This project brought an 1841 whaleship and accompanying outdoor exhibit to historic New England ports to raise awareness of maritime heritage and issues of ocean sustainability and conservation. Sailing for the first time since 1941, the Charles W. Morgan reached thousands outside the museum with its innovative interpretation.
Of the hundreds of watercraft in Mystic Seaport’s collection, the flagship is the
Charles W. Morgan. Over an eighty-year career, the whaleship sailed on thirty-seven voyages worldwide. In summer 2014, the 38th Voyage project brought this restored ship and its accompanying 10,000 square foot outdoor exhibit to historic New England ports. The Morgan visited three of the top five whaling ports from nineteenth‐century America, and made its homecoming to New Bedford, MA, the ship’s construction site and homeport. The dockside exhibit and programming featured shoreside trade demonstrations, performances of sea music and plays like Moby-Dick in Minutes, and interactive activities. A life‐size sperm whale model, dubbed “Spouter” in a public naming contest, inflated each day to inform visitors about whales’ anatomy. Visitors could also row a whaleboat and contribute to a participatory sculpture. 64,000 people were counted in five ports over twenty-five open days.
Mystic Seaport shared the Morgan’s journey onsite, onboard, and online. Central goals were to document a sailing whaleship as never before, to reinterpret the ship using multiple perspectives, and to engage the public with this once-in-a-lifetime event. The 38th Voyage allowed Mystic Seaport to reach new audiences with an innovative traveling exhibit, attracting people outside the typical museum audience.
Sailing the Morgan provided a unique opportunity to understand the last wooden whaleship and the society that built it. Throughout this project, twenty-first-century minds collaborated to find inspiration, complexity, and understanding aboard a nineteenth-century ship. The 38th Voyage brought new perspective to local, regional, and national stories of whaling, from whale hunt to whale watch.