Misty Mystic Seaport (and Touro Synagogue)

I think that between them, the kids did a good job of covering Newport (Julianna here and Elizabeth there), although I will try to write a post that is mostly photos when I have some truly cooperative internet, as I know our photos from the Newport Mansions were a little sparse due to hotel connectivity issues. 

However, we still need to catch up on Mystic Aquarium (still coming) and Mystic Seaport, along with Touro Synagogue in Newport. So I’m handling Mystic Seaport and Touro Synagogue in this post, as we visited both on Friday, July 7th. 

I’m losing track of days a little bit here, but (I think) we woke up Friday morning in Newport. Yes, that’s right… 

On Friday morning, we got moving, checked out of our Travelodge, and headed to Touro Synagogue in Newport.  Touro Synagogue is the oldest Jewish synagogue building that is still standing in the United States (there’s a congregation in New York City that is older, but its original building is long gone). Jews came to Newport via the Dutch West Indies very early because the Dutch were quite tolerant of religious liberty. Word got around that the Newport community was religiously tolerant, and Jews made their way there. The building reminded me a great deal of a miniature version of Faneuil Hall in Boston — very Federalist in style, and the current color scheme (the one that was in effect when George Washington was in contact with the congregation 1790) looks Federalist as well. 

It was created as — and remains — an Orthodox congregation. The women are seated separately in the balcony (then and now) and I saw Art Scroll siddurs on the bimah (located in the center of the congregation, not in the front of the room as you’d see in more progressive congregations).  

Looking up at the women’s balcony. 

If you’re in Newport I recommend checking it out — the folks in the visitor center were very pleasant (even lent us an umbrella when it started to pour) and the exhibits in the Visitor Center were quite informative about the small Jewish community (more Sephardic than Ashkenazi) in the U.S. from the colonial period through the pre-Civil War era. 

The Synagogue exterior with the gardens planted in memory of Jewish patriots. 

Synagogue interior looking out over the bimah located in the center of the room in a traditional Orthodox style (which I had never seen until I was in Israel). 

The candlesticks and the Ner Tamid (eternal light) are original to the building. 

The chandeliers are original to the building and the candles are still lit for special occasions. 

Fanuiel Hall (I took this on a family trip to Boston in 2015) for comparison. I don’t think I’m nuts to see a resemblance. 

After that, we backtracked back into Connecticut to return to Mystic Seaport. We’d bought a dual ticket to Mystic Aquarium and Mystic Seaport the previous Wednesday, but we’d spent more time than expected at the Aquarium (sorry, again that’s one of those posts I’m trying to catch up on, but internet here at The Salem Inn seems strong, so hopefully tomorrow) so we decided to be thrifty and make use of our Mystic Seaport tickets on Friday before circling up to the Boston area Friday night.  It only added about 90 extra minutes of driving, which didn’t seem unreasonable. 

We — especially Elizabeth and me — were so happy we went.  I’ve always heard about Mystic Seaport since back in my college days, and I even had a boyfriend whose grandmother was a docent there, but I’d never actually been there before. It was fascinating! 

First, we spent a little time touring a big exhibition hall. Like most of the museums and historical places we’ve been to, the exhibits were interactive, and they had replicas of objects that folks — including kids — were encouraged to touch. (Cf. Norman Rockwell Museum, which was the only fussy offender with grumpy guards we’ve found to date.) 

This cradle was made out of a turtle shell.

Touching (certain items) was encouraged! 

Then, the rain had subsided enough that we headed out to the actual Seaport. I took a few pics of the exterior of the new Viking Ship, but we decided that on top of the steep price of the Seaport itself, we weren’t going to spend another $6 per person to tour that ship. It looked cool from the wharf, though.

Then we boarded the Charles Morgan II, I think it was, which was a whaling ship. The historical interpreter was excellent, and was impressed that I made Mike face the proper direction for a shot of him pretending to take the wheel of the ship.  

Mike at the wheel (after I suggested that he turn around).

Julianna at the wheel.

Belowdecks was fascinating — the captain had so much space (relatively speaking) and the many bunks for the general crew were so tiny. 

The captain’s berth.

The captain’s living room (not sure of its official name). 

A partial view of the crew quarters.

We checked out a smaller sailing vessel as well (I forget the name, but it served for many years as a boat for teaching Danish naval students to sail). 

The smaller sailing vessel (originally Danish), but I can’t recall its name. 

After that, we walked down to the active shipyard to check out the Mayflower II, which is in dry dock in Mystic for the next two years as they prepare it to be re-launched for the 400th anniversary of Plymouth Plantation (more on that in another post). 

The Mayflower II in dry dock.

Replacing boards on the Mayflower II. 

From there, we headed back up through the artisans’ shops along the Seaport. That was the coolest part. We had a long chat with the blacksmith, who is a mechanical engineer by training, and who makes all sorts of doo-dads and fittings for the village and the ships in the Seaport. He won’t do much for the Mayflower II restoration, however, as most of the joinery on that boat is by wood. 

The blacksmith’s coal fire.

The blacksmith’s bellows.

Four scenes from the blacksmith’s shop.

Elizabeth’s favorite artisan was the printer — she loved watching the presses in action and learning about the many English idioms that derive from the printing trade.

Printing press. 

A box of type.

Type locked in the “chase.” 

I had a great time chatting with the clockmaker, especially after having recently listened to S-Town (terrific Podcast from the folks at This American Life and Serial about a crazy clockmaker from rural Alabama, but don’t listen if you’re offended by swearing, tattooing, or nipple piercing), and he was quite willing to show me some of the innards of antique clock workings that brought the S-Town podcast vividly to life. 

Antique clockwork.

The cooperage was also worth a visit, and the cooper we spoke with is also a blade maker, and will be on some TV show I’d never heard of (but other folks were excited about) about making blades and such that runs on the History Channel (who knew?). 

We also checked out the apothecary, the church, the school house, the general store, and a bunch more of the buildings in the village. 

One room school house complete with list of vulgarisms.

Above are photos from the apothecary / pharmacy /drug store — not quite a modern Rite Aid / Walgreen’s / Duane Reed / CVS. 

Scenes from the General Store.

Julianna and Mike ran out of steam around 4 o’clock and decided to camp out on some benches, but Elizabeth (with me in tow) went on touring buildings right up until closing time at 5 PM. Even at that point, I had to promise her that Mystic Seaport is a reasonable day or overnight trip (and Aunt Emily and Uncle Bill currently live only about 20 minutes away) so we can return there next summer when our year of traveling ends.  She generally enjoys historical outings, but this is the most excited I’ve ever seen her by an outing.  She loved getting to see and experience first-hand how the tradesmen carried out their work, and commented that it was like seeing so many books she’d read brought to life. 

So yes, the price tag for Mystic Seaport and Mystic Aquarium is hefty, but I did feel that we got a great deal of bang for our buck. I’d happily recommend both, and if you’re a history lover, I think you could easily spend a weekend in Mystic Seaport. 


One thought on “Misty Mystic Seaport (and Touro Synagogue)

  1. I am so glad Elizabeth loved Mystic Seaport! When I was a child (growing up in Eastern Long Island, NY), my parents would send my sisters and me to spend our summer vacation with our Grandfather in CT. We went to Mystic Seaport and Sturbridge Village many times each summer. Now I am a resident of CT, my children have visited these wonderful working historical villages often. Enjoy your next adventure and safe travels!


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