I could write about a lot of exciting things that have happned this week, but if you’ve been following me on Twitter, you know there’s only one thing on my mind: the Charles W. Morgan is home!
The Morgan is a beautiful whaling vessel, the last surviving wooden whaling ship from the 19th century American fleet. It’s also the second-oldest commercial ship, right behind the USS Constitution. During her 80-year career, the Morgan made 37 voyages that brought her crew from the Arctic to Cape Horn and everything in between. This summer, the Morgan is making a historic 38th voyage, visiting some of her former ports and some new ones to celebrate maritime history, US environmental history, and to share the story of the Morgan throughout New England.
So while the Morgan spends her time in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut, her hometown is New Bedford, Massachusetts. Charles Wahn Morgan chose to build and launch his namesake from the Hillman Brothers’ shipyard in New Bedford. After retiring in 1921, the Morgan returned to New Bedford harbor and the surrounding area. However, the city could not maintain the ship in its deteriorating condition, and agreed to sell her to Mystic. It certainly wasn’t an easy decision for the city to make, and everyone has been reminded of that with her arrival this week.
Of course, I was eagerly checking maritime traffic and tweeting various officials to see when the Morgan was going to arrive. When all looked good for Wednesday, I joined some family friends on their boat to go out in Buzzards Bay and see her with all the sails out – something most people won’t get to see on this voyage. Seeing this beautiful ship at sea was amazing. She was surrounded by a fleet of rescue boats, police boats, and onlookers, everyone trying to get a great glimpse of a little of bit of history. After some great photo opportunities, we headed back into the harbor, and I quickly made my way to Fort Phoenix in Fairhaven to watch the Morgan enter through the hurricane barrier.
I don’t know how to describe the view (and unfortunately, in all the excitement my iPhone died so I couldn’t capture it.) My favorite perspective is this video of the Fairhaven Village Militia. It was loud and exciting – all the police sirens going off, boats honking their horns, and the five cannons blasting off. But it was also really peaceful in a nostalgic sort of way. It was weird to remember that the Morgan had made its way to New Bedford many times before, and yet this was probably its first time with such excitement and honor upon its arrival. It was weird to remember that New Bedford was once full of ships and brigs and barks like this one. But mostly, it was weird because I am usually alone in feeling the historic significance of moments, and yet I knew that everyone else around me had this feeling of joy and nostalgia – everyone knew this ship was coming home.
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After work on Friday, I made my way over the Museum (best thing about being a member is the free admission) and quickly walked up to the observation deck. The deck has always been my favorite part of the museum. Unfortunately, the state pier building blocks a perfect view of the Morgan, but you can see some of her from the top of the museum. When looking at that harbor, you can almost imagine what the city looked like two hundred years ago. Things haven’t changed that much – there are plenty of boats in the harbor, albeit different ones; the so-called “widow’s walks” sit atop some of the houses; many of the historic buildings still sit by the water. From that observation deck, you can look out at the harbor and see something spectacular – or maybe something that was. And that’s what’s so beautiful about seeing the Morgan come to New Bedford once more: to remind us that history repeats itself in a different way. Her presence in New Bedford – and really, around any of the ports she’s visiting this summer – should remind us that our maritime past was an integral part of New England and US history. And if you take a moment to look at the big picture, you can still see how much hasn’t changed.