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Day 59 (10.30.07) - We make it to Connecticut

And visited a very old lighthouse and the Mashantucket Pequot Museum

sunny

Summary: Beach at Charlestown Beachway, RI, Old Lighthouse Museum in Stonington, CT and Mashantucket Pequot Museum

Logistics: Miles Driven - 55, Weather - Sunny & Cool, Camped at Seaside Campground, Mystic, CT

Detail: We decided to visit the beach again in the daylight (it was only a hundred yards or so from the camping area). Even though it was still quite cool, the bright sunshine made for a very lovely sight. Sandpipers were everywhere (as well as gulls and a few other sea birds). I've decided that beaches are always nice, regardless of where they're located or what the weather.

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As we were leaving town, I saw a most unusual arrangement for a pickup truck (unusual for me at least). Out west, I've seen pickup trucks with all sorts of things mounted on them, ox horns, gun racks, snow blades, etc. I'd never seen fishing poles mounted like this before - I guess these Rhode Island folks are serious about their fishing!

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We had no poles of course and were heading in the opposite direction, so drove on. After a little confusion about the map, we thought we'd figured out the road to get to the "Old Lighthouse Museum" in Stonington, CT. However we soon found ourselves in a very quaint town with very narrow streets and no lighthouse in sight. I saw a big parking lot so pulled in to ask - it was the parking lot for a seafood processing area on the bay and it smelled like a lot of dead seafood. I wish I could post oder's on the blog to share the experience with you! I also looked around for a lighthouse, but seeing none, Mom asked one of the local fishermen for directions. It turned out we were on the right course, just needed to keep going. (We thought that's what he said, their accents are quite different up here).

The main street in downtown Stonington is so narrow, they split it into two - one way streets. The direction we were on had some big trucks parked on the side, leaving very little room to go by. Then a third truck pulled out in front of us and just stopped. We saw a whole bunch of kindergarten aged kids dressed up in costumes, so I assume the downtown Stonington merchants were hosting some sort of Halloween 'Trick-or-Treat' for the kiddies and the third truck just wanted to wait until they were safely past him. All the kids were cute, but these two just take the cake (sorry about the rear view mirror strut in the picture, I didn't have time to get out, pose, etc.):

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Finally the kids were safely past and the truck in front of us decided to drive on his way. The narrow one way streets recombined into a narrow two way street. With parking allowed on one side, there wasn't enough room for two cars to pass each other safely - so a traffic sign warned drivers to pull over for oncoming cars!

Somehow, we managed to navigate this and made it to the lighthouse. It was not out on the point, as you would expect for a lighthouse, but up the hill a little bit, sandwiched between two other regular houses. But we found it.

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The first lighthouse established by the Federal Government was built in 1823 or 1824 in a smaller granite building farther out on the point. It was moved to this location in 1840 due to erosion and rebuilt in it's current configuration. This was decommissioned in 1879 and has since been turned into a museum. It is not a museum about lighthouses however, as I was expecting, but is a very nice little museum about the village of Stonington and it's history - which was much more interesting than I realized.

While the British attacked Stonington during the Revolutionary War, it wasn't a very serious attack. During the War of 1812 however, the British bombed the village with five warships for three days. The local townsfolk refused to surrender, used their two (?) cannon to great affect, and successfully defended their town. The museum houses some interesting artifacts from this battle.

This 24 lb cannon ball was shot from a British ship during the battle on August 9, 1814 and lodged itself into this hearthstone of the Trumbull House.

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This is a Congreve Rocket used by the British during the battle. It is the same type of weapon that inspired Francis Scott Key to write "... By the Rocket's Red Glare..." in our National Anthem.

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The museum also had a number of exhibits of early life, such as the open fire toasters and peel (flat, long handled device to put/remove bread in an oven). What I really liked was that each device was very nicely labeled, making it easier for a person who didn't live back then (such as myself) to know what the objects were. I went to mention this to the lady at the front desk, who turned out to be the Curator! Louise was very nice and even agreed to let me put her picture up on the blog!

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She really tries hard to keep the museum exhibits interesting and said she sometimes has trouble getting the information to properly label the exhibits also, but always has fun learning. She also pointed out a couple of unique features - the floor in one room has glass plates to expose an old cistern built below the building, which I had seen, but also an old well that is now under a staircase, that I hadn't noticed. These allows you to see how some of the older buildings took care of their basic needs, such as water, before cities provided such services. This shot is of the cistern.

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An interesting facet of museums is learning the source of odd phrases we use in everyday life - that many of them came from terms with a more literal meaning. Here is a 'hook, line & sinker' on display in this museum. It probably came from the South Pacific and was brought back as a souvenir by one of the ships that sailed out of Stonington.

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Now I should admit, there are a couple of exhibits specific to lighthouses. One is the tower itself, since it doesn't have to be used as a light house anymore, you can climb up into it. The climb is short (only 29 steps) and steep, but has a great view. You can see three states from here (RI, CT, and NY), but not necessarily in this shot. There is also a "fourth order Fresnel Lens" on display. This is slightly larger than the one used in this lighthouse (it was a sixth order Fresnel lens). These large, glass lenses were hand blown (this one was at least 2 feet tall, I'm not a very good judge of such things).

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After we left the Old Lighthouse Museum but before we left Stonington, I had to take a picture of the two cannon the townfolk had used to defend themselves in 1814 - now proudly displayed in the town square. The monument reads: "These two guns, of 18 pounds caliber, were heroically used in repelling the attack on Stoninton, of the English Naval vessels Ramilies 74 guns, Pactolus 44, Dispatch 20, Nimrod 20, and the bomb ship Terror." Wikepedia has a good article on this battle and town, worth a look if you have the time:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonington%2C_Connecticut

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I also took one picture of one of the homes in Stonington - I don't know if this is one of their old ones or not, but I liked the color combination - yellow with white trim and dark shutters. It seemed a little unusual to me.

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Honestly, we didn't spend all day in Stonington, maybe only a couple of hours. But the next place we visited didn't allow photography, so I'm afraid will get the short end of the blog by necessity! This was the Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center, about 7 or 8 miles up the road (away from the coast) from Stonington. We did spend the rest of our day there, but I only have the one photo of the exterior.

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The museum tells the story of the Pequot People in their land of Mashantucket using a combination of technologies. Since it has only been open for a year or two, everything is quite state of the art and very well done. The most striking features are the diorama's, all of which use life sized figures and are very realistic. These include:

Land during the Ice Age - how the glaciers formed the land in New England and probably provided the land bridge for the earliest people to migrate to the America's. (You take an escalator down through a seeming ice cave, with lots of dripping water and pools).

Caribou Hunt - showing Pequot hunters in various stages of the hunt and cleaning the killed Caribou, in fairly graphic detail. There are several interpretive screens located around the circular diorama to help you understand what you are seeing.

16th Century (pre-contact) Pequot Village - you can actually walk through the village and observe very realistic, life size models in their day to day activities. Before entering the village, museum staff give you audio devices so as you explore, you can key in codes (based on plates in the floor) and hear a recording describing what is going. There are 36 different audio units in total and about 6 huts with maybe 40 - 50 Pequot figures (plus 3 huts and additional figures showing a post-contact village from about 1637).

The major post contact display uses mostly signs, reader boards, and video's with actor's in period dress talking from writings of the period to show the different points of view, English, Dutch, and Pequot. The pivotal event was the 1637 war between the English and Peqout which ended in the near destruction of the Pequot people.

It is hard to capture all this without photo's, but take my word for it. If you are ever in this area - the Museum is well worth a visit. But you should allow yourselves at least 3 hours to go through it (which we didn't quite have of course).

By the time we finished going through the museum, we were both quite tired (and a little nippy I'm afraid), but made our way back to Mystic, CT. We found a campground (again, it closes tomorrow - so I guess after that we will be on our own again?). Tomorrow morning, we hope to see what Mystic is all about (traditional seaport?), then head up to Hartford (Mark Twain & Harriet Beecher Stowe homes) and Bristol (watch & clock museum). We should make it to New York by Thursday, depending on how side tracked we get...

Posted by jl98584 17:03 Archived in USA Tagged family_travel

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It seems to me that we visited Stonington one time while we lived in Hartford, but I can't remember for sure right now. Will you see Old Mystic Seaport, too? And there are the homes of Mark Twain and Louise May Alcott out near where the seminary is. And there are many interesting places in downtown Hartford and in West Hartford (Noah Webster's home, e.g.). The apartment we lived in across the street from the seminary is where the current seminary building is, quite unlike the Gothic one that was in use during our days there.

by msj

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