The Charles W. Morgan and Atlantis
Seascapes: Fall/Winter 2011
It was on July 21, 1841 at 10 a.m. that the Charles W. Morgan was launched from the Hillman Brothers Shipyard in New Bedford to join her many “sister” ships in the first great global industry. As whalers took to sea, even in 1841, these sturdy vessels were still charting the seas and discovering previously unknown islands in the Pacific. They were whalers, yes, but they were indeed explorers and risk takers who circumnavigated the globe. On July 21, 2011 at 3 p.m. we celebrated the Charles W. Morgan‘s 170th birthday, honored her caregivers over all these years, and reflected upon her current state of restoration in the anticipation of launching her two years hence on her 172nd birthday.
And it was at 6 a.m. on the same day that the current age of exploration came to a (temporary?) end when the space shuttle Atlantis rolled to a stop in Florida. She, too, circumnavigated the globe, albeit far away from the ebb and flow of the tides, but still subject to gravity and the moon’s influence. As she sat there on the tarmac, she immediately became a proud symbol of a bold age of exploration in much the same way that the Morgan has served, proudly, as a solitary symbol of her age of exploration and the spirit of American enterprise. Though vastly different, the Atlantis and the Morgan are both vehicles which have served to inspire generations of Americans and beyond.
Such icons, if you will, prompt us to ask “what’s next?” We know the answers to what followed the active career of the Charles W. Morgan, and we know it is important that her stories and the stories of her successors be shared with the public in the most meaningful manner possible. The same will be said of Atlantis in the years to come, but we cannot yet answer the question of “what’s next.” We can only hope that exploration, whether it is of space or even the depths of the ocean, will continue in order to support mankind and to answer significant questions yet unfulfilled.
This issue of the Mystic Seaport Magazine honors the last 70 years of the Morgan‘s great history known as her “Mystic years.” It will not be long before the Mystic years are greater in number than her whaling years, but it will always be those years at sea that will make the Charles W. Morgan an enduring symbol, much like Atlantis and her “ship” mates in space will represent the most recent age of exploration for generations to come.
Stephen C. White