A Forum for Discussions among Voyagers and Others related to the 38th Voyage of the Charles W. Morgan
From: Mike Vogel
Date: 2014 Jul 7, 17:48 -0400
As a lighthouse preservationist, I'm finding it easier to preserve original fabric these days than I did when my main interest (but not preservation practice) was historic ships. Wooden ships recycle fabric more quickly than masonry towers, of course, but even as a sailor I was intrigued by the thought that folks could argue that ships like the Constitution or Constellation or Niagara weren't "real" because rotted parts had been replaced. What was the alternative, sinking? As a sailor, I didn't see the sense in that -- of course ships needed renewing, constantly, and from almost the minute they were launched.
But what about an artifact that isn't physically real at all, but a void? I carry some emotional scars from that debate! The issue in question was the Commercial Slip in Buffalo, a waterway of immense historical importance. The Erie Canal, a 19th Century engineering marvel that opened the heartlands and made NYC the nation's top port, never actually connected to the Great Lakes; Commercial Slip was the most important of the short connecting slips that linked the dead end of the canal, at right angles, to Buffalo Harbor and the Lakes.
Over time, like the canal itself in the urban setting of Buffalo, the slip was filled in and nearly forgotten. When Buffalo launched its dramatic and successful rebirth of the Canal District into a destination called Canalside a few years back, there was much debate over the incorporation of history and heritage into the what was essentially a blank-slate rebuild (no buildings remained, just the site). Some of that centered on the old Commercial Slip, which had had some exploratory archaeology that revealed there was something, but not much, left underground.
As the newspaper's editorial page editor at the time, I took a strong stand for preservation -- and lost. Our argument was that the remnants of the slip should be preserved as an archaeological park, and we supported the government plan to create a replica slip adjacent to it to interpret the history. The preservation community mounted a brilliant public campaign under the slogan "Do the Real Thing," which they defined as unearthing the slip's few surviving limestone blocks, using the best and deepest of them to line the top of a new stone wall (minus any wooden pilings or docks) that defined the real place where the final version of the slip once was, and then rewatering the whole thing. Ironically, that kind of destruction is the antithesis of preservation, but after a (metaphorically) bloody fight the preservationists carried the day and the result is a highly successful, albeit gentrified, version of the canal.
I have pondered this, and -- appropriate to this thread -- the use of the "Real Thing" slogan. As a campaign theme, it worked beautifully because the natural inclination is to assume that the opposite of the real thing is a fake thing. But this debate really was about two real things -- one grounded in the authenticity of the artifact, and the other in the authenticity of place. We do indeed choose the meanings we want, to make things real.
In retrospect, I am glad I lost (and am saying so in a a magazine this fall, in an essay on the importance of history and heritage in waterfront redevelopment). For what did take shape down there, in the real place, is a conceptual reconstruction that offers a far better chance to retell the stories of a rich and colorful and historically important district -- a better chance to highlight history and heritage. Ironically, in retirement now, I am writing scripts that are about to debut in that district as the voices of characters who lived and worked in that district, and who now will come to life and tell their stories once you use your smart phone to scan a plaque with a QR code.
In short, I'm no longer sure what the real thing is anymore, but willing to concede it might come in many forms and substances -- depending on what meaning we are willing to attribute to them to make them real.
Boston to Mass Maritime leg, assuming all of you haven't already used up all the real experiences by then.
On Mon, Jul 7, 2014 at 4:01 PM, Peter Whittemore <NoReply_Whittemore@fer3.com> wrote:
Response to third paragraph of yours:
A man named Nick Mullins, a fourth generation underground coal miner is currently travelling the country with his wife and two (8 and 10) sons, to educate people about the scourge of mountaintop removal coal mining practices. He was on Commonwealth Journal, a UMass radio show carried by WUMB last night, 7/6/14, and he spoke of recently bringing his family and effort to New Bedford. He said he was struck by a film shown in the basement of the Seamen's Bethel on the history of New Bedford, as it portrayed "The City That Lit the World". He was struck because currently the Coal Industry is using the slogan "We Keep the Lights On."
Mountain top removal is to the coal problem and the environment as factory ships with cannon fired exploding harpoons were to the whaling industry and the species decline. Interesting parallel and timing synchronicity, eh? I'd like to see his effort promoted and encouraged. Peter
Date: Mon, 7 Jul 2014 10:36:14 -0700
Subject: [38Talk] Re: Theseus' Ship; the Morgan; Fluid TextsView and reply to this messageResearch Fellow/Lecturer, Department of EnglishJamie L. JonesJamieWarm wishes,I look forward to continuing the conversation, and I look forward, too, to hearing much more about the Voyages yet to come!I'll be curious to hear how any of you perceived and experienced the confluence of the present and past on the Morgan, whether you perceived a sense of anachronism or of objects out of time. And, Michelle, please keep me in mind if you convene a conversation on Theseus' Morgan in Salem.Dear fellow Voyagers,I'm finding this conversation on Theseus' Ship and fluid texts very exciting, and I hope we'll have the opportunity to continue it in the future through this forum and others. I'm currently writing my first book, a scholarly monograph, on what I'm provisionally calling the cultural afterlife of the US industrial whaling industry. I chronicle representations of the whaling industry from its peak of productivity through its decline and commemoration, through the disciplinary perspectives of literary studies and visual culture. So these conversations on how we try to come into contact with the past are fascinating and really generative for my research.
I was a Voyager on the Newport-Martha's Vineyard leg (and how I wish that my time on the Morgan was still ahead of me!). I approached the ship with a strong desire to see what was "original"and "authentic." But I have to admit that I was captivated by the ways the ship has been fitted out for its 2014 voyage, and I wished I'd lingered in the engine room and in the hold, where C19 ship architecture and even some of that original framing comes into contact with C21 plumbing. I was reminded of what Marcel Duchamp said (or what was said about his work), that the "only works of art America has given are her plumbing and her bridges." Modernist snobbery aside, the plumbing in the hold of the Morgan IS a work of art.
University of Michigan