Published November 08. 2011 4:00AM
Mystic Seaport had an extraordinary day last Saturday as we celebrated the 70th anniversary of the arrival of the Charles W. Morgan in Mystic. No one who was standing on the shore on Nov. 8, 1941 could have envisioned what the vessel would come to mean to the region. Mystic Seaport, then known as the Marine Historical Association, was a small collection of maritime artifacts, and Mystic was a quiet community with a proud maritime heritage. The Morgan would help change that.
Entrusted with America's last remaining wooden whaleship, the Marine Historical Association became a global leader in maritime preservation and exhibition, and a mecca for tourists and history buffs from around the world. It is estimated more than 20 million people have walked the decks of the Morgan since she arrived here. Mystic, too, transformed itself into a vacation destination that now features great restaurants, lodging, an outstanding aquarium, and a bustling waterfront, which more than 6,000 recreational boaters call their homeport every summer.
For Mystic Seaport, the catalyst for this change was the Morgan. She is more than just an exhibition. She is the last of her kind, the last of a fleet that once numbered 2,700 and flew the American flag for the first time in far-flung ports around the globe. The Morgan is the oldest American merchant vessel still afloat, a National Historic Landmark vessel, and an icon of our shared history.
Nothing symbolizes our mission to help America remember its maritime heritage better than the Morgan, and that is why we are determined to take her back to sea in 2014. As her stewards, we have an obligation to document and preserve her, so she can inspire future generations as she has inspired so many already. History comes alive aboard the Morgan in a way no book, photograph or Web page can communicate. Ships are meant to go to sea, and by taking her back to her natural element for a ceremonial 38th voyage in 2014, we can share her history with millions more.
But this is not only about Mystic Seaport. We are conscious of our role as a regional institution and strive to help all of us grow and succeed in these difficult times. The restoration of the Morgan will extend our knowledge of historic preservation and be useful to maritime museums around the world. We are collaborating with institutions and businesses throughout the country, whether it is nonprofit organizations building whaleboats for the voyage, a high-tech consulting firm using the latest technology to digitally survey and image the hull, or a construction company that discovered a long-buried cache of priceless, unobtainable hardwood. This is a national project that has and will continue to receive national attention, and inspire increased vitiation to our region. When the Morgan sails to major ports on the eastern Seaboard in 2014, she will take the state of Connecticut with her.
Mystic Seaport began this journey in 2008. The restoration is on schedule and on budget. Less than two weeks ago we hammered in the final shutter plank on the inside of the hold completing a significant phase of the project. That was a major accomplishment and enables us now to turn to the outside and address her exterior planking. The sourcing of materials - a major challenge as the wood we need is difficult to find in a sustainable manner - is ongoing. Fundraising is ongoing with a major share already raised.
Last weekend we kicked off the public phase of our fundraising campaign. This is the most crucial part, and will determine the success of this ambitious undertaking. With your help we can return the Morgan to sea stronger than she has been since she slid down the ways in 1841, so she can make history come alive for another generation of Americans. We invite you to join us on this new unprecedented voyage of exploration and discovery.
Steve White is president of Mystic Seaport.