Saturday, November 26, 2011
November 26-27, 2011: Into the Mystic
Our Thanksgiving trip to Connecticut ended with a quick sunset exploration of Mystic Seaport with our two little AmericanStudiers. They were suitably taken with it, although it’s fair to say that their AmericanStudier Dad was slightly torn—their central goal was to climb on as many things as possible, including to be sure any and all historic recreations of ships; I would be lying if I didn’t admit to enjoying seeing their curiosity and energy, but on the other hand, y’know, historic recreations. I made my peace with it by hanging right with them and by asking them to be careful a lot, and I think we only once explicitly went under a “Closed” sign and onto a boat; that, and the total absence of any historic destructions, makes for a pretty successful balance of fun and responsible if you ask me. And my older son said “The Seaport is fun!” as we were leaving, which certainly warms the cockles of this AmericanStudier’s heart.
Besides the family fun, and besides the rather un-scholarly but very definite great memories (our wedding reception was at the now-apparently-closed Seamen’s Inne, a restaurant and reception hall directly adjacent to the Seaport; we even got to take some photos on one of the historic ships, although not the one onto which the boys and I illegally snuck!), I took away one other impression from this visit: Mystic is working very hard to preserve its historic recreations, and has likewise made those preservation efforts very central to the story it tells to its visitors. I’m sure that the first part has been the case since the historic site opened, but I don’t remember the preservation efforts being foregrounded nearly as much in past years: there are for example two giant buildings dedicated entirely to the current preservation and renovation work being done on a single ship, the Charles Morgan (that link both details much of that work and illustrates how much the Seaport is working to highlight and talk about it), and the whole preservation section of the site felt open to the public in a way that I didn’t remember (and that my construction-loving boys certainly appreciated).
Seeing this (to my mind) new emphasis on the preservation and recreation work reminded me of a similar, and similarly recent (compared to much of the historic site), space at Plimoth Plantation: the Craft Center. Again, the work done in that space by artisans and craftspeople to recreate historically accurate materials with which to populate the Plimoth Plantation site has been part of the site’s recreation efforts since their origins; but the work of the Crafts Center to make public and accessible those recreation efforts, to turn them into another, meta-site where Plimoth visitors can talk with many of those who have contributed to the nearby historic site from which they have likely just walked (or to which they are about to walk), is a striking addition to the Plimoth Plantation experience. It might seem as if the most significant recent changes to historic sites have been those in the name of greater historical complexity and balance, and there’s no question that both Mystic and Plimoth are working hard to achieve those goals; but they’re also both changing the way they represent their own historic efforts, and some of the most ongoing and critical (and worthy of our support) work on which they depend.
Just another reason to get out to our historic sites, whether you’ve been before (got married there, even) or not. And bring the kids! More next week,
BenPS. Links above, but any interesting or inspiring historic sites you’d highlight?