all photos by Mystic Seaport
No snow is visible when I step from bright lights onto the dim streets of Greenmanville. It is Christmas Eve 1876 in this world of sailing ships and village life. Docked ships, buildings, and trees are barely visible but sparkling light reflects across the Mystic River. Our guide, Miss Mawdsley, holds a lantern in each hand and invites me and a few others to follow. She draws attention to the tiny tree atop a nearby fishing schooner mast. Sailors who will be in port for Christmas decorate their ships this way. The sound of sleigh bells and the clop clop of horse hooves draw near. A beautiful draft horse and carriage arrive for us.
Miss. Mawdsley shares stories of her own family’s Christmas traditions and how her little sister has been influenced by children’s author Hans Christian Anderson. She engages in pleasant chatter while we make our way toward a gentleman’s athletic contest that very evening. The air is crisp. We continue on foot and our path takes us along cobblestones, plus up and down stairs at the church, tavern, and other buildings.
A variety of colorful, pleasant characters in each location share Christmas traditions unfamiliar to modern folks. The Sprague sisters’ competition for telling the scariest ghost stories at Christmas when “no spirit dare stir abroad” (Hamlet by Shakespeare) charms and entertains. Miss Mercy and Miss Sarah share freshly-baked spice cookies then wish us success in solving a puzzle which threatens holiday plans for visiting sailors. Cheerful calls of “Merry Christmas” are exchanged with other townsfolk. Beautiful evergreen wreaths and swags adorn buildings to create a festive air. Even with strategic lantern placement, it helps to follow the bobbing light of our guide and carefully watch each irregular step.
All of us visitors participate in a lively circle dance to the local constable’s fiddle playing and we meet Madame Racozzi, a Victorian Spiritualist. By following the clues provided by Madame, we visit the lower deck of the magnificent whaling ship Charles W. Morgan. On board we meet a jolly, mysterious fellow whose countenance warms our chilly bones. The true Spirit of the Holiday is alive and well in this nautical village and our time together passes quickly. We return to our modern world with a helping of Christmas cheer.
Lantern Light Tours at Mystic Seaport are appropriate for ages 4 and up and sell out every year. A different story is portrayed each year. A Christmas Ghost Story was written by local historian and author Rebecca Bayreuther Donohue. Countless volunteers make this immersion theater event into a family-friendly delight. Costumes and wigs are superb and all the sets are historically-accurate. In addition to memorized script, each character displays applied knowledge of 1876 Greenmanville and its occupants. Individual and group interaction with characters is part of the fun. Many of the charming townsfolk re-appear each year for this seasonal event and more than a few work at the Seaport year ‘round.
Lantern Light Tours Info
2017 Dates: November 24-25, December 1-2, 8-9, 15-17, and 22-23
Two different tours begin every 15 minutes from 5:00 – 8:45 p.m. certain evenings and 5:00 – 10:00 p.m. other evenings through December 23rd. Red tours visit the Charles W. Morgan while green tours visit the L. A. Dunton. Tours average 70-75 minutes.
Advanced reservations are necessary and available at MysticSeaport.org or by calling 860-572-0711. Beginning this year, wheelchairs may be accommodated for most activities except the carriage ride. Please call the office for details.
Pro Tip 1: Wear really sturdy shoes and dress warmly in layers for ½ mile of walking. Surfaces are irregular and participants walk or stand for most of the 70 minute show.
Pro Tip 2: No food or drink is allowed on the tour and electronics must be hidden & quiet to preserve the historic atmosphere.
Pro Tip 3: Enjoy a bite of food or shopping at local stores while you’re in Mystic.