The Mystic Seaport Museum

Mystic, CT

October 9th, 1999

Having always held a fascination for the sea, I was drawn to the idea that there was a museum in Mystic dedicated to the Sea and the life of
those who lived either on it or with it. It was reported to be the largest sea museum in the United States and perhaps the world. As we parked and crossed the street, I was sure I would not be disappointed. Mystic Seaport is not a building. It is an entire town. Created in 1929, the museum has grown steadily to the 17 acres that it covers today. It is crowded with shops, houses, parks, and of course a continuous shoreline, along which, are tied up dozens of ships. It was said that there are over a hundred buildings on the site and even more ships including several tall ships. It was the waterfront that attracted me the most and so I meandered that way. It is like going back in time. This is a living museum with costumed presenters actively engaged in many of the activities that would have been going on 200 years ago. We strolled down the road to Chubb's wharf where the Charles W. Morgan was tied. As the last surviving American wooden whaleship, and the oldest American merchant ship afloat, the Charles W. Morgan is unique today. When she was launched in 1841 the Morgan was one of more than 600 American whaleships that hunted whales to supply the world's need for oil for lubrication and illumination. Named for her original owner, whaling merchant Charles W. Morgan of New Bedford, Massachusetts, the vessel made 37 voyages during an 80 year career. Continuing along the wharf road we came to the youth training area and the training ship Joseph Conrad. This ship has seen over a century of service under three different national flags. In 1881 Danish industrialist Carl Stage commissioned the Burmeister and Wain shipyard to design and build a small iron sailing ship to be used as a training vessel for boys planning careers at sea. Named the George Stage in memory of his son, the ship cruised the Baltic and North Sea for a half century carrying cadets for six months at a time. In 1934 Australian sailor Alan Villiers bought the ship, renamed her Joseph Conrad and continued to use her to teach seamanship. With a crew of professional seamen and paying cadets, he set off on a round-the-world cruise. Two years later Villiers sold her to financier G. Huntington Hartford who converted her to a yacht. Hartford turned the ship over to the U.S. Maritime Commission to be used as a training ship. Finally in 1947 President Harry S. Truman signed an act of Congress giving the Conrad to Mystic Seaport Museum. She was towed on her final voyage from St. Petersburg Florida to Mystic. Today the Conrad continues the tradition of over 100 years of use as a training ship. At Mystic Seaport the Conrad program enriches young people as they live aboard and learn by doing. Boys and girls from 12 to 16 receive instructions in sailing, rowing, seamanship and maritime life.

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