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Mystic Seaport is a museum in Mystic, Connecticut, dedicated to preservation of the region's sailing, ship-building, and whaling industries, and the cultural life that surrounded them. It is located near the mouth of the Mystic River in southeastern Connecticut, and was the site of three shipyards which built over 600 ships prior to the museum's founding in 1929. The site has indoor museums dedicated to military and civilian maritime history, a small "village" with restored schools, trade shops, and churches typical of nineteenth century coastal Connecticut. There's also a shipyard dedicated to preservation and construction of wooden sailing ships, a large collection of figureheads, and several docked ships including the Charles W. Morgan, the only surviving wooden whaling ship in the United States.

Before you buy a ticket for the museum, you get a good view of the docks, and there are three or four boats there including the Morgan. Once you actually enter, you can access the docks as well as the rest of the museum. The only ship I toured was the Morgan, and you have access to nearly the entire ship (except for the rigging). They've restored the interior, so that you can see the Captain's and crew's quarters as they were when the ship was still working. (And I have to say, the captain had it a lot better than the crew!) You can even walk down into the hold of the ship where they would store the whale meat and oil. It is a bit cramped if you're claustrophobic -- people in the nineteenth century were either very short or were permanently stooped. Adjacent to the Morgan is a small building housing a longboat and several harpoons, saws and other implements of destruction related to catching and slaughtering whales, probably not for the squeamish or those opposed to cruelty to animals.

North of the docks is the village. It's not quite a working village, as most of the buildings have been set up to look authentic, and you simply walk through each. Most of the buildings don't have people present, though the General Store had an elderly volunteer talking about the sorts of productsthat were available at the time, and she and my mother reminisced about using a wood and glass washboard to clean clothes. Other buildings include an apothecary, a school, a Congregationalist Church, a temperance society meetinghouse, a blacksmith, and a few others. You can take a ride on a horse-drawn carriage for a few bucks -- I skipped it. There is also a small restaurant with "authentic" food -- chowder, cider, tea, and so on. And for the kids, there are apparently a few demonstrations held throughout the day, though you need to check a calendar to see what's going on. There is also a planetarium, with special programs available by reservation and for a fee. The programs are mainly geared toward children (particularly school groups and Scouting organizations), and deal with navigation and the constellations. They have overnight programs as well.

Beyond the village is the museum itself. Actually, there are two: one is a museum of general history, the other houses the collection of figureheads and some other historical artifacts. The former has sections on immigration to the United States, US Navy history (particularly on World War II), civilian maritime and shipping history of the eastern seaboard, and antique (1940's and 50's) civilian watercraft and motors. The figurehead collection in the other building is great -- they have more than a dozen full-sized wooden figureheads from old sailing ships of the United States. Most are very delicately carved and painted, and well-preserved considering their age and use, and their size -- some are really massive, and must have been on very large ships. The museum also has a scrimshaw collection, though I didn't get a look at it.

Finally, the Seaport also has a working shipyard -- the Henry B. DuPont Preservation Shipyard -- where the museum does preservation and repair work, as well as construction of new and replica wooden ships. For example, Mystic Seaport built the replica of the schooner Amistad, which now resides in New Haven harbor. The museum also does academic research on maritime history, and hosts several university-level research programs.

Mystic Seaport is an interesting place to visit, particularly if you feel connected to the sea, and have an interest in American History. The entrance fee as of November 2001 was $17 -- a bit steep -- and the restaurants inside the gates were expensive as well. However, most of the money goes toward the museum collection and preservation activities, so it is probably worth it. The scenery was pretty, and the historical aspect of it was very interesting and worth my time. Early October is probably the best time to visit, as the trees were past their autumn peak by November. It is about a mile south of Connecticut exit 90 on I-95, on Route 27. There's no street address that I can find, but it's impossible to miss -- just look for the big (free) parking lot on your left as you drive south. If you visit Mystic Seaport, you should also visit the USS Nautilus Submarine Force Museum and World War II Submarine Veterans Memorial in Groton, off of exit 86. The Mystic Aquarium is also nearby, just off the interstate.

Some info taken from http://www.mysticseaport.org/welcome.html

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