There is an odd mystery about the Custom House Maritime Museum, and I see it present in the Cushing House Museum also. There was a brief, but glorious period called the Era of the Clipper Ship. It’s start was born of magnificent entrepreneurial spirit and it ended rather abruptly, though thankfully a few stragglers remain that remind us of this incredible but short period of history.
Newburyport is inextricably linked to this historic epic, which is why we are called Clipper City.
Yet, there is barely a mention in the grand old dame of a museum on High Street. Likewise, the Custom House has skirted about the subject begrudgingly acknowledging the deeds of the Dreadnaught, but little else is mentioned. Even their ship models proudly displayed in the galleries have no extensive explanation – they are just ‘there’.
It may be a rather offensive analogy but I think the problem is similar to a bunch of piglets sucking on a big sow. They all consult the same old history books, institutes and resources that all the other ‘historians’ have relied on, and when it comes to this unique period of history, their conclusions are all over the place.
Listen, historians make mistakes all the time. A lot of their own prejudices are often infused into their works, even as they loudly claim it is not true, a three-year old can see it clearly. Speaking of an innocent, I, in my humble research about Newburyport have found no less than three major errors in J.J. Currier’s great two-volume History of Newburyport. And it wasn’t hard.
Well, we’ve got writers with no background in ship construction claiming things, we’ve got model ship builders authoritatively making statements and we’ve got major histories claiming conclusions based on third-party (and sometimes just confused statements).
It’s hard to get a tack on what is actually the truth!
Best to just leave it alone. Well, that’s my theory as to why no one wants to tackle the glorious subject of our clipper ships. And yes, there were over twelve (or more) built here, over and above the very first.
I invite you to click the link to the Clipper Ship Museum on my main website.
I’m still waiting for our local museums to step up to the plate.
I’m eagerly awaiting that great day!
PS. Ghlee Woodworth has done a magnificent job on the Clipper Heritage Trail on covering the Clipper Ship Era. I invite you to check it out also.