New England is rich in many things; prevalent among them are history, art and many diverse cultures. There are museums throughout the region that chronicle the past in many contexts. The best New England museums are, in fact, packed with all manner of fascinating artifacts, books, articles, furniture and the keepsakes of Native Americans, presidents, statesmen, the works and wisdom of our Founding Fathers, farmers, manufacturers, art, science and the sea faring, to name but a few.
For the purposes of this article about the Best New England Museums, I've chosen a "living history" institution from Massachusetts for its exemplary exhibits and realism.
Plimoth Plantation in Plymouth, Massachusetts, serves as a microcosm of what life was like when the Pilgrims arrived here in 1627.
The sense of history here at the Plantation resonates from every part of it. There's great and reverent balance here. It's not just about the English Colonists (the Pilgrims), the first Massachusetts settlement or the first Thanksgiving.
The curators have taken great care to place emphasis on the important role the Wampanoag Native People played in the opening act of American history.
In addition, the curators explain the evolution of Thanksgiving from its true origins, the food on that first Thanksgiving table and explores its evolution from how it began to the turkey-and-football event we know it to be today.
The Plantation enterprises six major attractions: The 1627 Pilgrim Village; Hobbamock's Homesite; The Mayflower II; Nye Barn; Thanksgiving: Memory, Myth & Meaning; and the Crafts Center.
The 1627 Pilgrim Village has been explored in minute detail and the staff members, in period dress, go about their daily activities as if the Plantation was still the epicenter of the New World.
The that-roofed buildings offer a plethora of period artifacts that give ample insight into how the English Colonists lived, dressed, ate and interacted back in 1627, as well as how they lived against daunting odds. The staff members are extremely well versed in the history of Plimouth, and can expound at length on virtually any relevant topic.
Hobbamock's Homesite gives visitors a very realistic view of how the Wampanoag People, who have lived in Southeastern New England for thousands of years, went about their daily lives. A traditional wetu (house) provides the same level of detail found in the English houses and realistically displays how different the native lifestyle was from the colonists'.
When one compares the luxury and spaciousness of today's ocean-going cruise ships to the Mayflower II, an exact replica of the original Mayflower, one wonders how the English colonists made the voyage, safe, sound and sane.
The size of the ship and the quarters of those who sailed aboard her are highly suggestive of a claustrophobic encounter of the worst kind. Imagine yourself 1 of 102 passengers and 18 crew on a ship 106 feet long with a beam 25 feet wide for a day, much less months.
Nye Barn preserves a great deal more than just history and architecture. The Plantation's staff members are the caretakers of breeds of animals common during the 1600s, but extremely rare now. Breeding stocks for these beasts of burden are very low, but the Plantation is doing an exemplary job of helping the animals thrive and multiply.
The Crafts Center offers basket weaving, as well as pottery, joiner (furniture making) and tailoring as it was done by the colonists. Skilled craftspeople are happy to answer your questions about how they ply their trades, many near extinct, as well as how what they were crafted at a time when there was no electricity.
There's realism here that is neither contrived nor dispassionate. Everyone engaged in the day-to-day activities makes it truly living history, and it's a New England museum that is worth every second of the visit.