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by Bob Brooke

Get lost in time. Forget the hassles of living in our fast-paced society and step back to the 19th century, even for just a few hours. The past comes to life at Mystic Seaport. Like the images in old photographs, the Seaport will take you back to an earlier time when ships and the sea were the dominant elements of coastal New England life.

Founded in 1929, Mystic Seaport Museum (not to be confused with the town of Mystic) is known worldwide as a center for the collection and preservation of historic ships, boats, maritime arts and artifacts. At the same time, it's one of the nation's top tourist attractions.

Settlers moving into the Mystic area in the mid-18th century found an abundance of timber, sheltered water, and flat land, all ideal for shipbuilding. By the middle of the next century, ship and boat yards lined the six-mile Mystic River. It's on the site of such a shipyard that the present Mystic Seaport Museum is built.

Begun by three residents of MysticDr. Charles K. Stillman, Edward E. Bradley and Carl C. Cutleras a museum and preservation society call the Marine Historical Association, Inc., Mystic Seaport survived more as a center for restoration and research than a tourist attraction until 1974, when its name was changed to read as it does now.

Today, it consists of over 60 historic buildings (all moved from their original locations), four major vessels, more than 300boats, a research library, a planetarium, and substantial collections of maritime artifacts and an extensive educational program to keep the story of the sea alive for generations.

When you step through the modern entrance building, it's like stepping through a time portal, for you're immediately transported into the fascinating world of 19th-century seafaring America. Time seems to slow down here. Walking is the preferred mode of travel. Stroll the village streets. Peek into historic New England homes and maritime trades buildings, all seemingly untouched by time.

Your first stop should be the whaleship CharlesW. Morgan, a whaling ship built in 1841, anchored permanently in the Mystic River. Go below and see the captain's cabin and the crew's fo'c'sle, where the men lived on voyages as long as five years. Watch as crewman, dressed in 19th-century sailing garb high in the rigging, unfurl the mighty sails that drove the Morgan, America's sole surviving wooden whaling ship, through the cold waters of the North Atlantic. Afterwards, walk the decks of the square-rigged ship Joseph Conrad, built in Denmark in 1882, and now serving as the center of the Seaport's sail-training program. Let your imagination soar as you relive the days of Grand Banks fishing aboard the two-masted Glouscester fishing schooner L.A. Dunton.

Demonstrations occur almost hourly. Watch skilled hands working at the forge and in the boat builder's shop. Stop by and chat with the woodcarver. He'll tell you how he makes his living carving figureheads for the ships.

Or marvel at the scores of indoor exhibits of ship models, figureheads, scrimshaw, old photos, navigational instruments and thousands of everyday items from life at sea and ashore. Four of the buildings--the chapel, the school, the tavern, and the coast guard station--are now audio animated. As you cross the threshold of each historic structure, the sounds of that building are heard. For instance, when you enter the chapel, the minister gives a fire-and-brimstone sermon and in the coast guard station, the men are discussing how they're going to rescue the occupants of a ship wrecked in a storm offshore. A detailed daily calendar of events is given to you as you enter. There's time enough for everything.

You'll find activities to delight your children as well. The children's museum explains life at sea and shows kids how whales were hunted for their oil. Daily film and planetarium programs highlight navigational talks, and you even join in singing sea chanteys.

If you've been touring since opening time, it's time for lunch. For a quick bite, stop at the Galley, a large fast-food restaurant serving everything from deep-fried scallops to hamburgers, as well as breakfast from 10:30 a.m. For a more leisurely lunch in formal surroundings, try the Seaman's Inne where fine food is served in 19th-century Victorian elegance.

The Seaport hosts many special events throughout the year. There's the traditional Decoration Day (Memorial Day) celebration, an Antique and Classic Boat Rendezvous, a rousing all-American Independence Day festival, and a Photo Day, when you can get photographed with your favorite Mystic Seaport citizen courtesy of Kodak.

Mystic Seaport is so famous that many people think it's also the town in which it's located. In fact, it's not even located in Mystic but in Stonington. This charming New England town on the Mystic River offers a bit of small-town America where residents are friendly and outgoing.
The Mystic River is still the main focal point of the town. Though the last full-rigged ship was built here in 1869, you can still see remnants of that era in the elegant ship captain's houses that line the side streets. A map with a walking tour of the town is available at the local tourist office and at many of the restaurants and shops in town.

After a day of exploring the Seaport, take the time to sit and watch the boats on the river from one of several restaurants which line its banks. Enjoy a lobster dinner at the Flood Tide Restaurant or a delicious pizza at--you guessed it--Mystic Pizza!

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