It’s a gross day in Plymouth Massachusetts, the last humid gasp of summer before the leaves change. As my microphone and I hunch under an umbrella on our way into the lobby of Plimoth Plantation, paying guests are fleeing through the rain in the other direction back towards their cars.
Charles (Host): Hi Tom
Charles: Nice to meet you
Tom: You too
Charles: (sarcastically) Nice day
Tom: Yeah perfect, thanks for coming in.
It’s the kind of day you probably don’t want to see when you’re running an outdoor museum.
Tom Begley: So my name’s Tom Begley, I am the executive liaison for administration, research, and special projects here at Plimoth Plantaiton. I work with the chief historian on the various exhibits and writing projects here at the museum.
Plimoth Plantation is a living history museum 3 miles south of Plymouth Town Center – from the lobby where Tom Begley and I meet, visitors can take a journey into the past, visiting a Native American Wampanoag village and a reproduction of the Plymouth colony in 1627, seven years after its founding.
Rather than plunge back out into the storm, Tom and I sit down in a side room off the museum lobby to talk all things Pilgrims. On the table in front of us is a stack of books about the Mayflower II, the replica of the Pilgrim’s famous vessel, built in the mid-1950s and managed by Plimoth Plantation.
Tom: Mayflower II and Plimoth Plantation have been linked form the earliest days. Plimoth Plantaiton was founded in 1947 for the purpose of building a full-scale replica English village, and one of the earliest ideas of our founder Henry Hornblower II was to include a full scale reproduction of the Mayflower.
Each book on the table tells a fascinating part of the story of how Hornblower’s dream became reality.
For example, there’s one in there from William Avery Baker, the American naval architect who Hornblower hired in 1951.
Tom: He was to set out to research and design, create plans for the full-scale reproduction of a ship the size and type of a 17th century merchant vessel. He started publishing his own plans, he would write them in a magazine called the American Neptune.
There’s another one in the stack from Warwick Charlton, the Englishman who founded Project Mayflower.
Tom: Warwick had served in the British army under Montgomery, he wrote the Army newspaper. And as he’s coming home from World War II, he decided he wanted to create something that lived up this relationship that was struck between the Americans and the British during the war. And he was reading William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation, and Bradford has the line ‘our fathers were Englishmen,’ and that struck a chord with Warwick because there he saw this connection between America and England in his eyes that really they come from this similar story.
That book is on the table too by the way, Governor Bradford’s history of his colony, and I mean it would pretty much have to be. The museum is named after it after all, complete with Bradford’s spelling of the colony’s name - P-L-I-M-O-T-H. Governor Bradford writes (and Warwick Charlton read):
"May not and ought not the children of these fathers rightly say: Our fathers were Englishmen which came over this great ocean, and were ready to perish in this wilderness…"
This book, Of Plimoth Plantation, is what binds the other two together. There both authors were in early 50s, the architect and the journalist, on opposite sides of the Atlantic, thinking about this ship, dreaming up ways to pull what little bit of it remained in those pages and put it in the water.
(Iconography theme music plays)
This is Iconography, and I’m Charles Gustine your guide on this tour of icons real and imagined. This is part two in our series on the Mayflower, which yes, is titled Mayflower II.
That’s where I ended last episode – standing next to Mayflower II, the full-size reproduction of the vessel that brought the first colonial settlers to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1620. Let’s resume our tour right there: in a cavernous tent in Mystic Seaport, Connecticut where the Mayflower II is being labored over by historic shipbuilders who are giving the now 62-year-old replica ship a new lease on life; soon, she’ll be returning to Plymouth Bay for the commemoration of Plymouth’s 400th year, where she’ll be the star of the show. Visitors will once again be able to climb aboard, and there will be a lot of visitors in 2020, roaming below decks, running their fingers over banisters and along masts, feeling closer to history because they can hold it in their hands.
But for right now, Mayflower II is up on dry land, piled high with the tools of the shipbuilding trade, no masts or sails on it, and while it’s okay to step into the tent and see how progress on the renovation is going, visits to Mayflower II must be conducted from a safe distance. Which is kind of killing me as I’m standing here on the viewing platform.
I mentioned last episode that this trip to Mystic Seaport to be in the presence of Mayflower II actually took on the sheen of a pilgrimage for me, because of how complex the historical legacy of the Pilgrims is and how long I’ve been wrestling with that legacy and how much I convinced myself that seeing Mayflower II would help me reckon with all of that as I try to tie a bow on this chapter of Iconography. And it is helping me to finally behold it, but I also… really want to hold it. I want very badly to reach out and touch the Mayflower.
Part 1: Beholding a Mayflower
Wanting to reach out and touch history is a pretty natural impulse; engaging our fifth sense helps us connect with the past in ways that our other senses don’t. But there’s a major problem with touching history: either the piece of history no longer exists outside of descriptions and paintings… or remarkably it does still exist, but it won’t exist much longer if people start poking and prodding it with their coarse, germy hands. History is fragile.
To illustrate that point, here’s a story about touching history that the Pilgrims would have known from their youths spent in Elizabethan England.
There once was a ship that everyone wanted to visit. It had made an incredible voyage that spoke to the parts of a nation’s history that its citizens wanted desperately to celebrate, and so they came from near and far to see it and take a piece of it home with them. But there was no souvenir shop at the Golden Hinde; the pieces they were taking was from the hallowed ship itself.
This was the Golden Hinde, the ship Sir Francis Drake used to inadvertently circumnavigate the world as, from 1577 to 1580, he chased down a Spanish galleon and was then chased in turn, his holds bursting with plundered treasure. This is a story our Pilgrim fathers and mothers, most born in the 1580s and 1590s, would have grown up on, their bedtime story of English might taming the vast seas. Throughout their young lives at the turn of the seventeenth century, one of the greatest secular pilgrimages they could have made was to Deptford to see the Golden Hinde in all its splendor, in a dry-walled dock, where it had been preserved as a museum ship by a very proud Queen Elizabeth I. There you, the young English boy or girl, could tread the Hinde’s boards, stand where Drake had stood; if your parents were wealthy enough, they could rent out Drake’s well-appointed cabin for a banquet and eat from his table.
A version of this experience is still (proverbially) on the table for you, visitor to the UK, today in the 21st century. I first encountered the Golden Hinde two years ago when I began writing episode one of this podcast, crawling around all the nooks and crannies of the district of Southwark in the immediate vicinity of London Bridge.
I did a good deal of my writing for that episode in a cafe just around the corner from the southwest end of the bridge – through the bustling foodstalls of Borough Market, past stately Southwark Cathedral. Which meant I was constantly in the presence of the Golden Hinde, which sits across the way from the coffee shop in a little dock just off the Thames.
This all sounds right up my alley, but, meh, the Golden Hinde never did much for me. I never paid the admission to tread its boards. Because of course, the one that’s docked near London Bridge today isn’t that same Golden Hinde the Pilgrims would have known and visited. It is a replica ship, built in the 1970s, very much inspired by the celebrity journey of the Mayflower replica from the 1950s.
I have a tough time getting excited for a replica. There’s something so transporting about being in the presence of the original “something”, seeing and holding the same object that once was held by the icon in question. That spark doesn’t usually carry over when you’re touching a reconstruction. But what we lose, future generations gain. The very act of interacting with an original historical artifact, if one is available, usually damages that artifact. Sometimes even our presence is enough. Our warm, carbony breath would damage the ancient Lascaux cave paintings in France, so a replica cave has been meticulously painted for visitors to enjoy; at the popular Vasa museum in Stockholm, Sweden the lights and temperature are set low in an attempt to preserve the once-sunken 1620s warship Vasa, but probably not low enough; our interactions with the ship, and the conditions that allow us to see it, mean there may not be a ship for future generations to see.
This is what happened to the original Golden Hinde, albeit much more quickly in an age less enlightened about preservation. The original Hinde and the original Mayflower both transitioned from seaworthy ships to scraps of timber around the same time, but for very different reasons. Where the Mayflower, a few years after returning from Massachusetts, was likely broken up into support beams and chairs because an unremarkable ship had run its course and hey, that’s good wood, why let it go to waste… the Hinde was broken up because it was sacred wood, and people just couldn’t keep their hands off. As historian Matthew A. Green recounts in London: A Travel Guide Through Time during his time-jump to Deptford in 1613:
“As with the Berlin Wall in 1989 there is the same sense that the Hinde is palpable history – so help yourself to a chunk like everyone else. In five years’ time there will only be fragments left; in 1618 a visitor will liken her to the bleached skeleton of a horse.”
By the late 1600s, all that remained of the ship was a single chair.
All of which has helped me understand that replicas are important and necessary. I like them, but I still don’t love them. They don’t make my heart race. With one exception. The Mayflower II.
It’s not pure love that sets my heart racing; I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I also feel a bit stressed standing here in the shadow of a hulking reproduction of the ship that carried our Pilgrim forefathers.
Since Mayflower II is being renovated, I can see parts of the ship that so rarely get seen. I can stand beside the keel that would typically sit well below the waterline… a fitting perspective because I am drowning in that mild anxiety that overtakes me when I remember that they’re not exactly my forefathers.
I’ve really struggled over the past few episodes with how to capture the essence of these long ago heroic figures who up and left their own continent to live their lives the way they wanted to on the other side of the world. I want to convey how much I admire them. They were brave, and they weren’t as tolerant as we sometimes make them out to be, but they were surprisingly tolerant in pleasing ways, and, despite their reputation for being solemn and dull, they were interesting. They’re fun to learn about. They’re fun to spend time with.
I also want to convey how much we – the collective we, the centuries and centuries of we that came in their wake – have distorted them, misunderstood them, dressed them up in weird clothes and made them say things they would have hated. We’ve blown them up into icons when they were just people. And - this is may be sacrilegious for someone who makes a podcast about icons to say – people are much more interesting than icons. They’re complex, and flawed, and beautiful. In contrast, icons can frequently be flat and worn down, the way a sword that’s used too much is dulled. And as an American, I feel a strong push and pull with this icon, the Mayflower, and the way it’s used.
There’s this moment in season 5 of the turn-of-the-millennium television show Gilmore Girls that I’ve thought about a lot over this past year of studying the Mayflower. Rory Gilmore was raised by a mother who left her wealthy Hartford Connecticut family behind to raise her daughter in a quirky small town, and in this episode, Rory is insulted by the even more wealthy family of her new boyfriend Logan Huntzberger. She wasn’t raised to cope with what a Huntzberger needs to do, Logan’s family sneers, she wasn’t bred for it, she comes from a different world.
Logan Huntzberger: Okay let's go.
And as Logan storms out of his family manor with Rory in tow, she says pitifully:
Rory Gilmore: Why don’t they think I’m good enough? Logan: Rory… Rory: I mean I’m a Gilmore, do they know that? My ancestors came over on the Mayflower!”
It’s not the classiest thing Rory could have said there. She counters the Huntzburgers outlandish classism with some bratty, defensive classism of her own. Rory Gilmore doesn’t defend her mother’s work ethic, her humble upbringing, or her own inherent value. Instead she doubles down on the one thing about herself she can’t control, the one thing that has had virtually no influence on her life – her ancestry, her ahem breeding.
This is why it can be kind of hard to embrace the Pilgrims – maybe that’s just me. It’s not anything they did; it’s what we’ve done with them. It’s like… Their ship the Mayflower isn’t famous because it was a ship, it’s famous because it was a seed, blown here on the wind, and upon the rock where that seed landed, something grew. An idea, a democracy, a nation. This is a quasi-absurd notion for all sorts of reasons which we’ve covered extensively in past episodes, but still, in spite of that, this icon has a nearly unshakable hold on us. It means something to have some connection to that seed somewhere in you – to say, my family tree grew from that seed.
It seems like it means something.
Of course, most people who are descendants of Mayflower passengers don’t talk about it like Rory Gilmore does – let’s give her a pass, she had a really rough evening when she blurted that out, and also she’s fictional. Tens of millions of real people can trace their descent back 13 or 14 or 15 generations to the 102 passengers on the Mayflower, which is doubly surprising when you consider that nearly half of those passengers died within months of arriving, significantly reducing the gene pool. A lot can happen in those intervening generations, and so: many of those millions don’t look anything like what you’d expect a Bradford or an Alden or a Standish descendant to look like… many live in faraway lands and have for centuries… and many, the majority, have no idea that at one point one of their great great (imagine me saying great thirteen more times) grandparents - actually probably way more than one because I mean it was a small colony – sailed on this piddly merchant ship called the Mayflower. They just don’t know that piece of trivia about themselves.
Maybe I’m one of them. I doubt it. I’m pretty sure my ancestors did not come over on the Mayflower. They came over on later ships, much later. And yet, that seed, that idea is still a part of me. I don’t know how it got in there, but I wouldn’t know how to get rid of it if I tried. I couldn’t just move to London and stop being American - believe me, I know from experience.
There’s something for me there – on that ship, in those passengers. It’s not going to show up in an ancestry.com search, but I know it’s there.
The Mayflower II stands in for all of that, kind of by default – the Mayflower is long gone, the passengers are too, but this simulation feels real enough to act as a vessel for all those feelings. There she is, in the hands of dedicated craftspeople shepherding her into the next chapter of her own story… but not in my hands. Not yet, not for another year or so. Unless I… just reach up and… No. I turn and walk out of the tent, drive back from Mystic Seaport. I’ll need to use my other senses for now.
Part 2: Imagining a Mayflower
Last episode, we spent a lot of time looking at the Mayflower II, but mostly as a means of exploring the impulse to connect with the past through an object like this. This episode, I think it’s important to connect with the past OF this object. Because the Mayflower II has a fascinating history in its own right.
Mayflower II was a gift. Let’s start there. It was presented to the American people as thanks for the assistance they provided to their British allies during World War II, which was actually quite a trendy thing to do in the decade following the war.
In 1948, Americans sent the Friendship Train to France, 700 boxcars filled with relief supplies. The next year, France reciprocated, sending the Merci Train to New York – 49 boxcars filled with gifts, one for each of the 48 states, plus one for D.C. and Hawaii to share.
In 1947, the city of Oslo, Norway sent a stately spruce tree to the people of Britain as thanks for protecting their king during the war; they still do this annually, providing London with its showstopping Trafalgar Square Christmas tree every holiday season.
By the 1950s, World War II gifts weren’t uncommon, but the Mayflower Project was an eyebrow-raising undertaking all the same, because it would require way more than one tree to build a Mayflower replica and sail it to the American public. This was going to be a very ambitious, very expensive gift.
It was the brainchild of Warwick Charlton, a journalist from London who had been a press officer under the command of Field Marshal Bernard Montgomery in North Africa. This meant Charlton – who published groundbreaking free newspapers like the 8th Army News for fellow troops on any random printing press he could find – had a front row seat on the front line, seeing just how thoroughly outmatched the British were by the Germans and their general Erwin Rommel, and just how much of a difference it made when President Roosevelt and the United States, still not officially in the war, found ways to help.
British man: So what he saw in real time, the army which he was serving on having their butts kicked by the Germans because the Germans had better equipment right? And then all of a sudden Sherman tanks started arriving. And other equipment which put the British on an equal footing with the Germans and with that American support the battle was turned around literally, and from retreat retreat retreat retreat, suddenly it was pushing the Germans back across North Africa, then into Italy, and then the rest is history.
This is Warwick’s son, Randal Charlton, who was born during the early years of World War II and who was a teenager trying to get into university when his father sailed from Plymouth, England to Plymouth, Massachusetts in 1957 on board Mayflower II. That voyage and that ship represented the culmination of years working tirelessly to give Americans back a piece of their heritage as a gesture of gratitude and as a reminder that Britain and America weren’t just wartime allies – their histories were intertwined.
Randal Charlton: When he was returning back from the end of the war he was on an American troop ship, he went down to the library of the ship to try and find something and all he could find was Reader's Digests and Bradford's journal.
That would be Governor William Bradford’s memoir Of Plimoth Plantation.
Randal: And he read Bradford's journal and he read about the Mayflower Compact in which you know these guys for the first time they arrived in near where you are now which was outside the province of the king.
"…Do by these Presents, solemnly and mutually, in the Presence of God and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil Body Politick, for our better Ordering and Preservation, and Furtherance of the Ends aforesaid….
Randal: And Warwick thought this Compact was an important piece of history.
"…such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Officers, from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general Good of the Colony…"
Randal: He wanted to give voice to those early stage stirrings of democracy you know where people could get their heads chopped off for doing what the Pilgrims did.
"…in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord King James, of England, France, and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth, Anno Domini; 1620."
Warwick Charlton was an unlikely leader of a movement to present America with an exacting replica of the Mayflower. He was not a member of any Pilgrim Society, of which there were multiple prominent examples in the UK. He was not a government official or diplomat. He wasn’t wealthy or famous or even remotely familiar with either the business world or nautical engineering.
Randal: He knew nothing about sailing ships. Not a thing. He was a Fleet Street journalist. He was paid like a lot of people in those days in cash. He didn't own a house. He didn't have a bank account. The most valuable thing he had was a wristwatch. He was basically just a regular Joe you know. The extraordinary thing he managed to do was actually raise enough money to build and sail a replica of the Mayflower across to the United States in the 1950s when there was still rationing of things like wood and a whole bunch of other materials and you had to take permission to leave the country with more than 10 pounds in your pocket. And he did it in almost two years from a standing start. And as he very often said to me "I said sail pretty close to the wind at time." (laughs)
Which raises a pretty natural question: why? Why did someone with no proven business acumen take on a massive construction project during the post-war economic downturn?
Randal: Right… Very good question. Let's start with why he took it on, he had no intention of taking it on.
Well okay then! Randal explains further: Warwick would have been more than happy to have just been the idea man who whispered the word "Mayflower" into some wealthy person’s ear and let them get to work.
Randal: He tried through all his rich contacts to interest various people and he found he could get them really interested over a liquid lunch and then they'd go back to their offices and talk to their accountants who would say look you had too much to drink, go home and let's talk about it tomorrow. So he could never get anybody to buy it and long story short one day he thought to hell with it. I'm going to do it myself. And he just announced he would do it. And then over the next two years it consumed his entire life.
Randal and I are meeting over FaceTime so that he can show me the various Mayflower II artifacts that he inherited from his father, a testament to the years Warwick gave over to his Mayflower. Though I’ll have to wait to see some of the collection.
Randal: I've got several hundred newspaper cuttings of the time - it may actually be more, it may be a thousand or more - on big sheets and it's downstairs in my basement which I'll show you when we get to know each other because it's not the most you know it hasn't got a bar and a pool table or anything like that. It's just got file cabinet after file cabinet. And (muffled) and a laundry my wife has just said.
Randal has brought plenty up to the dining room table to show off though, and he starts rifling through his collection and pulling treasures in frame so I can see them. Like a navy-blue necktie that Warwick had made which is speckled with adorable little Mayflower ships.
Randal: He produced a bunch of these and it's the oldest tie in my wardrobe and I wear it every Thanksgiving right.
Charles: Yes of course.
Randal: And you see it's beautifully produced with a nice but probably not modern fashion but that's something that was the fashion of the day.
Pshhh, whatever I want one of those ties, I’d wear it!
Randal pulls out item after item emblazoned with stylized versions of the Mayflower – commemorative medallions, event programs, souvenir books, colorful pennants, gorgeous china plates, all artifacts of a time in the 1950s when both the American and British public were whipped into an abrupt Mayflower Mania that climaxed in the arrival of the Mayflower II in Plymouth on June 13, 1957, a crowd of 25,000 cheering on the crew and their captain, spiffed up in black and buckles. The whole affair was a site to behold; one of the crew members on board the ship that beheld it wrote in his journal that night:
“It seemed half America was out to greet us and welcome us and stare curiously at our garb. I’m sure everyone in Plymouth had taken the day off.”
Randal has a special piece of memorabilia focused on that day.
Randal: Ok. Now I'm going to put the phone down because I want to get out these pictures of Mayflower Mail to show you one of these.
Randal’s wife helpfully picks up the phone and points it at her husband while he pulls out a yellowed newspaper
Randal: Can you see that one?
This is the fourth issue of Mayflower Mail, a periodical dedicated to updates on the Mayflower II Project that Warwick put out to fundraise and drum up interest in the ship. On the front cover, an excited headline reading HERE SHE IS!…
Charles: Here She Is!
Randal: There she is!
…sits below a picture of the ship bobbing in open water and above a picture of the crow’s nest.
I ask Randal how his father circulated the early issues of Mayflower Mail, and he tells me a story that illustrates the somewhat mischievous ways Warwick had of getting people thinking about the Mayflower.
Randal: He went to the boat show which was held at the biggest arena in London every year. He took a booth. He dressed his office staff - he had two ladies working for him - in Pilgrim costumes. And what he would do, if the traffic at his booth got slow, he would go up to the announcer who was saying which boat was getting an award for being this that or the other right?
Randal: And he would say would you broadcast an urgent message? And he would make up a name put “Fred Smith to go to the Mayflower Mail booth 234 for an urgent message” right? Of course that would also draw other people "what's this Mayflower Mail about?"
As anticipation for the project built, and as the ship itself got built in the Upham Shipyard in Brixham, about an hour’s drive from the Plymouth where the ship would depart from, lookey-loos began to gather. What shipbuilder Stuart Upham saw as a potential distraction…
Randal: Stuart Upham said "Warwick I've got a problem. People have found out I'm building this old ship and I'm getting people coming across the bay and they're holding up the work, we're having to answer questions all the time!"
…Warwick saw as a revenue stream that could help to pay off some of the debts the project was already accruing.
Randal: He then sent his office staff down to Plymouth, had them dressed up again in Pilgrim costumes. He built a little Pilgrim hut and he started charging people two shillings.
This worked so well as both a fundraiser and as a publicity engine, that Warwick came up with a plan to make sure the boat had visitors ever day, even the one day of the week people weren’t showing up.
Randal: Now the only day when there were no visitors was Sunday so Warwick thought OK we've got to have something going on Sunday.
Warwick reached out to various denominations – Church of England, Catholic, Methodist, Salvation Army – and offered up the Mayflower shipyard as a particularly evocative place of worship.
Randal: The vicars would turn up and would have a shipyard service. There would be singing. The congregation would turn up. And again there would be donations to the Mayflower and the signing of the book and so on.
The book. Everyone who visited the shipyard was required to sign the book – actually many books– that would make their way over on to America on the ship. Hundreds of thousands of signatures, and they didn’t just collect dust. Warwick used them too.
Randal: At the end of each day, he perused the people who had signed. And if someone had come from Kansas say, he would send a press release to the Kansas papers. You know about so-and-so visiting the ship and it's going to sail the next week. Or it would be someone from Glasgow. And he would make it as local as he could. You know we're using rope bought from the famous Glasgow shipyard ship rope builders or whatever it was you know.
Warwick let no opportunity pass because he didn’t have the luxury of passing opportunities up. The entire Mayflower Project was always liable to crumble if Warwick let up off the throttle for even one moment. He cobbled together the money to build Mayflower II from donations, from fundraising, and even from corporations - he pioneered the concept of corporate sponsorships, reaching out to companies with a pretty radical proposal:
Randal: Fill a treasure chest which is going to be designed by one of the best furniture makers in the country -and he picked a company in Glasgow to make them - fill them with your products whether you're a lace maker, a shoe maker, a jewelry maker whatever it is. And those products will go across on the Mayflower in the treasure chest.
Even the journey itself was up for sale – media entities were willing to pay for the exclusive rights to cover what happened on the boat.
Randal: One of the mistakes he made in the early days he was desperate for money and Life came along and said look we're not sure you're ever gonna get this thing built but we'll give you a thousand quid for exclusive coverage. Right? He took the thousand quid. Fast forward, Paris Match you know the major French newspaper said look we'd like to go on the ship and we'll give you ten thousand pounds.
Charles: Oh no! (laughs)
Randal: So (laughs) Warwick thought “What the hell can I do here. Well I've given Life exclusive rights for the ship when it set sail. But it's got to have a little sea trial first…” So he took the money from Paris Match and said "Look you're going to be sailing up and down outside Brixham harbor… if you're careful with your camera angles, no one will know that you're not at sea right?" So he got ten thousand quid out of Paris Match as well.
Randal pulls out that June 17, 1957 issue of Life Magazine, promising an “Exclusive from aboard Ship: Mayflower Voyage”. By the time the Life story dropped a few days after Mayflower II’s arrival in Plymouth, that voyage had become a spectacle, and it wasn’t over yet.
After two weeks in Plymouth, Mayflower II sailed down to New York, where the crew was feted with a ticker tape parade. Captain Alan Villiers was presented with a medal on the Ed Sullivan Show. Villiers made an appearance on the game show The $64,000 Question, wrote articles for National Geographic about the experience of captaining the Mayflower II, wrote a book. A lot of the movers and shakers behind the Mayflower Project did, including Warwick Charlton, who remained in America long enough to visit 42 states, speaking at Rotary Clubs, schools, and radio stations about the Pilgrims, the Mayflower Compact, and what it said about the special relationship between Britain and the United States.
This sounds like a deliriously happy, Hollywood ending, the scrappy upstart taking on an ambitious project and captivating the world. And while all of that is true, the Mayflower Project had been back-breaking and bank-breaking work for Warwick Charlton.
Randal: He was seen as a reincarnation of Barnum you know the absolute salesman and everybody thought he was making a bloody fortune out of it. On the contrary what he was doing was going into debt. And when he went back to England after his two year tour, he actually declared bankruptcy.
Learning this makes me even more fascinated by Warwick Charlton. At the time the bankruptcy was something of a scandal, but with the benefit of hindsight, all debts paid, Mayflower II getting TLC before 2020, I just am gobsmacked that one man who avowedly had no real business running a project of this scale did it anyway because no one else would, saw it through, and gave it literally everything he had. What about the Mayflower captivated Warwick Charlton – a British man who had never been to America before – to such an extent that he sunk years of his life and his financial well-being into its faithful recreation?
To hear Randal tell it, for his father it all came down to the Compact that was signed onboard, in those fractious days when the Mayflower was anchored in Cape Cod off Provincetown and the ultimate destination and fate of its passengers were unknown. The Pilgrims were far from one uniform entity – some of the Mayflower’s passengers were separatists from the Church of England, many others weren’t and were simply seeking opportunity in the New World – and the Mayflower Compact explicitly combined those squabbling factions into a civil body politic at a moment when those factions could very well have gone their separate ways.
At Warwick Charlton’s behest, about ten days of the Mayflower II’s journey were spent toiling in the tween decks or the great cabin, with nearly all hands not on deck but on stamps, postmarking envelopes, each stuffed with a copy of the Mayflower Compact.
Randal: He distributed well over a hundred thousand of these Compacts once he got to America you know because he viewed the ship as just the vehicle. The message was the important thing.
And that message boiled down to -
Randal: …that Compact and the novel concept of separation of church and state and being governed from the ground up rather than the top down.
He was a fan of the way in which the democratic principles have been developed in the United States and he felt there was a real need to reaffirm that relationship in the post-war period. He said you know American influence in the post-war period is absolutely critical in rebuilding Europe and also building and maintaining democracy.
The ideas that animated Warwick Charlton on his Mayflower crusade are a fascinating blend of the pre-colonial and the post-colonial, a philosophy which deserves an inquiry all its own. This is where I want to take you in Iconography, to the place where the friction happens, the static charge between an actual object – earth-bound, tactile, mortal – and the ideas it inspires – the metaphysical, immortal, sometimes apocryphal but all-powerful messages those objects carry to us.
So let’s go to the place where the friction is happening. I’ll need to hop in the car, drive down Massachusetts Route 3 towards Cape Cod, exit a few miles after Plymouth Town Center. To learn more, we need to turn to Plimoth Plantation, the very institution Warwick Charlton turned to when it came time to find permanent caretakers for a Mayflower.
Part 3: Designing a Mayflower
One of my favorite things about the Mayflower II story is the weird quirk of when it came together. Not during the flush roaring 20s when millions turned to Plymouth, Massachusetts and spent years lavishing the Pilgrims with praise on the 300th anniversary of their arrival. Not during the 350th anniversary in 1970 either. Instead, it happened in those awkward years in between, the post-war decade when the world was trying to piece itself back together after quashing the Nazi menace and no one had any particular reason to dote on the American colonial period, let alone rebuild it.
For one man to become obsessed with the idea of rebuilding the Mayflower, to throw all his time and money into that single-minded pursuit, well you could just chalk that up as weird, but weird in the way most things are weird. But for two men born during the last year of World War I to determine, at the same time but from opposite sides of the Atlantic, that in the wake of World War II they would build a Mayflower come hell or high water… that’s cosmically weird.
In the early days of the Mayflower Project, Warwick Charlton paid a visit to R.C. Anderson, the curator of the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich, to feel out the feasibility of a Mayflower replica.
Randal: Dr. Anderson was vaguely amused when Warwick turned up and said what he planned to do.
The curator knew something that Warwick didn’t - an American organization led by Henry Hornblower II, an equally passionate history enthusiast, had been trying to build up the capital to put a Mayflower replica in the water for years. Roger Charles Anderson, who had been a natural starting point for Warwick because he was well-respected as the preeminent expert on ships from the Mayflower’s era, happened to also be an ardent Mayflower hobbyist who was well-connected with just about everyone who gave a damn about the Mayflower in 1955.
Randal: He had built a replica, a detailed scale model of the Mayflower in 1922 and he had presented it to Plymouth, Massachusetts’ Pilgrim Hall Museum. And I think it's still there.
It is. That model was the image art for the previous episode of Iconography. And speaking of last episode…
Randal: He'd also been a consultant to a movie about the Mayflower in which Spencer Tracy had starred.
That was 1952’s Plymouth Adventure, which I discussed at length in that episode.
Anderson also knew that there was a fledging historical organization in Massachusetts that had already commissioned a naval architect to draw up plans for a sailing Mayflower but hadn’t been able to put together the money to go any further.
Randall: So he gave Warrick the name of a guy called Arthur Pyle who was retired schoolteacher and helping Hornblower at that time. And you know Warwick told me, he said in those days it wasn't usual for people to phone America. You sent a telegram or a letter, even journalists didn't unless you were filing a story. And he said "but I picked up the phone and I was slightly amazed when at the other end the guy said 'This is Arthur Pyle speaking.'"
Tom Begley, the executive liaison at Plymouth Plantation who we met at the top of the episode, picks up the story from there.
Tom: So they got the phone number for Plimoth Plantation from the United States Embassy, called across the Atlantic. Arthur Pyle our first employee picked up the phone, and they asked “We’re building a Mayflower, would you want it?” And Arthur very calmly across the line- I could imagine there’s like this stunned pause – and he just says “Yes!” And the relationship was born there.”
When Warwick called in 1955, Plimoth Plantation was a very different institution from the one I visited on a very blustery weekend in September to chat with Tom.
Incorporated in 1947, Plimoth Plantation had been founded in order to foster:
“The creation, construction, and maintenance of a Pilgrim Village as a memorial to the Pilgrim fathers.”
By 1955, the organization had managed to build replicas of a typical Pilgrim house and of the Pilgrim’s fort-meeting house on the Plymouth waterfront near Plymouth Rock. But there were much grander designs for Plimoth Plantation, and they wouldn’t fit anywhere in Plymouth town center.
The current location of the Plantation, which houses the lobby building Tom and I are chilling in, as well as the Wampanoag homesite and the reproduction of Plimoth village as it was in 1627… well it was still the property of 90 year old Hattie F. Hornblower in 1955, part of her Boston family’s sprawling summer estate on the Eel River.
It was only later in that year that Hattie left the parcel of land that would become the physical Plimoth Plantation to her grandson, Henry Hornblower II. Harry, as he was known (possibly because his full name was too awesome to trot out in casual conversation), was eager to see his passion project taken to the next level; he personally drove the bulldozer that broke ground on the site in 1957, the same year Mayflower II arrived in Plymouth and became the property of the growing Plantation organization.
Tom: At that time what Plimoth Plantation was doing was groundbreaking. Nobody had built a Pilgrim home before or had interpreted a Pilgrim house in that way before. So what Harry Hornblower our founder actually set out to do is he did set out to get away from as he said the rock under a canopy or some object in a glass case he wanted to build a living museum. Harry's vision for the museum was to get away from the romanticized vision of the Pilgrims. He really wanted to show the daily lives of the Pilgrims. And for him that that meant getting away from the blunderbusses and the buckled hats and everything like that.
And from the outset, the idea was that his plantation would require a certain seafaring vessel, as outlined in a program from 1948.
“The story of the Pilgrims is not complete without the inclusion of the ship that brought the Pilgrims to the New World. A reproduction of the Mayflower would make a very desirable addition to the project.”
A desirable addition, but an expensive one. Harry Hornblower had gone through the trouble of having architect William A. Baker design as exacting a replica of the Mayflower as he could, but by the time Warwick Charlton came calling, the Plantation had resigned itself to constructing a waterline model instead – that is a Mayflower that looked Elizabethan from the water up. An unknown British organization calling long distance to say no, no we’ll offer to build what William Baker designed using the tools they would have used back then seemed like a long shot, but it certainly merited a meeting. So they invited Warwick over to pitch his Mayflower Project.
Randal: As a result of that invitation Warwick sent his partner John Lowe on a plane to Boston and then down to Plymouth and they met Henry Hornblower. And you know the folks at Plimoth Plantation couldn't believe what was happening. And it sounded so good to Henry Hornblower that he consulted his attorney a guy called Lathrop Worthington, both of them talked it out and said that it sounds too good to be true this. We've been trying for eight years and the lowest price we can get is $800,000. We've tried American builders we've tried U.K. builders, we got nowhere. Well you know what’re these guys up to? So there was a level of suspicion but they agreed it was too good a deal, too good an offer to turn down.
Tom: So in 1955 we actually reached an agreement: Project Mayflower and Plimoth Plantation collaborated together on Mayflower II, where Plimoth Plantation would provide the research and plans done by Baker and Project Mayflower would build and sail the ship to America.
William A. Baker’s plans are something of a miracle in and of themselves; Warwick Charlton’s Mayflower Project couldn’t have proceeded without both the historical research and the architectural discipline Baker had brought to creating a viable Mayflower that would actually sail and that would be a convincing copy of a ship that couldn’t actually be copied.
Tom: The truth is that we don't know what the Mayflower looked like exactly. We don't have the blueprints. We don't have a painting and we know that we will probably never know that. So what you can do is you can arrive at the best guess for that. Baker really sets the standard with the work he did on Mayflower II for reproduction vessels.
Mayflower II is a generic replica, pieced together like a puzzle from the clues history has left behind. There’s no guarantee it looks or behaves exactly like the Mayflower, just that it looks and behaves like the kind of sailing vessel we know the ship to have been. Even getting there took a lot of work, scholars across the centuries piecing the picture together. To start with, William Bradford, loquacious as he could be, never once names the vessel he sailed to the New World on in Of Plimoth Plantation.
Tom: William Bradford he actually only says that the first ship was a berthen of 180 ton. So we know how much it could displace, that’s all we really knew about the ship.”
Thanks for all your help there Bradford! The next puzzle piece comes from the will of William Mullins, a settler who dies that first winter in Massachusetts. A guy named Christopher Jones acts as a witness, and he has no other reason to be in Massachusetts at a will reading. Okay so Christopher Jones, a ship’s captain, is in Massachusetts in 1621, and then he isn’t, so we must be dealing with Jones’s ship.
Tom: We then can tell that Christopher Jones’s ship was a merchant vessel because there are numerous records in the London port books of his trips all up and across Europe collecting various trade goods wine, herring, tar.
This is how William A. Baker arrived at the design for the Mayflower II – he looked back at the prescribed sizes and styles for merchant vessels at the time the Mayflower would have been built.
Tom: So he actually was able to work backwards from the hundred and eighty score defined measurements that fit what that could be.
He then used paintings from the period to get a sense of how those vessels were shaped – not the Mayflower specifically since no paintings of it survive if they ever existed, but of ships of that ilk.
Tom: And of course Baker was the first to admit you are now going through two lenses of interpretation. You're going through an artist's interpretation of what a ship looked like that he was looking at. Then you're looking at all these centuries removed our interpretation of that image and how that could translate to a ship.
Interpreters – this is what the folks you encounter at Plimoth Plantation are called. I love the name, because it foregrounds the active role they are playing, channeling history through the lens they have available. That lens is bifocal: half past, half present.
This is a good moment go out onto the grounds of the museum to see how a replica ship fits into Plimoth Plantation’s overall mission. As Tom and I chat in air-conditioned comfort about the history of Mayflower II, there are a few brave souls out on the museum grounds who stick it out in the pouring rain.
They are having a “living adventure” exploring the two main areas of today’s Plimoth Plantation. There’s the Wampanoag homesite, dominated by a warm cozy wetu, a domicile ingeniously designed to be open at the top to let out smoke, but still shielded from rainwater. In there guests can talk with members of the Wampanoag tribe – they’re showing what life was like in the 17th century for their ancestors, but they are speaking as themselves, contemporary native Americans, ready to answer all the difficult questions you might have about the past four centuries of native history. This is a stark and necessary contrast to what happens in the other main area of the Planation, a recreation of Plymouth’s main street as it existed in 1627, the homes peopled with interpreters who are actually inhabiting the roles of the townspeople, the Winslows here, the Bradfords there, all of them ready to be mystified by your cellular devices.
Why 1627 and not the more iconic 1621, year of the first Thanksgiving?
Tom: “1627 gives us, we actually have a better understanding of how many people were living in the village, we have a better understanding of how the shape of the village was, because at that point by 1627, there have been several outside visitors to Plymouth who then document what they saw. There’s also by that point we had the land division in 1624 so we know who exactly, how many people got how many acres of land. It’s just a good historical moment where we can firmly say this is how the colony got shaped over the last seven years.”
So those interpreters out there on the museum grounds in their replica village do a massive amount of research and accent work in order to be able to improvise an appropriate response to any profound or inane guest question or retort – a response that shows they know everything about what has transpired up until 1627, and absolutely nothing that has happened afterwards. Once, when I greeted one of these interpreters, she asked where I was visiting Plimoth from. When I said Boston, she looked puzzled.
“All the way from England?”
Right, Boston Mass, not founded until 1630, three years from this freeze frame I’d stumbled into. Her character knew that area as Shawmut, and it was only once I clarified that we could proceed.
This is the mission of a living history museum, a unique genus of museums that prioritize letting you experience the past – or the past as best as it can be replicated. You’re encouraged to touch it, to pick up the Bible on William Bradford’s table and run your hands through the deerskin you’re sitting on in the Wampanoag wetu. It’s fine, they’re all replicas, so get your hands dirty. And you have no choice but to smell it and hear it – the enchanting scent of beans and fat cooking over an open stove, the sizzle of goat meat frying as goats bleat outside.
This wasn’t always the approach at the Plantation.
Tom: Living history as it's known at Plimoth Plantation really didn't really start until 1980.
The first approach taken at the Plantation relied heavily on mannequinns in period dress, arranged in tableaus surrounded by antique furniture. Not that antique like it had been in Plymouth in the 1620s. Just old enough to convey the right feeling… and also old enough that you had to maintain a safe distance. So on the whole, not too far off from a regular museum, but with sunburn. Rather than running your hands through history, a guide in the buckle get-up pointed out what you needed to see and know – what former Plimoth Plantation head of research Carolyn Freeman Travers called the
“sainted ancestors bit… ‘the house in which you are standing represents the home of Governor William Bradford, who was the second governor of the Old Colony, and it if I may direct you to the tableau on your left…”
This approach was phased out as the 60s became the 70s. When Plimoth Plantation opened for the season in 1969, all of the antiques were deemed inauthentic by assistant director James Deetz and removed, and the mannequinns followed in the ensuing decade. A gradual process began, as guides became interpreters, spending their days acting out what the mannequins and their tableaux had suggested. As part of their day onsite, the interpreters built new houses and crafted chairs and repaired clothes and tended livestock and cooked lunch. And eventually they stopped referring to the house they’d worked on as Governor Bradford’s house or Miles Standish’s house but as “my house”.
The interpreters got their hands dirty, literally, inhabiting the role of a colonist. The revised Plimoth Plantation got plenty of plaudits, like this 1984 write-up in the New York Times from novelist James Carroll.
“The actors’ perfect balance between earnestness and playfulness is what enables us to suspend our disbelief, if only in flashes, that we’ve stumbled on another time.”
But the changes weren’t without controversy. Deetz recalled later in life that the changes he instituted in 1969 were not received warmly by those who saw the introduction of the new-look Pilgrims as a new generation coloring the Pilgrims in with their own Baby Boomer preferences and personalities.
The village was populated by people dressed in bright colored clothes, many of the male interpreters with long hair appropriate for the time, the settlers represented as sleeping, as often as not, directly on the floor. It should come as no surprise that what had certain outward resemblances to a hippie commune, even though it was supported by solid research, met with great disapproval by traditionalists.
One letter from a Mayflower descendant read:
"Get rid of the realism, so-called, and give people some ideals to live up to. Clear out the radicals in command and get some 100% Americans.’”
Harry Hornblower, nearing the end of his life when Plimoth Plantation began its transformation in 1969 completely supported everything James Deetz did to change his beloved Plimoth Plantation… but he too hoped that realism, while being something to strive for certainly, wouldn’t get in the way of giving people some ideals to live up to.
For all that Harry Hornblower wanted to explode stuffy old ways of approaching the Pilgrims and build an entirely new way of approaching them, he hoped to preserve the romance and larger-than-life quality of the Pilgrims that drew him to their story in the first place. Hornblower was always happy to cede the interpretation to some of the finest historical minds of his day, but he was still nervous about it; when renowned historian Samuel Eliot Morison took on a revision of an important pamphlet at the Plantation, Hornblower mused:
“While I would expect him to stick to historical truth, it is my hope and expectation that he will indulge in some flag-waving. The difficulty of the Pilgrim Story is that there are really two stories - a true historical one and a romantic one. It is my sincere hope that Dr. Morison can write this story in such a way that it will be acceptable to both schools of thought.”
James Deetz, who carried the torch when Hornblower and Morison were gone, wasn’t rebelling against that hope by insisting on presenting the Pilgrims factually; he shared that hope and then some. Here’s the ending of his last published work, co-written with his wife Patricia Scott Deetz:
“For centuries myths have shaped ideals and driven aspirations of people of all nations, and the Pilgrim image is no exception in the American ethos. When one strips away the misconceptions, and glimpses instead something of the reality of historical facts, and the social and material world of the Plymouth settlers, a stronger, more powerful content can be given to those mythic images, which all Americans can respect and new immigrants identify… Not ‘just the facts’ but the facts and something of that vision and courage that not only thrust these people into the New World out of the old, but sustained them in it.”
Which brings me back to what Randal Charlton said earlier about his father’s reason for taking on Mayflower II:
Randal: He viewed the ship as just the vehicle. The message was the important thing. He used to say look there were plenty of ships like Mayflower at that time. What was important about the Mayflower was the people who went on that boat and the Compact that they entered into when they set foot on North American soil.
My first instinct was to be suspicious of that idea – all that stuff I mentioned earlier about the Mayflower ceasing to be a ship and becoming a seed, blown here on the wind, from which grew an idea, a democracy, a nation, etc. etc… It’s only in retrospect that the Mayflower Compact rose to be this foundational document animated by democratic principles. As Tom Begley puts it:
Tom: They're not necessarily breaking away from the King. The Mayflower Compact which sets up they're from the government - the first line is in the name of King James. People look at them for you know that starting point of American democracy and that will creates that tradition of representative government built through compact and constitution. I don't think the Pilgrims probably saw that as a moment when they were doing that. They probably weren't going "this is going to lead to a start of a new country a hundred and fifty years from now."
But it did eventually lead to the start of a new country, however circuitously; and those forefathers who signed the Declaration of Independence looked back to the Mayflower Compact as a contribution from their forefathers. As with the Mayflower, so too with the Mayflower Compact – what was not an especially remarkable or noteworthy object in its day has become essential and iconic and even a bit mythic, not particularly because of what it says, but because of what it’s said to everyone who looked for meaning in it in the centuries that followed it’s signing by the Mayflower’s passengers. It wasn’t written to inspire future generations, just to hold together the different factions aboard the Mayflower; but it became remarkable because it inspired future generations all the same.
That’s the reason the Mayflower is important to humanity now and wasn’t important around 1624 when it was sold and scrapped. We care so much more about the people who were ferried to a new home on that ship, and we care about those people because the things they did – facing hardship to live their lives and worship their god in the way they saw fit – tell us something important about us. Those things have become so important, that we dragged the ship first out of obscurity and then out of oblivion and put a Mayflower back on the water.
The vehicle is important because the message is important, and what Warwick Charlton understood is that the more seriously we take the vehicle, the more we can help people understand the message.
The Mayflower II has some compromises built into it – little touches that help it accommodate the rush of modern visitors like higher ceilings and reinforced decks – and yet I think it’s still fair to say it is, on the whole, uncompromising. Stuart Upham, the shipbuilder, insisted on reviving a dying art, tackling the construction of the wood ship using the tools and methods shipbuilders in the Elizabethan age would have used. And William A. Baker, the designer, proposed building a ship that wouldn’t just sail, but that would sail the way the Mayflower did – it replicated the top-heavy bulk of a seventeenth century square-rigger so faithfully that the first mate told his captain Alan Villiers:
“This lively little ship is altogether too historically correct for my liking.”
But Villiers wouldn’t have had it any other way – he took no payment for his captaincy, seeing it as his duty to be
"mindful of the moving story of the Pilgrim Fathers and how much their love of freedom and their magnificent pioneering meant in America." And, as Tom explains, Alan Villiers was mindful of them, even deferring to them when their little ship perplexed him as it was lashed by a storm off Bermuda.
Tom: Alan Villiers at the time was one of the most experienced sailors in the world – he had sailed around Cape Horn, as a young man he led, he was on expeditions to Antarctica – not many people had the experience he had sailing these ships. But when the ship hit storms as they were crossing, he turned to the primary sources to find out how to sail the ship. He remembered in William Bradford’s Of Plimoth Plantation that Bradford mentioned when they hit a storm Christopher Jones the master of the Mayflower turned the ship to lie ahull.
“This was the crucial test…”
- Villiers would write of his decision to down the sails, batten the hatches, and lock the helm to leeward, having no clue if this maneuver – known as lying ahull – would help the ship weather the storm as it had apparently done for Christopher Jones on his Mayflower in 1620.
Tom: Villiers remembered that, did the same maneuver with Mayflower II –
According to Villiers “no one had tried the maneuver in a ship like that for maybe two centuries”
- and they were able to quietly ride out the storm.
Villiers brought the Mayflower II into Provincetown Harbor after 54 days at sea, 12 days fewer than the original Mayflower voyage had taken, and there he, Warwick Charlton, the shipbuilder Stuart Upham, the journalists from Life, the crew, and their little kitten named Felix were greeted by a boarding party. Cameras clicked, hands were shaken, commemorative medallions presented, and a copy of the Mayflower Compact was brought out to be signed by re-enactors dressed in period garb.
And this is going to seem antithetical, but I want to leave them all there, before the screaming crowd of 25,000, before the speech by Vice President Richard Nixon and the ticker-tape parade in Manhattan and the Ed Sullivan Show. I want to leave them circled around a grand table on board the Mayflower II recreating the signing of the Mayflower Compact, the moment that inspired Warwick Charlton, which in turn inspired the building of the Mayflower II.
Yes, the historically accurate Pilgrim clothes they’re wearing are silly by today’s standards, replaced as they’ve been in the reenactor trade by colorful Elizabethan garb with nary a buckle in sight. And yes, the signing table wound up being removed a few decades later because, while a Compact signing table seemed historical – was historical considering the grand history of artists painting it when depicting the signing – it was definitely not a feature on the original Mayflower because it was the kind of impractical feature that would only make sense in a painting.
But whatever anachronisms may have surrounded them, they were closer to the Pilgrims than anyone had been for centuries. They mugged for the cameras sure, good publicity, but the crew and their captain hadn’t just been around for publicity – they had revived a lost art, memorized the arrangement of the ropes, worked the sails… they’d proved otherwise unprovable theories just by setting sail.
Tom: Up til that point it had been several hundred years obviously since a Jacobean era ship sailed across the Atlantic Ocean under full sail power. And we were able to learn from that how those ships were sailed.
After weeks at sea, they knew things about how the Pilgrims had done what they had done that would blow people’s minds; and that knowledge didn’t ruin the Pilgrims, it made them more magical.
In the 1960s and 70s, many feared that Plimoth Plantation’s shift towards colorful, mended clothes and wandering goats and dirt floors, that its move towards a more accurate version of Plymouth, was meant to and would eliminate the iconic version of Plymouth. Which is a persistent fear that we have about historians I think; that they’re here to spoil our fun, scoff at our ideals, show us the light. But that’s usually not what happens, and it’s definitely not what happens at Plimoth Plantation.
Tom: You're always going to have the Halloween costumes right that have the buckle hats and the shoes and the pageants. It's not going to go away probably but it's now we're able to contextualize it. Like how does something take on a life of its own and a meaning of its own even when we now all recognize that they weren't wearing those hats or those clothing. It's now a conversation starter, it's now "Why aren't you all wearing buckled hats?" "Oh well I can tell you that because that's not the style of the 1620s, and in fact we all wore colorful clothing. People can come with their ideas but they can now explore that and openly question that and we don't I think as an organization historically we've never in my experience we've never treated people like you're wrong. It's just "Let's talk about it. Let's talk about what you know what we know beyond just a Pilgrim hat."
Harry Hornblower, the founder of Plimoth Plantation, worried that the Pilgrim Story was complicated by the presence of two stories - a true historical one and a romantic one. But the two stories are not necessarily enemies. As with many stories that have taken on a mythic sheen, reality and icon aren’t brawling as much as they’re… dancing with one another. They switch off taking the lead, guiding their dancing partner through the ebbing of time, through major archeological discoveries, splashy new retellings that make it on to the New York Times Bestsellers list, based-on-a-true-story films, anniversary commemorations, and just normal everyday school field trips.
Historical reality takes the lead a lot, and rightly so. Rigorous research, expert craftsmanship, and inventive interpretation combine to help us in fine tuning our imagination. But imagination is the input just as much as it’s the output and so sometimes, imagination takes the lead and twirls history around dramatically, dips it low to the ground, lifts it. Imagination determines what the next generation of academics and hobbyists will be working on. Because, let’s face it, we don’t pour a small fortune into building replicas of things that haven’t captured our imaginations.
Iconography is written and produced by me, Charles Gustine. Thanks as always to Carol Zall for script editing and feedback on this episode. And to our guests this episode Randal Charlton and Tom Begley. You can hit me up on Twitter @icongraphypod or on Facebook at facebook.com/iconographypodcast and tell me what you thought of the episode – if only if it’s to get in a debate with me about who Rory Gilmore should have ended up with (I’m a Logan…)
Whether it’s through social media or a review on iTunes – which I always appreciate – it’s your turn to tell the people what you thought: Iconographers, I ask you: Isn’t it Iconic… Donthca Think?
I’d also like to hear what you think of the new Iconography website! I’ve set up a new site in collaboration with RadioPublic’s exciting Podsite initiative, and I love it – a podcast site that intrinsically does what a podcaster wants it to, and more importantly, that intrinsically does what a visitor and podcast listener will want to do. I highly encourage you to check it out and explore – you can find the website at iconographypodcast.com
Iconography is a proud member of Hub & Spoke, a Boston-centric collective of smart, idea-driven podcasts. If you’re hankering for more on the mythic nature of the American spirit, might I call your attention to latest episode of Lonely Palette, a brilliant show which beings art history to the masses. In this episode, Tamar Avishai looks at Ansel Adams 1942 photograph of the Grand Tetons and Snake River. You can find it at thelonelypalette.com or anywhere you listen to podcasts.