Monday evening, promptly at five PM, the museum closed the doors to the Sailing Gallery for the last time. In this day and age, if a museum is to stay financially viable, it must offer new exhibits that excite and engage. Most museums have extensive collections but limited space for public display. At any given time only a small percentage of their holdings are on display so closing a gallery is viewed as a positive change.
Over time, the sailing gallery has become one of my favorite spots when hosting a tour, especially to kids. Since the gallery featured artifacts dating to the 1800’s, it allowed visitors an opportunity to step back in time. With that step take, my job as a docent would be to use stories and create word pictures to make the artifacts come alive. Time constraints did not allow me share my stories one last time during Monday’s tour, therefore out of nostalgia, I will share a few of them with you.
This is the view of the gallery from my vantage point when giving a tour. No guest were available this day.
With guests settled into the ship’s seat shown above, I would pose the following question: “Do you think that life at sea would have been exciting in the 1800’s?” As you might expect, kids lacking in life experiences, would overwhelmingly answer yes. I would then quote a long forgotten sailor who said: “Life at sea was akin to being in jail except you had the added chance of drowning.” Old salts of the day might also comment that a sailor was far better off in jail because the food was better, you had more room, and you were with better company. This sure doesn’t bode well for excitement and adventure!
To describe the dangers of going to sea I would point to a model of a ship’s rigging that sat behind me. I then would ask the guests to imagine climbing one hundred feet or more into the rigging to raise or lower the sails. Now imagine doing this as the ship is rocked from side to side by the winds and waves of a storm. Imagine again what it would be like when the rigging was covered with snow and ice and your hands were frozen! At this point I might ask what happened to a sailor who slipped and fell from the rigging? The looks of horror on the kids faces always told me that they got the point!
This photograph would greet guests as they entered the sailing gallery.
When hosting a tour group, I like to avoid quoting lots of facts and figures. I find it much more interesting to hear stories about how or why an artifact was used within its historical context. There are however times when the rules just have to be broken. When attempting to describe how massive the ship picture above would be, the following facts say it all – such a ship would use in excess of twenty miles of rope in the ship’s rigging and its sails, which were made of canvas, would cover an area of 1.5 square miles. Now that’s one big ship!