The ghosts of the Charles W. Morgan

Back in 2006, the ghosts aboard Mystic Seaport's whaling ship Charles W. Morgan got some big publicity of their own.

The Morgan ghosts, including one frequently seen by seaport staff and visitors, an old gentleman working with line and smoking a pipe, were featured on a segment of ABC's Good Morning America.

Apparently, the show reported, the Morgan ghost stories began spreading in 1997, during the making of Steven Spielberg's movie "Amistad," which was filmed, in part, aboard the Morgan.

Surely the ghosts will be in attendance when the rebuilt Morgan is relaunched with appropriate pomp and ceremony July 21.

But there are other voices, from ghosts or others, living or not, that would be interesting to hear at the July ceremony, another significant milestone for this much-traveled, much-restored 172-year-old ship, a registered national landmark.

It would be interesting to hear from Charles W. Morgan himself, the Quaker merchant from New Bedford, the first owner, for whom the ship was named. Morgan was a prominent whaling investor at a time when New Bedford, lubricated with whale oil, was about the richest place on earth.

Morgan died, though, with more debts than assets. The ship named after him, the last surviving wooden whale ship, is proving to be better in the legacy category.

But perhaps another more interesting person to hear from July 21 would be Hetty Green, the daughter of the second owner, Edward Mott Robinson of New Bedford.

Green was quite a character in her own right, becoming the money-savvy bookkeeper for her whaling-rich family at the age of 13. After inheriting $7.5 million in 1864, she went on to become one of the first women to have a significant impact on the New York financial world. She was known for her frugality in the Gilded Age, earning the nickname "The Witch of Wall Street."

It was her son, Colonel E.H.R. Green, who helped marshal the Morgan on its path toward preservation.

The Morgan was originally preserved in a sand dock on Green's estate near New Bedford in 1925. The Morgan, having long finished its whaling voyages, became the last surviving whaler the year before, after the whaling ship Wanderer left New Bedford at the start of a hurricane and was wrecked on the rocks off Cuttyhunk.

The Morgan, at Green's estate, became part of "The Whaler Charles W. Morgan Enshrined and Round Hill Repository of Maritime Antiquities," eventually attracting more than 2 million visitors.

The ship was acquired from some investors after Green died and was brought to Mystic in 1941, where it was once again embedded in sand and put on display.

Maybe another voice that would be good to hear July 21 would be that of Waldo C. M. Johnson, the director of Mystic Seaport who put into motion the first major rebuild of the Morgan in 1973, the one that made it float again.

"What we have here," Johnson told The New York Times in 1973, "is a whole new science: ship geriatrics."

It was under Johnson's direction that the seaport made the decision to make the Morgan a ship again, not just a display.

"The easiest thing to do would be to fill her hold with cement and make it just a stationary platform for the upper decks and rigging," he said then. "We thought hard about that possibility, believe me. ... We decided to save the life of the old girl to keep her alive and visible for future generations."

Another seaport director, Donald Robinson, said in 1983, after another substantial renovation, one lasting three years, that technology makes each new project on the Morgan better, even though some things, like the way shipwrights work the wood, never change.

"We will never be finished with the Morgan," Robinson said, prophetically, in 1983.

Indeed, this latest restoration, in preparation for the whaling ship's 38th voyage, planned as a tour of New England ports and whaling grounds next spring, included all kinds of new X-ray imaging to map out digitally the work that needed to be done.

Another person who it would be interesting to hear from July 21 would be Lawrence Lopes, who turned up in Mystic in 1973, when the Morgan was yanked from the sand and found to be remarkably watertight, before being moved to a dry dock for the rebuild.

Lopes immigrated aboard the Morgan to the United States from the British Colony of St. Helena in 1916, when his father was the ship's first mate.

He declined to go aboard again in 1973, after tugs moved the ship down the Mystic River to dry dock.

"I've seen plenty of her," he told a reporter.

This is the opinion of David Collins.


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