The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby-Dick Marathon is an annual non-stop reading of Herman Melville's literary masterpiece. The multi-day program of entertaining activities and events is presented every January. Admission to the Marathon is free.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

That Mast in Mattapoisett

A visit with globe-trotting friends (ciao, Giulia) brought me to Mattapoisett; my first time in this whaleship-building town. The plaque in Shipyard Park summarizes its importance to Melvillians.
Mattapoisett's Shipbuilders

From the year 1752 to 1878 at least six shipyards
flourished along this waterfront from the foot of
Pearl Street to Ship Street (Cannonville). The fine
harbor, an abundant supply of virgin timber, and a
ready market for whaling and maritime commerce
attracted the finest of shipbuilders. Barks, brigs,
schooners, sloops and merchant ships were built and
launched here. When the whaling industry was at its
height in New Bedford, Mattapoisett became world
famous for its whaleships. More than 350 vessels
went down the ways during this period. Among the
most famous were:

"Acushnet," ship, 1840, which carried as a crew
member Herman Melville, on her maiden voyage.
Ten years later he wrote the famous whaling
saga "Moby Dick." [sic]

"Platina," ship, 1847, distinguished for capturing
a white whale.

"Wanderer," bark, 1878, last whaleship to be
built in Mattapoisett yards, and one of the
last whalers to sail from New Bedford.

Mattapoisett Bicentennial Committee 1976

The story of the Platina is told here, on the Whaling Museum's site.

The Wanderer is featured in actual whaling scenes in the 1922 film Down to the Sea in Ships (with Clara Bow in the first year of her movie career). If you visit Arrowhead, you can watch a DVD copy which plays in the small shed behind the house. On August 27, 1924 the Wanderer was wrecked on Middle Ground Shoal, between New Bedford and Martha's Vineyard. This page displays an interesting artifact from the Wanderer — its mailbox.

I had read on several websites that the Wanderer's mizzen-mast is now the flagpole in Shipyard Park, but that is not exactly true.
Walk up to the flagpole and you'll see the bottom section is a conventional steel pipe. About two-thirds of the way up, another piece is joined to this steel pole. Is this top section part of the Wanderer's mast? Well, not anymore. According to the Mattapoisett Yacht Club,
...Ship Yard Park is the site of Jonathan Holmes’s shipyard, where in 1878, the last whaler of Mattapoisett, the Wanderer, was built. The flagpole in the park originally was the mizzen mast from that ship. However, lightning strikes and hurricanes took their toll, and the pole was replaced in 1993.
So what became of the old mast-cum-flagpole after it was removed from Shipyard Park? It is reported to have been donated to the Mattapoisett Historical Society Museum in November, 2012. (Who had it in the intervening 19 years!?) A return road-trip beckons.

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