Michiganders in Connecticut NewYorkdom

What a difference a week makes. After the opulence of Newport, we were ready for a dose of reality. Nope – that wasn’t going to happen in Mystic, CT. But, we thoroughly enjoyed our three days there, weather notwithstanding.

Since Connecticut doesn’t allow dogs in their State Park campgrounds (boo), we elected to stay in Seaport RV Resort. We usually avoid RV parks, but sometimes it’s all about location. Unhappy with the site we were assigned, they offered us the choice of about ten available sites. We selected the only one which was shaded  – a reasonable choice on the hot, humid afternoon when we checked in. Oops – a mistake. Very hard rains overnight nearly turned the T@DA into the SS Fireball. We should have been able to predict this calamity.20150930_07001720150930_073239It rained every day we were there, and that damn puddle never receded. Our patio mat was floating, and we made several unfortunate missteps out of the camper into the lake. In all fairness, though – the rest of the park was really pretty nice.

Mystic was a whaling town, until the demise of the industry in the 1920s. Over the next decade, town leaders decided to recreate the town into a living whaling museum. Not the cute type with costumed actors, but real people doing real work. We loved watching and chatting with the cooper (barrel maker).20151001_114829 Barrel slats are all consecutively numbered so that the barrels can be taken apart and reconstructed.

One of only five drydocks for wooden ship restorations in the US is located here. Ships are reconstructed mostly using original tools and methods. 20151001_125919Their showcase vessel is the whaling ship Charles Morgan, which survived in the brutal industry from its launch in 1841 until the 1920s.20150930_14292620150930_141149 After a multi-year, $5 million restoration, it sailed in 2014, and is permanently docked in Mystic. This is a photo of her under sail on her first voice after restoration. Wow. 20150930_135603There are films of the whaling expeditions, which are both horrifying and instructional. But, to wander the shipyards and chat with the folks who perform this amazing restoration is quite uplifting

We spent a fair amount of time (over two days) at the blacksmith shop.20151001_12065520151001_120455 Chains and all manner of forged materials are manufactured here, the hard way. 20150930_143102The head blacksmith’s hands were amazing – I asked if I could photograph them, and he obliged, although I was unable to capture his gnarly, stained and stunted fingers.20151001_121400 Remember the movie Amistad? All the leg irons and shackles in the movie were made by this Mystic blacksmith.20151001_120757 The educational reproduction ship is also docked here, although its future seems uncertain. 20151001_133205All in all, I have to admit at being captivated by the living Mystic museum (except for the Planetarium, where the program was laughable). Films, interviews, and working exhibits brought the era alive. An entire hall is devoted to mastheads from some ships that are long gone. Sadly, the lighting in this room doomed my attempts for any decent photos.20151001_11283520151001_112620We loved the history lesson, and there was none of the cloying historical reconstruction that can drive me crazy. We took full advantage of the fact that our ticket was good for two days.

Although we never saw the cantilevered drawbridge in Mystic raise up, we did see a crew team out for practice. So elegant.20150930_151902Can the rain stop yet? Apparently not.

After three days, we headed inland, scuttling our original plan to explore Long Island. The moisture pushed northward along the coast by Hurricane Joaquin was making us miserable, without any relief in sight. We wanted to make sure we weren’t caught up in an epic disaster, should Joaquin come ashore (he didn’t). After spending a few hours consulting maps and guidebooks, we decided to head to Hyde Park NY, home of the FDR Presidential Museum and Library. Our headquarters for this exploration would be the Mills-Norrie State Park, just a few miles from the Museum, and only 170 miles from Mystic.

But, wait! As we pass through New London CT, what’s that sigh about the Nautilus Submarine Museum? After speeding past, we ha to pull off the road and see if this was something we needed to explore. It turned out to be a worthwhile stop.

The Nautilus was the first US nuclear submarine. IT was named after the Nautilus in the Jules Verne novel 20 Thousand Leagues Under the Sea of which there is a first (or perhaps just an early) edition copy onboard.20151002_105508There’s a free museum onsite documenting the history of submarines in the US Navy, complete with a fascinating 50 minute film, which provided a taste of life for the current and past sailors who have served on subs. So many heroes, and such a tough life. It really was inspiring to watch. We toured the Nautilus – and the cramped passageways and tiny personal spaces are truly remarkable.20151002_110647 I really cannot imagine being confined to living like this – the training for submariners must be pretty intense to weed out any of the sailors who have the will, but not the ability to live in such confinement. Imagine bunks four beds high in an eight foot room. It was noted that these spaces are larger than all newer subs, except for the very newest, such as the Ohio, the largest sub in the US Navy. Steel rings outside the museum indicate the diameter of the Holland (the first Navy Sub), compared to the Ohio.20151002_11211020151002_112258 This was an extremely interesting (and free) museum – there’s lots to see here.

Onward to Hyde Park, in the rain. The seaside cedar shake cottages of the Massachusetts and Connecticut seashore give way to the clapboard farmhouses and meticulously-manicured farms of the Connecticut byway. We roll through one picturesque town after another, before finally crossing over into New York. Suddenly, we’re on the massive Hudson River, where the Gilded Age and the clapboard houses bump heads. Such a contrast.

Our first order of business the next day (since it’s STILL raining) is to head for the FDR Presidential Library, on the grounds of the family home of FDR and Eleanor. 20151003_11540220151003_115211This was a huge treat. I’ll just share a few of the images – we are becoming huge fans of the Presidential Libraries. Hearing the speeches, seeing the films, and seeing all the documents of the era is wonderful. An unexpected bonus was that we rolled in the same morning as the Bentley Club. There were six of these beauties in the parking lot.20151003_112142What a difference the change of a few words made…20151003_13354120151003_13165720151003_11575420151003_115947FDRs battle with the crippling effects of polio are well documented, and there’s no sugarcoating his struggles. There also is no sugarcoating of the split in his and Eleanor’s marriage due to his infidelities with Lucy Mercer. Although they stayed married, separate lives were lived. Eleanor’s achievements are well documented. I was touched by this photo of her carrying her own suitcase thru LaGuardia airport in 1960, on her way to confront the KKK in Tennessee. What a woman!20151003_134754Gifts from both citizens and foreign leaders are highlighted. One that really caught my eye was a vest made of buttons collected by a California admirer. 20151003_141730The sender included a letter instructing the President to take a photo of himself wearing the vest, so that she’d have a picture of “her boy” wearing her creation. Made me laugh. Roy Rogers sent custom spurs.20151003_141517Shirley Temple, a childhood star, made the President an honorary member of her Police Force.20151003_141641 FDR and Eleanor are both buried on the grounds.20151003_143147Practically next door to FDRs house was a mansion owned by Frederick Vanderbilt, grandson of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt.20151003_15272420151003_152506 The east coast seems to be littered with Vanderbilt mansions – this large, wealthy family was into showy displays of wealth. And they aren’t the only ones – the State Park in which we are camped also has a huge mansion of its own. We just don’t see wealth on this scale in Michigan which has been deeded over to the State or National government. Out here, it’s everywhere.

John and Jezzy owned the steps of the the Staatsburgh State Historic Site, the mansion owned by Ogden Mills, overlooking the Hudson River. 20151004_13095120151004_131409 The diversity of this trip has been amazing. Today was our first day of sunshine, (after six solid days of rain), and we were delighted to throw on our boots, hitch up Jezzy, and hit the trail along the Hudson for six miles or so, even though it did end up at another mansion. Tomorrow, we’re going to cross the Hudson into the Catskill Mountains, camp in the dirt and just hike for a few days.Pit toilets, rustic camp – back to our camping roots.

Thanks for hanging in there with me on this – part of my reason for doing this blog is simply to document (for us) where we’ve been, and what we’ve seen. Five years from now, when we’re drooling on ourselves in a nursing home somewhere, perhaps we’ll look at these old posts and remember some great trips. I hope so. It’s a long, strange journey some days….

22 thoughts on “Michiganders in Connecticut NewYorkdom

  1. Have you ever toured the “Silversides” submarine moored in Muskegon? Those guys really were cramped! Love your blogs, usually read every word!

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    • Thanks, Gary. I’ve not been on the Silversides, but I think John has. It probably is more cramped than the Nautilus – at the museum, they mentioned how roomy the Nautilus was compared to other subs. Only the very newest, biggest have more room. My response to that is ‘shoot me now!’

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  2. Another excellent and very well written blog entry. The presidential libraries sound like their a lot fun plus educational.
    Judy you really are a very good writer!!! Thanks.

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  3. If I remember correctly, you had tons of rain this spring also. Remind me to never go camping anywhere close to where you are going! ;)

    I would love the Mystic Seaport, and they may not ever get me out of the blacksmith’s shop if I were to enter. Well, maybe to check out the tall ships, I love those too.

    I was almost stuck on a sub, I qualified for the Navy’s nuclear training, which guaranteed you at least a year of sub duty. However, I was too tall to fit, so I dodged that bullet.

    The FDR Presidential Library looks more interesting than I thought that it would, he’s far from my favorite president. I like your taste in mansions though, keep them coming.

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    • Jerry, that blacksmith shop was fantastic. We spent a lot of time hanging around there.

      Can’t see you on a sub! They are tiny. The one submariner we talked to was about 2/3 my size. Said the longest he had been underwater was 87 days. They would have to pull me out of there screaming! But, I was in admiration of the job those guys did in WWII. Lots of heroes there.

      Think we may finally be away from Mansionworld. A relief!

      Thanks for checking

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  4. Don’t know why I am so interested in the Jules Verne book?

    Have fun! Keep the rain in your area until the GR marathon (in 12 days.)

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    • Gee, can’t imagine that you would be interested in an old book. What’s with that? The Nautilus nuclear sub was the first submarine ever to pass under the North Pole (can’t remember the date). That book must be worth a fortune.

      We’ll take a hit on a day of rain for you, so that you have clear skies for the Marathon. Good luck.

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  5. I’m so impressed with your interest in the Presidential Libraries and ship related museums. Loved the blacksmithing entry and submarine knowledge. Do you also read president biographies? David McCullough is a fine historical biographer of some of our presidents. So happy to hear you know have some blue in the sky.

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    • I don’t consider myself to be a big history buff, but sometimes an area just needs to tell you its story. Mystic is a spot like that. Any of the Presidential musuems we’ve been to have been great. Too bad for you (ha!) that Cheney was never a President, or you could have one in WY, too. Help us all!

      Now we’re back out in the woods again. Feels great.

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  6. Your pictures and narratives open the world of history for me the way I wish history had been taught when I was young. You connect the events to real people and their real lives in a way that textbooks seldom do. I’m in awe of the strength and determination of the craftsmen and artists for the work that was done to create those beautiful ships and iron works and homes. And I appreciate that those on the East Coast have maintained the old instead of always tearing down the old to build the new with much less care and quality which seems to be the practice here in Michigan. The ship, the Mystic, is astounding. It seems impossibly complex to build and then to sail. Kudos to those who keep her in working order and sail her for so many decades.

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    • Exactly, Alison. I’m continually grateful that all this historic beauty wasn’t present in Grand Rapids. We would long ago have turned it into Disneyland or have torn it down.

      I got kind of teary-eyed when they showed the first sailing if the Morgan after her five-year rebuild. All 25 of the crafts people who worked on her were crew. Can you imagine how wonderful they felt?

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  7. I so love the Hyde Park area and the Roosevelt grounds. That library is truly amazing and I will return as no one can see everything in one visit. Did you go into their home? I found that very interesting as well. I’m glad you’re finally out of the rain, travel well my friends and keep us posted! Sandi

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    • We loved the museum – John went and did the home tour as well, but I couldn’t tear myself away from the other museum exhibits to go. He was surprised how modest the home was. So much to see – another visit is definitely called for.

      So nice not to wake up to rain drumming on the roof. Keeping out fingers crossed that it lasts for awhile.

      Thanks, Sandi. Hope your Caravan trip isn’t getting washed away.

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  8. Your post makes me want to go back up to that area and see all the things we’ve missed! My son, Mark, has recently gotten interested in Presidential Libraries, and he has visited quite a few. Will definitely be added to our bucket list. The FDR Library would be amazing!
    Kudos to you and John and Jezzy for enduring 6 days of rain!! The 7th day must have felt heavenly!!

    Are you guys out for the winter now or will you be going home to MI? What are your winter plans?

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    • Pssst, Susan….I’ll tell you a little secret. The Gerald R Ford Museum is in our hometown, and we’ve never been there. Been there to see a special exhibit unrelated to Ford, but never to see the actual Museum. We’ve vowed to correct that once we get home. Jerry and Betty’s graves are also there. I got inside as far as the gift shop once to buy a gag gift – autographed Jerry Ford golf ball with the Presidential seal!

      Well be home just before Halloween, and will probably head out for the winter in mid-December. Will point ourselves to the Southwest somewhere, but we don’t have firm plans yet. I’m feeling just a wee bit of pressure about not having plans.

      Happy belated birthday.

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  9. Despite the steady rain you continue to see interesting sites. I definitely need to consider touring some presidential museums. I’m a bit concerned though as this blog did not include one pub or pictures of you tasting beer. I can’t believe the rain dampened your spirits for spirits.

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