In Search of the Mayflower II: Plimoth Plantation to Mystical Mystic

There’s something magical about the Mayflower, the ship that hundreds of years ago brought some of the first European settlers to the Americas. The Mayflower is one thing that David really wants to see on this trip, and it’s docked in Plymouth, MA which is right on our route! We spent a good part of this day in Salem, MA delving into the intricacies of the witch trials, but there’s other places to see and things to do, so we leave that dark chapter of American history behind and head on over to Plymouth. 

We are super excited to see the Mayflower II, but believe it or not, we are very disappointed to discover it is NOT here! It’s undergoing restoration in some place called Mystic in Connecticut. It’s not possible to see it even if you did go to Mystic, or so we are told. 

Well, so much for that. Since the Mayflower is not here there’s not much to do in Plymouth, but to see the Plymouth Rock.

That’s the Plymouth Rock? Seriously? This little chunk of rock is housed here with this massive shelter. This shelter looks so out of place here…. like someone took a chunk of Washington DC and plopped it here at the water’s edge. 

If you look over the railing you can see the dinky little rock in a pool of stagnant water below. What is the significance? I guess this is supposed to be the landing place of the pilgrims in 1620, although they actually had landed in Provincetown on Cape Cod a month earlier. To be perfectly honest with you, and I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but I think this is not the most amazing tourist attraction in the world. It’s a lot of hype over nothing. Luckily we didn’t come out of our way to get here. 

There is one attraction nearby that sounds interesting, though! It’s called Plimoth Plantation, but it’s closing soon and we must rush. When we arrive there is scarcely an hour to see the place, and we can hardly justify the cost. They want $28 per person and there is no late-in-the-day discount, or poor peoples’ discount…. so our total will be $196!!!! For one hour? 

Jasmine and Aundrea decide there is no way they are doing it, but the rest of us are game. I hand Jasmine the keys so they can wait in the car.  The girls walk out of the building as the rest of us head into the museum.  Just as they get out the door one of the ticket sales people rush to them and tell them to come back. 

“You can go into the museum,” they say, “we won’t charge you! What happens at Plimoth Plantation stays at Plimoth Plantation!” 

And in we go…..  this better be worth it! 

The first exhibit we venture into at this living history museum is a Wampanoag Native American village. These natives were the ones who befriended the pilgrims. We see smoke rising from inside this grass hut, which was called a “wetu”. 

We venture inside. It’s cozy and warm in here. You can see by our layers of clothes that it’s cold outside. Animal skins line the benches. A Native American man is sitting on the bench, and he begins to tell us stories about how things were when the pilgrims arrived in their land. 

Now I will point out that the people who run this part of the museum are actually really native Americans. They are not in period dress, but rather they wear clothes their tribesmen normally might wear. The website for Plimoth Plantation tells visitors not to wear Native American costumes to this site, and should they do it they may be asked to leave. 

When we step outside again after being inside the cosy wetu we can really feel how cold the air is today. Annika is fascinated by this “mishoon”, a boat that is made from a large log by burning out the center. The men are not working on a mishoon today, but from what we learn they actually make these here to demonstrate how it is done. 

In the same little village there is a bark covered “rush wetu”, otherwise known as a long house. A native woman is inside, cooking up some onion stew. It’s fascinating. I love the feel in here, almost as though I have come home. 

I can’t help but think that this Native Americans’ home is so much warmer and so much cozier than the big house of the Seven Gables that we toured this morning. The benches are laden with warm animal skins. The woman tells us that normally there would be a woven rug on the floor. The smoke wafts gently up through the hole in the roof, the round shape of the structure facilitating the movement of air inside, maximizing the warmth that seems to wrap itself around us. The popping and crackling of the fire soothes my soul. The scent of the stew bubbling in the pot is pleasing. I could stay here and visit awhile. 

If I were to choose to live in the House of the Seven Gables or here in this smoky rush wetu I should think I would choose this place. This is a place of peace, where the people had great love and closeness to one another, great pride in the simplicity of life, great respect for the powers of nature. I can feel it in my bones. 

We make our way over to the replica of the English village of Plymouth. This living history museum was built in 1947, and I have to tell you, we are in for a true treat! I might add here that the discrepancy of the spelling of Plimoth is due to the tendency of early settlers to spell phonetically. 

The wind is blowing fresh salt scented air from the sea just beyond the village. 

When you enter the Plimoth village there is a large two-story guard building, although I am not sure why the cannons point over the town….. I guess you’d have to duck if they were shot!

Now I have to tell you what’s so awesome about this living history museum. It’s totally because the actors (historical interpreters)  have been trained so well. They are well versed in the details of the period, and they talk to us about the events that occurred in this community in 1624. They each speak with an ancient British accent, and in doing so they act completely unaware of any developments subsequent to 1624. Each are busy doing tasks of the day. 

This little guy doesn’t say much, but I do love his curly horns. 

Behind the houses there are little gardens. These early settlers became self sufficient in the new land within five years of arriving. 

Each building has an inhabitant. This woman was reading from the Book of Revelations when we walked into her home. She tells us that they left the Netherlands seeking religious freedom. I ask where their church is, and she seems alarmed. 

“Church? I daresay we shan’t have a building. We meet each Sunday at the guard tower.”

David asks the woman if the villagers can read and if they have books. She is greatly offended and quite dramatic. 

“But of course! We do have so many books, wonderful literature! Of course the favorite of these is the Holy Scriptures!” she replies emphatically. 

“Do the kids go to school?” he asks. 

“Kids? Go to school? No indeed, that should be quite silly for goats to go to school! But children, yes, they do learn at school!”

She ask us where we are from and when we say Arizona she is confused, as she has never heard of it. 

I ask her what she is reading in the Bible. She speaks of the Book of Revelations and the things that are to come that are prophetically predicted in this chapter. She speaks of how happy they are that they have found religious freedom in their new homeland.  

This young lady was a little sassy. The interpreters have an uncanny ability to remain on script, pretending that it is indeed the year 1624. They talk of the fire that happened just last week, how the weather affected the crop, how it took them a year to build their home, how they did not build the loft yet, but plan to next year. They talk of how the British don’t allow them to make their own clothes or furniture. They are required to buy tools and supplies from British merchants. 

Our visit to Plimoth Plantation is over far too soon. Even though our visit is short, and it cost a pretty penny, we are really happy to have visited here. I highly recommend it if you’re in the area. Take your time, talk to the interpreters, mess with them a little and see how they react. 

The weather report is promising rain, but we are undeterred. We want to drive into Cape Cod, which is where David and I went on our honeymoon years ago. It will be a very brief visit, admittedly, but we want to show the kids this beautiful place. 

We stop for dinner at Arnold’s where we order up a ton of seafood for just $100! 

We would tent camp on Cape Cod, but the weather is wet, and so we grab a little beachfront hotel for the night. It’s really cute! It’s an old hotel that has been fixed up. I like it! These photos are from their website. 

Well, there is no fire in the fire pit when we are here. It’s pretty cold and dreary. 

In the morning we go for a run under cloud cover. I love the architecture and the cedar siding. 

I might like to own this beach house. 

We don’t have much time to spare so we quickly check out cute Provincetown. 

We treat ourselves to morning coffee and goodies at the Portuguese Bakery. 

Look at the lovebirds, back at their honeymoon spot many years later! I should dig up an old photo of us here as newlyweds. 

I found a couple old photos. Check this out! David was 21 when we got married. 

I was pretty skinny back then…. all 105 lbs of me….

Anyway, we are on our way to New York City. Of course driving out to the end of the Cape wasn’t such a good idea logistically. We now have a five hour drive ahead of us. One way to save time is to have lunch in the car. I brought along some naan bread and hummus, but….. who likes room temperature naan bread? I came up with a great solution! Put it up on the dash of the car, and turn up the heat! In a few minutes it’s nice and toasty! 

Usually I don’t sleep so well in the car, but I awaken suddenly to David braking sharply and veering off the freeway. 

“Mystic!” he exclaims! “Isn’t that where the Mayflower is? Let’s go find it!”

Our guess is that the old ship must be at the harbor, so we find some parking and discover this place called Mystic Seaport. And guess what? The Mayflower is actually here being restored! But there’s a big problem. We only have two hours before closing time, and the ticket agent tells us that this museum takes at least one or two days to go through. It sounds awesome, but I can’t justify paying $38 each to see this place for just 2 hours! 

The ticket agent goes outside with us and leads us around the building to point out where the Mayflower is docked. She thought maybe it was visible from around the building, but alas no luck. Oh well, David’s dream of seeing the Mayflower is not going to materialize. We are so close, but yet so far! 

As we are leaving we decide to walk down the street in front of the museum and turn down the next street towards the waterfront. Amazingly we find the dome inside which the Mayflower is being restored. It’s behind a tall fence, but the gate is open. A man with a large dog walks towards us through the gate. We stop him to admire the dog, and soon he tells us that we can enter through the gate to go see the Mayflower!

Boldly we walk into the secured area, but no sooner do we enter than a guard comes to shoe us away. We tell him that the “man with the dog” had told us we could come in. His demeanor changes right away. He apologizes that he is not able to take us on board right now because of the restoration, and proceeds to tell us all about this magnificent ship. Just so you know, it is actually a replica of the original ship made to the closest possible specs. 

The ship is being restored for its 300 year anniversary in 2020. 

Ship guts.  It’s amazing this thing can float, much less cross an ocean. 

I am sure that the voyage across the ocean can’t have been too pleasant for settlers of yore, for this ship certainly does not look too luxurious. 

I have to tell you a story, one which I had only recently heard myself.  Of course I have known for years that my father had been evacuated as a young child during the war from his home in Finland, which was near the Russian border. I did not know of many of the details until I spent a few days taking care of him after his knee surgery last summer. 

During the war the Finnish government greatly feared that the Russians would annhilate and completely destroy the Finnish population, or send them to Siberia. They took a boy and girl from many families and sent them to Sweden in an attempt to preserve the Finnish gene pool should the Russians succeed in destroying the Finnish people, or as my father said, “to save the seed of the nation.”

And so it was that my dad and his sister were loaded into a train to southern Finland. The train clanked and clunked so much that my poor father said that his head felt completely mixed up.  From southern Finland they were to take a cargo ship to Sweden. When they parted from home the children all believed that they would never see their families again. 

They very nearly didn’t, but not because of the Russians. The Finnish people fought against the Russians very bravely, and miraculously were able to maintain their independence. 

But a close brush with death occurred on the sea voyage to Sweden. The conditions, probably much like those of the Mayflower, were terrible. Hundreds of frightened children were put into the hull of the ship for the voyage. Many were homesick and their wails pierced the stale air. Urine and vomit made a horrific stench below deck. During their three day journey the children were served a sickenly sweet oatmeal slop, and they slept on beds made of straw. 

My father faced a frightening development during the voyage when the thick ice on the sea began to press up against the cargo ship, causing it to list dangerously to one side. The children were all taken up on deck, as the crew figured the ship would sink into the icy sea. The metal ladder that was fastened to the side of the ship was difficult to climb, so a larger child was placed behind each smaller one in the event the smaller child would fall off the ladder. Once the children got up on the ship’s deck they had to line up against the railing that was precariously high above the water in the event that the ship sunk. 

We all know how this story ends, because I am here to write this story about my father. 

There is an art gallery on site at the Mystic Seaport featuring amazing photography in the Rosenfeld Collection. All these photos were taken long before the advent of digital cameras! We stop to enjoy the incredible works of art. Later I see a sign forbidding photography. Oops! 

I don’t know who painted this, but it’s lovely!!!! 

It’s time to leave, but first we need coffee so we drive into the historic downtown Mystic.  I love this little town! It has a really awesome drawbridge which we have fun exploring. I think I will come back to this town someday. Why does life have to get in the way of living?

And then we are off to New York, New York!!!!

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