Hundreds of thousands of people visit the Mystic Seaport Museum in a typical year, but not many can match the enthusiasm Gregory Zimmerman had when he visited the museum this week.
"I feel like a kid in a candy store," said Zimmerman, an 85-year-old retiree who lives outside Chicago in Naperville, Illinois.
Zimmerman is a model ship enthusiast and has been building them for decades. He devotes hours to the hobby and delves even deeper into the history behind each ship.
"Just for the sense and the joy of making these things. I mean, you can get so involved in this stuff, you wouldn't believe it," Zimmerman said. "The satisfaction!"
Jane Zimmerman, Gregory's wife, said he averages four hours a day working on the replicas. He has even roped her in to the projects.
"I asked her to sew the sails," Zimmerman said.
He has built 12 models so far, including a replica of the Charles W. Morgan, a whaling ship that was built in the 1800s. Zimmerman spent more than a year working on the Morgan; he knows the ship front and back.
Even before Zimmerman started working on the model of the Morgan, he said he had dreamed of visiting the Mystic Seaport Museum one day to see it in person.
"Someday on my bucket list will be to walk on this ship because I know it exists and it is in Mystic," Zimmerman said.
Zimmerman was recently featured in a newspaper article detailing his passion for model ship building and how he has made a home for his work in the retirement community where he and his wife live in Illinois. The article caught the attention of the team at the Mystic Seaport Museum.
"And how he really wanted to come on the Morgan," said Peter Armstrong, president of the museum. "If we can make people's dreams happen, we are going to do it."
The seaport helped to coordinate a trip this week. Within minutes of being at the museum, Zimmerman spotted the Morgan from a distance.
"Look at that!" Zimmerman said. "Right away I saw it."
"At last, at last," Zimmerman said, before walking on to the historic ship. He was in awe and was able to point out different parts of the ship from the model he built.
"Honest to God, it's exactly like this," Zimmerman said. "I mean - I know where everything is."
Museum staff gave Zimmerman, his wife and son a private tour.
"It is not just a hobby. The whole story behind each ship represents history," Jane Zimmerman said.
Gregory said he hopes others will look into model shipbuilding, maritime history and come to understand the stories behind the ships.
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