Growing up in a small town and attending a two-room schoolhouse as a child, I was fortunate to have some interesting, and interested, teachers. One such was an older woman born a decade or so before World War I who, along with teaching English, Math, Spelling and Geography, inspired her pint-sized students with her avid interest in music.
Having obviously learned her repertoire at her parents’ knees, she animatedly played the piano to accompany her singing of a host of songs from the Gay ‘90’s. All of which we learned as well (and sing to this day). Our Miss Gliha would have loved the collection of sheet music housed in the Collections Research Center at Mystic Seaport.
There are over 1,500 pieces of sheet music at Mystic Seaport, ranging in date from the War of 1812’s The Fearless Tar to the Little Mermaid TV series in 1993. Most have been collected for their nautical content, either in the lyrics of the song or the content of the illustrations on the cover or both. Shown here are a few representations of themes included in the collection. Click on the images to get a better view.
The Three Bells Polka was written in honor of Capt. Creighton of the Glasgow Ship THREE BELLS. In 1854, the THREE BELLS was one of three ships that rescued 500 passengers from the steamer SAN FRANCISCO. Unfortunately, another 200 passengers were lost. Creighton received a medal and $7,500 in cash from the U. S. Government for his efforts in rescuing the people that he managed to take aboard. A polka seems an odd musical form to commemorate such an incident, but Capt. Creighton (or at least his remembrance on paper) now lives on in the museum’s temperature and humidity-controlled Collections Research Center.
Music for Sit Down You’re Rocking the Boat was written by William Jerome and Jean Schwartz, popular collaborators in the 1900’s and 1910’s. The song title, best known for the song of the same name in the Broadway musical, Guys and Dolls, is a completely different song, except for the refrain “Sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down, sit down you’re rocking the boat!” The 1913 version seen here has to do with a young woman fending off the advances of her sailor suitor.
A very colorful cover appears on the music for The Ship I Love, written in 1893 by Felix McGlennon and, as can be seen on the cover, “Sung with immense success by Tom Costello.” The heroic Captain intones from the deck of his sinking ship, “I’ll stick to the ship lads, you save your lives, I’ve no one to love me, you’ve children and wives.” He finishes the chorus with “But I’ll go down in the angry deep, with the ship I love.”
The number of pieces in the collection attests to the popularity over time of sea-related emotions to either tug at the heart strings of the public, or to entertain them with the farce and silliness. Either way, we have been diligently scanning the collection and hope to have it online in the near future if you wish to try your hand at playing and singing such greats as The Midshipman’s Farewell or The Mermaid’s Cave.
A recent inquiry into the life of Massachusetts mariner Isaac Hinckley once again brought to light his charming watercolor of the launch of his first command, the Brig REAPER.
The REAPER was built by Thatcher Magoun in Medford, Massachusetts in 1808. Hinckley, at the ripe old age of 25, became her master and part owner. Hinckley says of the painting, “An attempt to show the Brig Reaper as she appeared on the stocks at Medford-but it is past my Art; therefore here I leave it- Launching Day-.” The painting is part of Manuscript Collection 184, the Isaac Hinckley Papers, at Mystic Seaport. From the written description of the collection: “Isaac Hinckley, born in 1783, was a shipmaster from Hingham, Massachusetts who had gone to sea as a young boy, and acquired his first command at an early age. These papers indicate that during the years 1809-1810 he was master of the brig REAPER for a trading voyage from Boston to Aden and Calcutta. He was then master of the ship TARTER, 1812-1813, for another voyage to Calcutta, and then commanded the ship CANTON for three voyages from Boston to Canton, China between 1815-1818. It was during the homeward passage of this last voyage that Issac Hinckley died (58 days out of Macao), leaving a widow in Hingham and six children, 2 to 11 years of age.” Hinckley was 35 years of age at the time.
Thirty-three years later, in 1841, and again 205 years later, in 2013, another ship was launched. The site of the first launch was also in Massachusetts. The CHARLES W. MORGAN, now the last remaining wooden whaleship, must have looked very similar to the REAPER as she slipped into the water at the shipyard of the brothers Zacharia and Jethro Hillman in New Bedford. Then, in 2013, under the watchful eyes of many hundreds of attendees, she gently dipped her hull into the waters of the Mystic River to commemorate her arduous and successful restoration. This ceremony was the culmination of years of planning and hard work and the preamble to a successful voyage the following year that would see the last of the New England whaling fleet make a peaceful visit to the whaling grounds off Massachusetts. The painting below by celebrated marine artist Geoff Hunt captured the excitment of the moment on July 21, 2013.
For the last five years or so, Mystic Seaport has been the temporary home for one of the most amazing murals ever painted. When Benjamin Russell and Caleb Purrington finished their masterpiece in the late 1840’s, the result, known as the Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, was celebrated as a realistic depiction of the whaleman’s life in pursuit of the leviathan.
Just recently, Mystic Seaport staff members assisted New Bedford staff in removing the second of seven rolls from our Collections Research Center for its trip back to New Bedford where it will undergo long-anticipated conservation work. The first roll was retrieved last year and the first phase of its conservation is nearing an end in public view at New Bedford under the watchful eye of the half-scale whaling bark LAGODA. This oversized painting stands nearly eight and one half feet tall and if opened up to its full length it would stretch for approximately a quarter of a mile. It may very well be the longest painting in the world. When it was completed it was displayed in New Bedford and then went on a tour throughout the United States. Each roll stood vertically on a spindle on a stage with a take-up reel positioned some feet away. As the panels stretched and rolled between the two spindles, a narrator would describe to the seated viewers just what it was they were observing as they vicariously traveled around the world on a whaleship. You can learn more about the panorama and view a video production about it at the following link: Panorama History. Mystic Seaport is happy to have been of service to our fellow maritime museum while they endeavored to raise funds for the conservation work.