My friend Andrea and I had been talking about getting together for weeks. Seeing as she lives in Maine, and I live in Rhode Island, there’s not a whole lot of excuse for us not to see each other as often as we can spare the time. The original plan was to go to Keene, New Hampshire, for their pumpkin fest. This I was very excited about, since I haven’t been to New Hampshire yet, sadly enough. I mean, I drove through a tiny slice of it to get to Maine and Andrea’s house, but I’m not sure that really counts.
I still haven’t been to Vermont either. Pathetic.
But as the day drew closer, we realized that New Hampshire was just going to be too much for us both. It was at least a three-and-a-half hour drive from our respective houses, which is a lot of driving to do, there and back, in just one day. Besides, the weather went to crap — cold and overcast, with some forecasts calling for rain. The last thing I wanted to do was to drive three and a half hours to walk around shivering in the cold and the rain, pumpkins or no.
Ergo, no pumpkins.
Instead Kurt found this interesting little museum up in Essex, Massachusetts. It’s a shipbuilding museum, housed there because Essex was the heart of wooden shipbuilding back in the day. At its height, the shipyard could turn out a new vessel every three months, though once it built a ship in just one month. There’s still a man on the premises building ships the old way.
It takes him about ten months to finish a ship, but I bet they are things of beauty. I love how his sign is the silhouette of the ribs of a wooden ship. The lines are so graceful and beautiful.
They have a wooden ship, called the Evelina M. Goulart, built at Essex on display at the museum:
She looks pretty rough now, but that’s because she had been allowed to sink once her career as a schooner-dragger had ended. She spent many years in the mud until the 1990s, when it was decided to raise her and bring her to the museum. As a result, her wood has completely dried out. You can see how big she really is — that’s my friend Andrea with Grace in the lower right corner. She had been built in 1927 with the ability to accommodate a diesel engine and really straddles the period between the age of sail and the age of the combustion engine. She was named after the owner’s young daughter, who unfortunately was a sickly child who passed away not long after her namesake was launched.
The rest of the museum was equally fascinating. We took the self-guided tour, which allowed us to peek into all kinds of neat little sheds and workshops all over the premises. And the exhibits were amazingly well done! I’ve been to other small, private museums, in which the displays have the barest of descriptions, and you just feel sort of lost, unsure of what you’re really looking at. This one was nearly up to Smithsonian standards (an institution I am very familiar with, being from the DC-area and all). All the exhibits had thorough descriptions of the items on display, and the curators had even found some clever ways of posting the information. In one room, there were signs affixed to triangular boxes attached to pipes, so that you could turn the boxes to read the next sign. It might sound like such a little thing, but it really makes a huge difference — especially when your five-year-old is fascinated by twirling the boxes long enough to let you look at the rest of the exhibit in peace.
We ended our tour of the museum by watching an old movie all about Essex shipbuilding. I’m guessing it was made i\n the early 1950s, or maybe even the 1940s, as advertising for the shipyard and the city itself. It was your typical black-and-white cheesy movie, but I loved watching it, if for nothing more than seeing how my grandparents might have lived in their day-to-day life when they were my age. In one scene, the city councilmen (and yes, they were all men) were deciding who would win the contract to fish the alewives from the river, and every last one of them was smoking. It looks so odd to me now, though when I was a kid, almost everyone smoked, and it was no big deal. It certainly looks strange now.
So if you ever find yourself in Massachusetts, try to plan in a trip to the Essex Shipbuilding Museum. It is certainly worth it! Or just come to visit me here in Rhode Island and I’ll put it on our itinerary. You’d better hurry, though — I’m only here for one more year!