Oct 27, 2018

On a Trip to Mystic, Connecticut I Ran into Versions of American History

Can you see Manhattan?
I have just returned from a sleep-away trip with Seventh graders. We went to Mystic, Connecticut — me and a couple of teachers and nineteen kids. I had never heard of Mystic — even though I saw the movie Mystic River  —which apparently has no connection to Mystic, Connecticut but there is a B-movie with Brad Pitt called Mystic Pizza - which apparently is real - the pizza. Not the story.

So, what did we do in Mystic? We stayed at the Mystic Seaport Museum which is really a cool place - much more relaxed than any museum I have been to in a long time. It is a reconstructed nineteenth-century seaport town. It's replete with an apothecary, a maritime general store, a slew of interpreters who pamper you with their stories of sea life, whale blubber stories, and facts about forecastles, moorings, and ghosts. Our crew — including me — slept on the Joseph Conrad — which is a wooden Danish training vessel that at one point sunk — killing twenty-two boys — then resurrected from the sea — then a U.S. President salvaged it and christened it as a National Historic Landmark - so it is permanently moored at the Seaport. I like history, and I like even more how history gets told, gets packaged, and is applied to how we think about the world we live in today. There is the ship Amistad moored at Mystic. It's a slave ship that was the site of a slave rebellion. Today it sits gleaming and speaks of liberty and the promise of change. However, its rewarding story belies the tragedy of the Middle Passage that claimed millions. Mystic also has a reconstructed version of the Mayflower - it is called the Mayflower II, and it is being revamped and polished for a celebration in 2020 celebrating the original ship's voyage four hundred years ago. The kids on our trip know these stories, and they see in these stories a symbol of religious freedom. However, I am confident that the Europeans who came to the New World were not as pure in their pursuit of liberty and the right to equality as we would like to paint them as in the history books. You can also see a whaling ship in Mystic - and if you are a good sailor, you might get to talk to a re-enactor. We met a jolly lady who was presenting herself as an immigrant to Mystic who arrived in the 1870s. She had left Alaska after it was sold by the Russians to the United States. She spoke of her voyage, a trip from the islands of Alaska, down to Panama, through the canal, past Jamaica, and then up the Atlantic coast to Long Island Sound. I liked hanging out with the kids. They're city kids — most of the lot — so they were into running around, kicking a soccer ball on the village green - and feeling the cold October air in their face. It is kinda crazy to be chaperoning twelve-year-old kids for forty-eight hours straight, but I loved their energy. Kids that age are full of energy but no focus. It's refreshing. Hey. If you know all the answers, then you're a fool, right?


Image Source: Greig Roselli © 2018