On the Beach at Mystic Seaport Museum

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The hard work of fishing had taken a physical toll on Ellery after more than four decades aboard heaving boats, sorting the haul of heavy nets, often in bad weather. In 1958 he left the fishing life behind, complaining of rheumatism and retiring to "the beach" as he would say. Two years later he signed on as an interpreter at Mystic Seaport, "the museum of America and the sea," holding forth in a fisherman's shanty where he delighted visitors with tales of life aboard a dragger.  He also served as a weekend "shipkeeper" on the schooner L. A. Dunton (left).

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Excerpts from the unpublished Draggerman's Loot, which was to be Ellery's third book:

   "The Seaport, with its various ships, schooners, and recreated nineteenth century seaport village is on and around the site of the old Greenman Brothers shipyard on the east bank of the Mystic River, where some of my ancestors had worked on the building of fast-sailing clipper ships..."

   "I not only exhibited various old types [of] fishing and lobster gear, but was allowed to paint pictures in oil, cook seafood fisherman style, and exchange views about every subject from photographing racing Gloucester fishing schooners to rum running along southern New England.

   "Each Friday from 1960 to 1965, I cooked up seafood on [a] pot bellied stove -- either lobsters or scallops or plain finny fish.  I loved it, the tourists seemed to like it, and many...interpreters developed a lunch-break habit of visiting the shanty to see what was what and taste this and that."

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Below: While Ellery was briefly living in Florida with his sister Eleanor, the Museum director wrote to say that the trustees had awarded him a lifetime honorary membership.

Seaport letter to ET
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Ellery and his father, Frank, are central to an article by Walter Ansel,"The Dragger Florence," in the Winter 1985 Log of Mystic Seaport. Named for Ellery's grandmother, the Florence had been Frank Thompson's boat in the Twenties and later went to a fishery outfit in Tiverton, Rhode Island. Now she was old and up for sale. The Seaport bought her, brought her back to Mystic where she had been built, and restored her as a prime example of the "power draggers" that replaced wind-powered boats.  

Marion Krepcio relates that when Ellery read the Ansel article --  just months before he died -- he was thrilled, saying, "The Seaport restored the Florence and a Thompson dragger will represent all the draggers of the 1920s for years to come. That was the icing on the cake."

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Ansel mentioned that the Florence was launched with a 65-horsepower gasoline engine built by the J. W. Lathrop Company just a few hundred yards up the Mystic River from the launch site.

Ellery, who mentions Lathrop engines several times in his writing, sent the Company an update on an undisclosed matter in 1952 while working on his second book, Come Aboard the Draggers. He may have owed them money and was grateful for their forbearance. Or maybe it wasn't that at all, but his esteem for Lathrop engines is obvious.

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The J. W. Lathrop factory is now a popular restaurant called The Engine Room, its logo a marine engine complete with shaft and propeller. Inside, a short history of the company has been lettered onto a wall (below).

"It has been said that during Prohibition rum runners preferred the powerful Lathrop engines, while the U.S. Coast Guard outfitted boats with Lathrop engines to pursue them.

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  "At Mystic we visited the factory where the famous Lathrop marine engines were made. Pop knew James W. Lathrop, pioneer in marine gasoline engine construction, and he and his son Walter showed us around." (Draggerman's Haul, p. 31)

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Photograph by Brian Rogers

On the Beach at Mystic Seaport Museum