On 17 June 2000, Mystic Seaport will launch its greatly anticipated new exhibit, Voyages: Stories of America and the Sea. During the past several years, Mystic Seaport, well known for preserving the maritime heritage of New England, has broadened its mission to encompass a more comprehensive picture of U.S. maritime history. Born out of this effort and drawing on the Seaport’s excellent collections and partnerships with other museums and collectors, Voyages focuses on seven major themes: immigration, foreign trade, recreation, inspiration, Navy life, fisheries, and inland waterways. The ultimate goal of the exhibit is to increase visitors’ appreciation of the United States as a maritime nation and to underscore the importance of the sea in its development.
Exhibit developers chose themes that would be “as relevant as possible to as many people as possible,” according to Associate Curator of Collections Fred Calabretta. The culmination of nearly three years of preparation, the exhibit will fill all three floors of the Stillman Building at the Seaport. In addition to the exhibit itself, the Seaport will highlight one of Voyages' seven themes each year with interpretive performances and interactive activities in the village and tail-ship area. Timed to open when popular interest in America’s maritime heritage is peaking because of Operation Sail 2000, the exhibit will be an integral part of Mystic Seaport for the next seven to ten years.
The Navy life portion of Voyages will focus on individual profiles, the connection to families, and the Navy as a symbol of the nation. Beginning with depictions of early heroes and actions, and finishing with a large model of the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), the exhibit will recount vividly the history of the U.S. Navy from the Revolutionary War to the present. Early highlights will include a profile of Captain Thomas MacDonough, one of “Preble’s Boys” and victor of the Battle of Plattsburgh in 1814. The Civil War portion of the exhibit will feature the battle between the USS Kearsarge and the CSS Alabama. The Battle of Mobile Bay and profiles of several black sailors from Admiral David Glasgow Farragut’s flagship, the USS Hartford, also will be highlighted. Captain Franklin Buchanan—along with Raphael Semmes one of the few experienced officers to leave the U.S. Navy and fight for the South—and his story provide another sharp image of the Civil War in the exhibit.
Voyages recounts World War II through letters, uniforms, and photographs of an aviator who was lost in action while serving on board the USS Yorktown (CV-4). Women’s naval service in World War II is covered with the story of a WAVE’s experiences during that conflict. A submariner stationed on board the USS Pittsburgh (SSN-720) helps depict present-day Navy life. Various historic uniforms, recruiting items, and images of the Navy in popular culture will round out the display.
Voyages will highlight immigration in 2000-2001. The centerpiece of the immigration display will be the Analuisa, a 22-foot, open fishing boat used by Cuban migrants to cross the Florida Straits in August 1994. Life jackets, lanterns, and clothing, will tell the story of the 19 refugees— and one dog—-who migrated to the United States.
A large map of the United States and artifacts representing various regions will help tell the story of U.S. rivers and inland waterways. Another highlight will be artifacts recovered from the 19th-century Missouri River wreck site of the steamboat Bertrand, which hit a snag and sank in April 1865 about 25 miles north of Omaha, Nebraska. An effort to salvage the vessel failed, and the wreck soon was lost to the sediments of the river. Over the years the river shifted, and in the 1960s the Bertrand’s wreck was rediscovered 300 feet from the present riverbed. Voyages will recreate the excavation of the Bertrand and show the importance of rivers in the settlement of the West.
Other sections of the exhibit will include artifacts, photographs, maps, individual profiles, and video clips explaining the China Trade, containerization of maritime cargo, sailors’ arts, the sea in popular culture, and recreation.