An ideal place where you can come face to face with the people of the Mayflower II, Plimoth Plantation and really see history come alive.
By Karen Rubin
“We work for the common wealth,” explains “John Carver” to a visitor aboard the Mayflower II. ”No one owns anything for seven years; for seven years, we are all equal, all the same. This ship was chartered for one adventure,” says the man who had just been elected Governor of the colony.
He patiently explains that he had been a wool merchant in Yorkshire, and then went to Holland in order to escape the Church of England. But after 12 years in Holland, he said, “I am English. I wanted to live on English soil. Our children were being taken in by Dutch ways.” Also, they were poor and feared they would be taken into the Army.”
On this particular visit to the Mayflower II, we were surprised and happy to see that the debate over whether it is better to have the costumed interpreters (who only can speak and answer questions from the perspective of their character and what that person would have known as of that date in 1621) or guides who can give a more complete answer to visitors’ questions, has been resolved: there are both costumed interpreters who are in the role of a specific historic figure, as well as a guide.
Scott, the modern-day guide, agreed that the Puritans came to the New World in quest of their own religious freedom, not for the concept of religious freedom; in fact, they had little tolerance for any others and expelled people from the community who did not adhere strictly to their rules and principles. He suggested that the reason they came to Plymouth (rather than where they were supposed to settle, according to the pact), was that they would be an independent colony, until 1690, when they were absorbed into the Massachusetts Bay Colony. “For 75 years, Plimoth Colony was its own colony-and that’s the way they wanted it.”
Discussing the ultimate “clash of cultures” that ensued, after the Wampanoags initially welcomed and helped the colonists, Scott reflected, “People did things for personal reasons�They made decisions from what knew at the time. It was not ignorance on the part of natives, nor malice on part of colonists. They came peaceably and opened door for millions. The natives were stone age-they didn’t have metal, didn’t have written language. They wanted the axes and kettles the Europeans brought and traded fur.”
The special exhibit currently on view at Plimoth Plantation focuses on “Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth and Meaning.” It discusses the myths that have evolved around the first American holiday, but more significantly, how what we know as “history” really reflects selective and subjective review. At the entrance to the exhibit is a warning, “Stereotypes ahead.” For example, in the representations of the first Thanksgiving, there are always a few Indians among many colonists; in fact, there were 90 Wampanoags and 52 pilgrims.
Plimoth Plantation is one of the best living history museums anywhere. As you leave the modern visitor center, you very literally cross the threshold into the 17th century and into an exact replica of the way the settlement looked. As you enter, the smell of smoke fills the air. You can see from the fort/church to the water.
I visit at John Howland’s home (the man who had fallen off the Mayflower in a storm but was rescued) and ask about the large drum that he has stored in a rafter. “It is used to summon the people; we meet in front of the Standish home and walk in twos.”
Plimoth Plantation is one of a few living history museums where enactors take on the role of a specific person (Conner Prairie, outside Indianapolis, takes on the roles of frontier people from 1860s, but they are not as well known). In Plymouth, the story has a beginning, and an end. It is easier to interpret because so much of it is already known about the people involved, rather than just the time period.
We notice many international visitors to the Plantation-Japanese, Italian, German, English.
At Hobbamock’s (Wampanoag) Homesite, the interpreters are native Americans including Wampanoags who explain life at the native settlement just outside the Plimoth Plantation walls, but they do not take on the role of specific people and do not speak solely from that time. That is because the written history of the time was all from the Pilgrim perspective, and because the natives, today, prefer to be able to talk about 400 years of history, and not just 1627 (when Indians were relatively happy). One native is explaining that white women who had been captured by Indians but who the tribe wanted to return, had to be forcibly removed from the tribe because they had a better life among the natives.
(Admission is: Mayflower II–$8/adult, $6/child; Plimoth Plantation–$20, $12; combination–$22, $14. Mayflower II is located at State Pier on the Plymouth waterfront; Plimoth Plantation is located three miles south, on Rte. 3A, 508-746-1622, www.plimoth.org).
A few days later, we sit at breakfast at the Water Street Cafe with Paula Fisher, the director of Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau, who had worked at Plimoth Plantation for 13 years-several of them in the character of Julianna Carpenter, Alice Bradford and Goodwife Cook, and whose husband we have already met, as the character of John Carver. It is not until we are about to part, as we are walking along the path leading to the Jenney Gristmill that she mentions that she is actually a Mayflower descendent, of Isaac Allerton as well as William Brewster (indeed, almost one-third of the interpreters at Plimoth are descendent of the original Mayflower Pilgrims); when she returned to Plymouth after living abroad for four years, she wound up living (ironically) on Allerton Street. She regularly joins in the “Pilgrims Progress” march, with others dressed in period dress, from the Mayflower Society House to Plymouth Rock.
The Pilgrim Progress was instituted by the Town of Plymouth in 1921 in honor of its Pilgrim Founders. The march takes place every Friday in August (starting at 5:30pm from The Mayflower Society House on North Street) and also an integral part of the Town’s celebration of Thanksgiving Day. Each marcher represents one of the 52 survivors of the first winter of 1620-21 (508-224-2063).
Thanksgiving events in Plymouth start the Friday before Thanksgiving.
John Carver Inn
The John Carver Inn, named for the first Governor, is ideal for families coming into Plymouth. It offers a classy (colonial) ambiance that you would want to really get into the spirit of Plymouth, yet is extremely comfortable and has fabulous resort-style amenities that include an incredible indoor water park, an ideal location walking distance to just about everything (including a block away from a public skate board park), a superb restaurant, outstanding service, and extremely good value.
Its absolutely best asset is the Pilgrim Cove Indoor Theme Pool, with a fantastic 40-foot water slide that spirals out from a life-size re-creation of the bow of the Mayflower, waterfalls, an attached lap pool (you can really swim in), an eight-person hot tub embedded in a replica of the 1620 Plymouth Rock), a stunning mural of the arrival of the pilgrims, two saunas, and outdoor terrace.
The indoor waterpark is an ideal respite after the kids have been dutifully visiting at the more educational attractions, as an evening entertainment, and in inclement weather. In fact, the John Carver Inn has singularly turned Plymouth into a year-round destination (I can especially imagine fall, Thanksgiving and Christmas here).
The Inn also offers a state-of-the-art health club with locker rooms and private showers and an arcade.
The 79 guest rooms and six new luxury suites are all furnished in Colonial decor; the guest rooms also have Internet access and video game connection, individual climate control. Eleven of the rooms have four-poster beds. The suites have Jacuzzi tub, working fireplaces and hand-painted mural. It is worth noting that all the rooms have King Koil mattresses, which offer exceptional comfort.
The Catania family which owns and operates the John Carver Inn (as well as the Daniel Webster in Sandwich and the Cape Codder Resort in Hyannis which we have also enjoyed) is even more famous for their fabulous chain of Hearth & Kettle Restaurants, from Weymouth to Orleans. The Hearth & Kettle at the John Carver Inn is a lovely room, like a colonial tavern (complete with flintlock rifles on the mantle), and the trademark menu, with enough variety to satisfy every member of the family, excellent preparations, large portions and great value. Hearty breakfasts might include baked sweet potato �n’cranberry pancake or a lobster and tomato omelette; a signature burger includes portabello mushrooms; delectable lobster chowder and clam chowder are always on the menu. You will also find fresh-caught local seafood, lobsters, prime rib, pasta and freshly baked breads and pastries.
The Inn has six function rooms for meetings, seminars, weddings, anniversaries and social functions that can accommodate 10 to 200 guests.
We appreciated finding complimentary coffee served in the lobby in the morning.
Located on Summer Street, the John Carver Inn is directly across from Brewster Gardens and the John Jenney Gristmill, just below the Town Square, and within walking distance of the waterfront and major attractions, as well as a very pleasant Main Street with shops and restaurants. There are also nearby jogging trails, tennis courts, private golf course, walking and bicycling paths, and a skateboard park.
Peak season (mid-June through mid-October) room rates are $159-$209 midweek and $179-$229 weekends for lodging only; a family vacation package, which provides two nights lodging and three $10 dinner vouchers for the same period is $309-$409 midweek, and $349-$449 weekends (children under 18 stay free with adults). Room rates fall to $129 from Oct. 17-Nov. 27, and $99 from Nov. 28, 2004 to Apr 7, 2005.
“Passport to History Packages” include two nights accommodation, four full breakfasts, two $10 dinner allowances; admission to Plimoth Plantation and the Mayflower II, choice of admission to Splashdown, Trolley tour or Colonial Lantern Tour, and choice of admission to National Wax Museum or Pilgrim Hall Museum. The peak season rate (mid-June to mid-October) is $436-$634 weekdays, and $472-$670 weekends; from Oct. 17-Nov. 20, the package rate is $382-$580 weekends and $418-$616 weekends (John Carver Inn, 25 Summer St., Plymouth, MA 02360, 508-746-7100, 800-274-1620, www.JohnCarverInn.com).
We also discovered that Plymouth is a sensational hub for combining day trips into Boston or onto Cape Cod. There are several choices for going into Boston: a commuter train or a bus leave from Plymouth and nearby Kingston; you can also drive to Braintree or Quincy Adams, take advantage of commuter parking lots just off Route 3 highway, and take the “T” (like our subway) right into downtown.
From Plymouth, the Cape is an easy 20 minute drive over the Sagamore Bridge (just over the bridge is Sandwich, a historic village where you can visit Heritage Plantation, a beautiful public beach, the Dexter Grist Mill and Sandwich Glass Museum, among others, or, in a different direction, go towards Falmouth and Wood’s Hole to visit the research center); or, you can take the 10 a.m. ferry from State Pier to Provincetown for a delightful daytrip that should definitely include a visit to the Expedition Whydah Sea Lab and Learning Center, just at the pier.
We have spoken often about how ideal Plymouth is as a family getaway-fun, but with a more substantial purpose-but the quality of the attractions and the logistics make it ideal for a “grandtravel” experience-a place where grandparents can take their grandkids. Somehow, history seems less abstract.
For further information, contact Destination Plymouth, 170 Water Street, Plymouth, MA, 800-USA-1620,www.visit-plymouth.com, or Plymouth County Convention & Visitors Bureau, 32 Court St., Plymouth MA 02360, 800-292-4145, www.seeplymouth.com.
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