After sailing triumphantly up the Acushnet River last week, the restored 19th century whale ship Charles W. Morgan on Saturday was officially welcomed home by the City of New Bedford. The vessel was built in the city in 1841, and it helped launch New Bedford as the capital of the whaling industry. Although it’s been docked at Mystic Seaport in Connecticut for the past 73 years, many New Bedford residents still think the historic ship belongs to their city.
The scene was like a prodigal child finally reunited with a grateful family. The Charles W. Morgan – the last American whaling ship -- is back at what many say is her rightful home port, and the City of New Bedford is pulling out all the stops to welcome her.
Gail Dahlberg of South Dartmouth cheered right along with the hundreds of others who attended the event at State Pier.
“I think it’s absolutely fascinating. We’re privileged to live at Round Hill, which is where the Charles W. Morgan resided at one point in time,” Dahlberg said.
Many locals know the Morgan’s history – how Col. Edward Greene transported the Morgan to his families’ estate at Round Hill in South Dartmouth, where he spent $100,000 of the family fortune restoring it and opening it up to the public. But when Colonel Greene died in 1936, the ship’s future was uncertain.
“Unfortunately, Colonel Greene didn’t leave enough money in a trust to take care of it,” said Dahlberg.
New Bedford was in the depths of the Depression, and didn’t have the resources to pay for the Morgan’s upkeep. So the difficult decision was made to give the historic whaling vessel to what would become Mystic Seaport in Connecticut
Losing the Morgan to Mystic all those years ago was a body blow to New Bedford, even if the city didn’t have the money back then to save her. But most people in the crowd on Saturday praised the work of the Mystic shipwrights, carpenters and other craftsmen who spent the last 5-1/2 years bringing the Morgan back to life, and allowing her to sail once again back to the city of her birth. State Senator Mark Montigny also gave credit to Mystic.
“It’s taken 73 years to heal the old wound with Mystic, and you did it in one fell swoop,” Montigny said.
US Senator Elizabeth Warren echoed many of the speakers who said the Morgan not only symbolizes New Bedford’s heritage, but also the city’s move into new energy initiatives.
“It’s is great to welcome the Charles W. Morgan home,” Sen. Warren remarked. “It is a reminder that New Bedford was the city that lit the world. And that’s gonna happen again. We’re here to celebrate New Bedford’s past, but also New Bedford’s future. New Bedford is gonna be home to wind energy that is going to help light the world again.”
Lois Mulcahey lives in Virginia with her three daughters, but she grew up in New Bedford in the 1930’s, and used to play on the Morgan while it sat on a beach at Colonel Greene’s Round Hill estate. She was amazed to see the ship fully restored.
“When I was there, it was old, and beaten up. No sails, of course, and embedded in the sand. It just looked kind of abandoned. But we went on it often. And any time relatives came from Boston to visit us, we would always take them there, and they would love to go on it too,” said Mulcahey.
Mulcahey says Greene was very gracious about granting people access both to his beach, and the old ship.
“I remember being down below at the Captain’s table. There was a lamp up there above us that swung. And I remember wooden cubbyholes on the side that we used to like to climb into. And I think that maybe was where the sailors slept,” she recalled..
The Charles W. Morgan of Lois’s memory is much different from the pristinely restored vessel sitting quietly at its berth along the Acushnet River. But even though most of the Morgan’s timbers, sails and rigging are new, the soul of this historic vessel remains very much intact.
As Mayor Mitchell raised the City of New Bedford flag on deck, two descendants of whalers -- Daniel Rodriguez and Bruce Gamaranzo -- rang the Morgan’s bell 38 times to commemorate its 38 voyages. And with that, the official ceremony ended, and an eager public was finally allowed on board.