Everything is connected.
Unaware that the Cutty Sark still existed, the news of the fire on the most famous of the clipper ships caught me by surprise.
Our U.S. history texts these days mention the clippers, but little more. This wonderful chunk of history, showing great invention in the capture of wind power, and great romance of the sea, falls by the wayside.
Were a teacher so inclined, she might introduce some of that romance and admiration of invention with a bit more than two minutes spent on clipper ships.
For starters, what does “cutty sark” mean? Antiquarian’s Attic provides links to the news of the fire and enough background to make any teacher sound like an aficianado in just a few minutes. “Cutty sark” means a short shift, a very short skirt or dress — it’s from a poem, “Tam O’Shanter” by Robert Burns.
Her cutty sark, o’ Paisley harn,
That while a lassie she had worn,
In longitude tho’ sorely scanty,
It was her best, and she was vauntie.
Hey, who knew there was a poem that gave the name to the hat favored by U.S. Sen. Sam Hayakawa, and the hat which played such a prominent role in the opening sequence of The Mary Tyler Moore Show?
Connections can get a bit out of hand, no?
I digress. Back to Cutty Sark.
Progress in transportation, particularly in speed, makes a solid unit of study in 8th and 11th grade history in Texas, fitting neatly in the advances in technology and how such advances push history along. Particularly with the defense of the America‘s Cup this year putting a spotlight on speed sailing and sailing history, there should be a lot of supplemental material to provide good lesson plan hooks to make a day’s diversion into clipper ships well worth the time.
Perhaps your class would like to contribute to the restoration of the Cutty Sark? Remember it was pennies from U.S. school kids that saved Old Ironsides, after Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr., wrote a poem in tribute to her. See also the Ballad of Mad Jack.
Did you hear how Mad Jack saved “Old Ironsides” too,
From the scrapheap of flagships too old to renew,
At sixty-five years he inspected each shroud,
And promised the Navy he’d make her stand proud.
He collected the finest ship-riggers around,
From Boston, New Bedford, and Old Portsmouth Town,
He rigged her and jigged her and made her stand tall,
Then he sailed her around the world once and for all.
- Ballad of Mad Jack by Steve Romanoff, performed by Schooner Fare, 1981