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Mystic: a whale of a time.

Mystic: A Whale of a Time Mystic: A Whale of a Time

"They that go down to the sea inships, that do business in the mighty waters, they seeth wonderful works of the Lord." So wrote Mary Russell, a captain's wife, echoing the words of a Biblical writer, as she watched her husband battle an enormous whale near his ship in 1822.

For more than a century the whalingindustry survived wars, storms, mutiny, and all the sea's perils. By the late 1800s, the wooden shops were scrapped, sunk, or rotted away--but the last and greatest, the Charles W. Morgan, is safe in port in Connecticut. Refurbished at full trim as a National Historic Landmark, she is the showpiece of a re-created whaling village near New London. Its 17 acres, closed to traffic, arc around the harbor and an aged but impressive fleet of vintage craft.

Mystic is as much "tell" as"show"--seamen, artisans, and tradespeople in old-time garb re-create it all. Visitors hear an echo of the chanteymen's squeezebox tunes and their descant of timber creaks and slap of rigging on spar, the ring of an anvil, ships' bells tolling the hour, and the territorial mew of a gull on a yardarm. Crisp orders ring out to youth training for work on the schooner Brilliant. A whiff of Yankee sourdough wafts down cobbled streets.

What to see, do, hear, or smell firstat Mystic is a difficult choice. The Morgan in repose bids a "come aboard," but the Stillman Building presents the whole picture: a scale model of old Mystic. "New England and the Sea" shows the people's shore lives, fisheries, shipbuilding (with exact ship models), paintings, diaries, letters, fishing tools, exotic Oriental wares, and ship logs with tiny sketches of whales caught and whales that got away, delicately framed with painted-in ocean blue.

One floor up is scrimshaw, anothercrowd attractor. Voyages were long and boring for seamen waiting for "She blows!" They whiled away the time whittling whalebone or walrus tusks into wondrous things for loved ones, incising them with a jackknife, a sailmaker's needle, or a nail in a peg. The seamen often embellished their carvings with lampblack from the try works or the shade of an oil lamp or inlays of whalebone, ebony, or silver.

The Wendell Building's figure-headsare housed in a plain room with dark walls and special lighting. Women's figures, buxom and of proud bearing, stand amid flowers that circled the hawsehole of the ship. Men are in hand-on-sword pose or turbaned as Moors or Turks. New figureheads are produced in the Wendell Building's carver's shop. The work is like that of old, with patterns, chisel, mallet, and gluepot.

Half a day is gone. What to seenext? Period shops and homes? The shipsmith? The 300 small craft? Mystic Press? The chapel? But three tall ships wait to be boarded. The Morgan, the real magnet, strains at her moorings. But she never goes out to sea, for she is too valuable to risk. She survived a sinking by Union forces in charleston Harbor to keep the Confederates out, severe weather, high-seas mutiny, and Arctic whaling. She once had "gunports" painted on to fool pirates. The Morgan is still a beauty, with a 42-foot topgallant and 28-foot whaleboats.

"How could they sleep here?" youmarvel in the forecastle, jammed with seachests and crude double-decker beds. With all that was carried, it was usually the seaman who had to give up his comfort to make room. Ashore in Mystic is the cabin of the Benjamin F. Packard, a 244-foot square-rigger and the captain's quarters of goldleaf panels, marble and brass fixtures, and plush upholstery. Nearby, the training ship Joseph Conrad, one of the smallest full-rigged ships of today, also awaits the perusal of visitors.

From a balcony, you can watch oneof Mystic's great ships in repair at Preservation Shipyard and see the 375-ton-capacity lift dock, 85-foot spar lathe, and other prodigious tools. You can also board the L.A. Dunton, one of the last great schooners, with a 112-foot topmast, eight sails, and crew of 22. "Steamboatin'" on the Sabino, a two-decker, coal-fired steamer, includes a Dixie jazz band, chanteyman, or barbershop quartet.

In the better part of a day, you cancover about two-thirds of Mystic Seaport and welcome another day at it. Among the enticing sights that await the second day are the bank, drugstore, ship chandlery, a nautical general store, the Ropewalk, where cordage is made, and more: a planetarium, Stone's Store with dry goods and hardware, and Schaefer's Spouter Tavern, named for that in Moby Dick and restored as a historic site.

Moby Dick might evenbecome your reading matter on the trip home once you have steeped yourself in Mystic's nostalgia.
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Title Annotation:recreated Connecticut whaling village
Author:Andersson, Mari
Publication:Saturday Evening Post
Date:Jul 1, 1987
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