September 21, 2018

Museum Review - Mystic Seaport

After visiting Nautilus, Sister Bean and I drove over to Mystic Seaport. Mystic Seaport is the nation's largest maritime museum, including a collection of historical ships, mostly sailing vessels, and a recreation of a 19th-century port. It was all meticulously detailed and lovingly cared for.

Charles W. Morgan1
Type: Museum of 19th-century maritime history
Location: Mystic, Connecticut
Rating: 4/5, Very detailed and lots to do, but it didn't have a spark
Price: $27 for normal adults


Mystic has a massive collection of vessels, so many that it's rather overwhelming. The most impressive is the Charles W. Morgan, the last surviving American whaling ship built of wood and the oldest merchant ship afloat. She, and all of the other ships in the collection, have been painstakingly restored, and made as operational as possible. This means that the guides, who are fairly numerous, are pretty knowledgeable and often have insights that those of us in the more traditional museum ship world don't get.

Mystic Seaport's Print Shop

Ashore, there were lots of interesting displays in the buildings, all of which are original, although many have been moved in. Ever wondered how they made rope for sailing ships, or how a 19th-century print shop worked? Mystic Seaport has answers for you. The signage was pretty variable. Some of it was good, some mediocre. But there were lots of things to see, and we left after three hours because we were tired and facing a long drive back, not because we'd seen everything. You could easily spend a full day there.

The shipyard building

Another highlight is the shipyard. In the 60s, Mystic realized that contracting out maintenance on their fleet was too expensive, and built a shipyard specifically to maintain the wooden ships that make up the majority of their collection. They have exhibits on it, and even let visitors look into the facilities. Right now, they're repairing Mayflower II, normally based in Plymouth, Massachusetts.

Sister Bean inspecting Mayflower II

I have mixed feelings on Mystic, and almost feel like I fell into an uncanny valley. From some of my reading, I know a reasonable amount about seafaring in that era, so it wasn't a huge fount of new knowledge and talking to the guides was sometimes awkward, but I also didn't have the fun of just seeing the things I'd read about, as I do with more modern stuff.2 I certainly wouldn't recommend against going, and it's an excellent way to split a day with Nautilus, a few miles away, but the lack of military stuff meant it wasn't one of the highlights of the trip for me.

1 All pictures are mine.

2 I suspect this may be related to the problem I have at most air museums. A typical air museum holds little appeal to me, because it has a collection of airplanes that I've mostly seen before, and that aren't technically interesting enough to overcome the fatigue I get at seeing another P-51. But ultimately, these reviews are based on my impressions, and I didn't love Mystic. I'm delighted it exists and is preserving that kind of history, but it's not where my heart is.

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