The Connecticut River spans 410 miles from the border of Canada to Long Island Sound. Inside the Connecticut River Museum, visitors can span that space through exhibits that tell the stories of the river and the people who have lived along it. Aerial photographs and a large mural depict the evolution of the river communities through time, and the “On the Great River” exhibit showcases the early history of the river through artifacts and works of art. A reproduction of David Bushnell’s “Turtle” allows visitors to get up close to the submarine, turn the propeller, and pump the ballast intake. A huge mural, cannonballs, and ship fragments recall the night in April, 1814 when British forces traveled upriver and burned the privateer fleet in Essex. The river played a key role in the development of towns and cities in New England, providing everything as transportation routes to waterpower.
Along with long term and special exhibits, the Museum offers educational programs for adults and children as well as seasonal boat cruises up the River. Cruises travel along the lower river valley, labeled one of America’s last great places by the Nature Conservancy.
The Long Island Aquarium & Exhibition Center throws its visitors into the shark tank. And the tropical lagoon. And the salt marsh. As executive director Bryan DeLuca noted in the New York Times, the center (formerly Atlantis Marine World) is one of the most interactive aquariums in the area, which snagged it a place on Parents magazine's list of the 10 Best Aquariums for Kids. The Atlantis-themed aquarium’s educational exhibits combine myth with science as they bring guests face to gills with creatures such as eels, jellyfish, seals, and clownfish. In addition to its indoor and outdoor exhibits right on the banks of the Peconic River, the aquarium delights guests with aquatic adventures such as snorkeling or receiving a photo op and kiss from loveable sea lion Java, who still dreams of one day being turned into a beautiful princess.
The Long Island Science Center seeks to promote the knowledge and love of science, mathematics, engineering, and technology in people of all ages. They adopt a “learning by doing” philosophy, which results in myriad interactive exhibits that explore subjects such as volcanoes, Egyptian hieroglyphics, the planets, and crime scenes. The museum also holds regular special and seasonal events, as well as special programs for school groups.
The fresh breezes that buffet Mystic's shoreline probably feel much the same as they did 150 years ago, so it's a fitting place to find America's nautical history resurrected. Called Mystic Seaport: The Museum of America and the Sea, the extensive grounds could almost qualify as a theme park. In addition to the museum proper, the complex hosts a rebuilt 19th-century sea-faring village, a working shipyard, and extensive gardens that blanket the grounds. Live museum staff lead demonstrations and performances throughout, even welcoming guests aboard the four National Historic Landmark vessels moored in port. Nearby, captains take visitors out on the water in a coal-fired steamboat to experience the river and town from a different angle. They also rent out their vessels to other licensed boaters seasonally, who can sail or row their way across the Mystic River. When tired of ship studying and naval gazing, guests can head to the Treworgy Planetarium and turn their eyes to the stars, learning how to chart courses in the manner of ancient captains, modern astronauts, and late-night deliverymen.
Lauded by People magazine in 2010, Children's Museum of the East End strives to promote learning through play, propelling kids throughout 4,000 square feet of classrooms and interactive exhibits designed for toddling tykes aged 0 and older. At some of the museum's 13 permanent exhibits, kids can strike a chord at the Musical Forest, crest rolling waves at a seafaring ship, paint a creative masterpiece at the drop-in art studio, and crawl up through a hollowed-out log into a tree house. Along other erudite roads, windmills spill their revolutionary secrets and potatoes metamorphose into potato chips when taunted with persistent crinkling of a cellophane bag. Outdoor mazes and gardens liberate cooped-up minds, freeing them to scamper along twisted trails and fragrant greens.
The same mansion that once hosted prosperous whaler Benjamin Huntting II and his family in 1845 has become the doomed dwelling of the ghosts of drunken pirates and sailors. In one room, cannibals menace passersby. In another, ghoulish doctors perform an autopsy. Meanwhile, the widow who has wandered the house’s rooms since 1868 seethes at these spirits who have invaded her home. For a few weeks each fall, the Sag Harbor Whaling Museum transforms into the haunted attraction, filled with actors in ghostly costumes and makeup, filling in for the real ghosts who forgot to renew their SAG memberships. Currently doubling as the museum and a Masonic temple, the house was designated an official project of the Save America’s Treasures program by then–First Lady Hillary Clinton.
Museum staffers usher guests through an entrance marked by corinthian columns and a temple-style portico, both of which were designed by American architect Minard Lafever. Once inside, visitors navigate the horror-filled rooms, where figures lurk in shadows behind carved wooden doorframes and under intricate plaster ceilings. The haunted museum provides a sharp contrast to the museum’s other yearly events, which include rotating exhibitions featuring art and colonial artifacts.