owners to buy what they needed for their journey. Inevitably this was spent on women and drink and not the essential provisions. This being the case they had to borrow more money to get the necessary items and set off to sea in debt. After a month or so these debts would be paid off and to mark this event they had this “Dead Horse Ceremony”‘ where a horse made from rope, sails and barrel would be beaten, kicked and generally abused, dragged around the deck and then hoisted from the yardarm. This would all be accompanied by the ubiquitous sea shanty. At this point, the horse would be unceremoniously dumped into the sea – and being weighed down by ballast would sink down to Davy Jones Locker. This event was reconstructed aboard the Joseph Conrad, one of the resident tall ships, and Jack and Emily joined as the indebted crew members.
After casting the poor horse into the water (by the way, no animals were hurt in the making of this blog) we decided to take a look around the Sabino, a 99-year-old steamboat and admired the wonderfully maintained steam engine. Now exhausted from the morning’s exertions we decided to take a leisurely cruise on a water taxi along the Mystic waterfront. Emily and Jack did their best to talk to the poor man running the boat to death but it was relaxing nonetheless.