A visit to Mystic Seaport’s Figurehead Exhibit

“Carving Grace” has an enormous back story of inspiring experiences. One of them was a visit to Mystic Seaport’s Figurehead Exhibit, which Nathan and I visited in February 2021. At that point, I’d started the story, and I felt I needed a kick.

While vaccinations had started to happen, we wouldn’t be eligible for ours until March. We desperately needed to get away, and because most of the seaport is outdoors, it seemed the perfect place to secure a change of scenery (we’d also gone there in September of 2020 for our anniversary).

Me and Nathan on the road to Mystic Seaport

Nathan and I on our way to Mystic, CT for a special birthday/Valentine’s Day escape (to also do research for “Carving Grace”). The weather was beautiful. Winter overcast, but definitely not too cold; it was the perfect atmosphere. In my mind, Mystic Seaport itself is what the community of Timber Inlet—to a point—looks like.

Mystic Seaport figurehead exhibit banner

The exhibit banner on the Seaport’s Thompson Exhibition Building at the North Entrance.

Mystic Seaport figurehead wall

The figurehead exhibit, which was on display in the Wendell building. The exhibit includes many fine pieces from the Seaport’s collection, but not all. In fact, a few weeks after our visit, toward the end of March, I was lucky enough to attend a virtual presentation which not only taught us about the process of making figureheads, but took us behind the scenes to see some of the pieces which aren’t on display.

Gallery: The Figureheads

Each figurehead is followed by the museum’s detailed description.

Silent Pilots

Silent Pilots book cover

There’s quite a story behind this one. When I was a teen back in the 1980s, we’d go to museums and attractions, and I was always drawn to gift shops. Usually, I’d get books about the museum or attraction that was written and published specifically for the attraction, and sometimes even by the attraction—something you couldn’t buy anywhere else. This was something very special which, I believe, has pretty much vanished since you can now get things on Amazon and they’re always available. Back then, places would publish a limited run of these books. Sometimes, they were even chapbooks people printed using a small local press or printer.

Silent Pilots cover page

On our drive out, Nathan asked me what I wanted as a souvenir. I said, ‘I’d love it if they had a book about the figurehead exhibit.’ We went into the store, and I wandered everywhere looking for a book, but couldn’t find it. Turns out, Nathan asked the shop owner, and they said they had an older one in the back room. It was beat up—but, oh, magic! It was clearly one of the books that had been published when the figureheads were exhibited the first time, back in the 1980s—and thanks to my husband, I was lucky enough to get it as my special Valentine’s Day gift!

Silent Pilots price sticker

There were several layers of stickers on the back. I was cracking up at the $19.95 price tag—which was consistent down to the bottom. A book like this would be closer to $39.95 now. $19.95 was about average at gift shops for limited run books back in the 1980s (I should know. My dad bought me enough of them….) This was considered expensive, at least at the time.

Gallery: Cabin from the1883 ship Benjamin F. Packard

What a treat to get to walk through a cabin from an actual ship! (Due to Covid, the Charles W. Morgan was closed—totally understandable. Cramped quarters with no room for social distancing).

There was something haunting about these recordings of whale song.

S'mores sign

The seaport did an amazing job at atmosphere. There was an ice carver, and a group singing sea chanteys. There were also open firepits for s’mores. It didn’t just feel like a day at a museum. It felt like a mid-winter special event.

Gallery: Spouters

Schaefer’s Spouter Tavern was open for a limited selection of food and drink. Nobody beats the New England clam chowder at Mystic Seaport. It’s been a favorite of mine—and a must-do if on property—since I was a kid going there on field trips. Some people might argue this; just like Dirk says in “Carving Grace,” there’s a lot of pride in an establishment’s clam chowder, but honestly, I’ve never had a better one. And I’ve eaten a LOT of New England clam chowder in my lifetime.

This day was also special because it was the first time I’d eaten indoors since the pandemic’s start in the spring of 2020. I was nervous. But I did it. And I was fine.

Spouters is the inspiration for “Carving Grace”’s fictional original food stand, the Chowder Chantey.

Gallery: The Buckingham-Hall House

The Buckingham-Hall House served as inspiration for Ellouise’s home on Ricketts Street in “Carving Grace.” While the B-H house is a saltbox (I think) and Ellouise’s house is a Cape Cod, it’s really the B-H’s house’s interior which was in my head.

Kristi stands by Viking ship

Me, posing in front of a ship they’re working on that has been hunkered down for winter. In my mind, though, this is what the harbor of Timber Inlet—where the NORTHERN CROSS is anchored—looks like.

Bed in Room 103 Mystic Howard Johnson's

My favorite hotel to stay at in Mystic is the Howard Johnson’s, and I usually get the same room every time (by request, if they can accommodate it). After a long day outdoors at the seaport, Room 103 was sure nice to come home to.

Nathan crashed on hotel bed

Nathan is wiped out!

We bought these champagne glasses at the seaport gift shop!

Valentine's Day presents

Our Valentine’s Day gifts. We don’t usually celebrate Valentine’s Day—it falls smack in between our birthdays, so it just makes February too much. But COVID changed that a little, so we decided to give ourselves some presents this year.

 

Mystic Pizza box cover

Of COURSE we had to order Mystic Pizza! Is it the greatest pizza in the world? No. But it’s really good, and I never miss a chance to get it.

Mystic Pizza pepperoni, garlic, extra cheese

It was the first time I’d actually gotten Mystic Pizza with extra cheese. Honestly, I didn’t care for it—it was too mushy for me. If you ever order from there, stick with the regular serving of cheese.

Mystic Pizza fried artichokes

DO NOT MISS THE FRIED ARTICHOKES. Holy shit. That is all.

 

About kristipetersenschoonover

A ghost story writer who still sleeps with the lights on, Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction has appeared in many magazines and anthologies; her traditionally published books include a short story collection, THE SHADOWS BEHIND. She was the recipient of three Norman Mailer Writers Colony Residencies and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College. She serves as co-host of the DARK DISCUSSIONS podcast, as founding editor of the dark literary journal 34 ORCHARD, and is a member of both the New England Horror Writers and the Horror Writers Association. Follow her adventures at kristipetersenschoonover.com.

Posted on November 1, 2021, in Deep Thoughts & Fun Stuff, Horror Stories, Short Stories, The Writing Life and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. For some reason I always pictured figureheads as women or mythical creatures. I didn’t know there were male figureheads, too. It looks like you two had a terrific trip!

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