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.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Road Trip - Arrowhead MDM

Arrowhead farmhouse
To celebrate Melville's birthday, the Berkshire County Historical Society organized five days of events at/near Arrowhead farm. The centerpiece of their "Melville Week" was a (second annual) Moby-Dick marathon reading.

Like MDMs in New York and Provincetown, the BHS spread its reading across several days. Such an arrangement attracts local folks, who can sleep in their own beds and return fresh, but discourages out-of-towners from attending more than a couple of days. We made it to the fourth, final day.

Will there be an Arrowhead MDM for Melville's 200th birthday next year? We can hope. One might dream of a reading that takes place inside the actual home, and runs through the night to finish on August 1. (Are there any reports of hauntings at Arrowhead?)

The 2018 reading was held in the barn that houses Arrowhead's ticket office and museum shop.
Peter Bergman, Director of Communications for the BHS, recruited readers as we entered. He explained: read from the "podium copy" until the bell rings, then make a pencil mark where you stopped.

Each person read for ten minutes, after which Peter said something like, "Sarah, thank you so much," and called the next reader. Things proceeded calmly.

Like the Mystic MDM, no microphone was necessary. The group grew to no more than fifteen.

One reader stood out. She was maybe ten years old(?) and had very little problem with the knotty text. All the best to her, and her family!
A better photo, copied from the BHS Facebook page.
At the "Finis," Peter announced that over the four days of the marathon there were 85 different readers, plus 23 folks who simply listened.

Then he took his harpoon and posed for photos.

Mount Greylock on the horizon
(apologies for poor camera)

Thanks to the volunteers and staff of the Berkshire County Historical Society for a well run, "neighborly" MDM.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Road Trip - Mystic Seaport MDM

Ahab Beckons finally made it to the longest-running Moby-Dick Marathon—that organized by the Mystic Seaport Museum. This (2018) was its thirty-third annual outing. Mystic sticks to a July 31 start, ending on August 1 (Melville's birthday), no matter the days of the week. If you're not willing to call in sick, tough toenails.

Side note: New Bedford adhered to a January 3 start (the date of Melville's sailing on the Acushnet) until MDM14 in 2010, if memory serves. It then settled on the first weekend after January 1, greatly increasing attendance.

Practical Matters

  • The entire reading takes place aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan. Overnight space is limited. Call a few weeks ahead to reserve. Details on the museum website.
  • There is ample free parking across the street from the Seaport; well signed.
  • You'll need to purchase admission to the Seaport area. Online tickets receive a 10% discount.
  • There is Wi-Fi in the Seaport area; spotty, as you'd guess. The entrance desk will give you the password.
  • Food and drink are not allowed on the Morgan. Water bottles were permitted. Some folks left their bag of provisions at the foot of the gangway, then left the ship to make a picnic. There is also a pub and sandwich shop on the grounds.
  • Experienced marathoners brought folding chairs. Recommended.
  • There is not a lot of shade or rain cover on deck; mosquitoes could be a problem; it can be chilly and damp at night. Be prepared.
  • The deck is not lit. Bring a lantern/flashlight/headlamp to read & maneuver.
  • Lots of folks slept on deck; bring a pad, pillow, and sleeping bag. Some slept below, where it was warm, stuffy, and brightly lit. Earplugs and a sleep mask are the ticket.
  • Organizers maintained a sign-up sheet by chapter number. Each reader delivered an entire chapter. (Yes, even The Town Ho's Story!) If you have a favorite chapter, talk to the staff early.
  • Check with the entrance desk if you want to leave the Seaport. There should be no problem getting back in.
  • The Seaport area is closed from 6 P.M. until 9 A.M. The marathon staff will tell you how to get out/in after hours.
  • Don't mess with the ropes (sheets, halyards, and stays) or belaying pins!
 Photo: Gilles Renault

"Post-Mortemising" the Mystic MDM

Noon: Board the Morgan from the port side, and try to find a spot in the shade of the "spare boat rack." (What's the correct term?)

The Morgan has a tiny cabin (built for a captain's seasick wife) in the center of the deck, just before the mizzen-mast. Readers stand aft of the mainmast and address the audience sitting on either side of that cabin.

"Mr. Melville" recites the Loomings chapter from memory(!); something of a tradition, I gather. Sorry I didn't get his name, or thank him for his fine performance.

There is no podium, no microphone. Almost all readers are clearly audible; some painfully so. Every reader gets a round of applause when finished.

The ship remains open to museum visitors. Tourists filter through the reading and stare at us as if we're some weird exhibit.

3:30 P.M. A group of staff members boards and goes about reefing the sails for the night. Fascinating, exacting, tough physical work. The reading continues as we try to stay out of their way.

6 P.M. The museum closes, leaving fewer than twenty of us marathoners to carry on through the night. The sounds of the tourists and the working harbor are replaced by the chirps of crickets and the whine of the I-95.

As darkness gathers, we feel like a group of friends sitting around a campfire or in someone's living room.

5 A.M. BYOL - Bring your own light!
6 A.M. The dawn brings showers. Deck-sleepers are driven under the "boat rack" or below deck.

7 A.M. Staff prepares for another day. An anachronistic truck rolls down the quayside to collect the previous day's trash. Local sportsfolk shoot along the river in their sculls.

9:30 A.M. Veteran sailor and Melville scholar, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards directs staff members as they set the Morgan's sails for the day. She announces that a whale will be sighted soon...

11:25 A.M. "The Chase — Third Day"
Ahab howls. Mr. Melville waits to read "Epilogue."

11:30 A.M. A watch in the crow's nest calls "There she blows!" Mary K. and staff demonstrate the lowering of a whaleboat (a non-trivial task).
11:45 A.M. All ashore to celebrate Melville's 199th birthday with cake!
Nearly all the readers at Mystic seemed to be very conversant with the text. Their delivery was smooth and confident. This might be a by-product of the marathon falling mid-week when "youngsters" are less able to attend. There were never more than about thirty attendees, so lots of folks read multiple times. (When the marathon falls on a weekend, is the ship overcrowded?)

All-told, this was a cozy MDM, without the technology and "stage management" of the New Bedford MDM. Nor did Mystic have the ancillary events we love in New Bedford: "Stump the Scholars" and "Scholar Chats." Still, an MDM set on an authentic whaleship in a pretty harbor on a beautiful summer evening is not something to miss.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Let a hundred flowers blossom

Other MDMs in 2018

Edited 7/24/18 to include the San Francisco and Sag Harbor events.

For those who may be hesitant to venture to New Bedford in January, here are a few alternatives to note.

July 31-August 1: The 33rd(!) annual Moby-Dick Marathon at the Mystic Seaport Museum
This reading takes place aboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan. Attendance is limited; call to reserve space if staying overnight.

August 2-5: The second annual Moby-Dick reading at Arrowhead Farm
This reading runs from 10am-5pm for three days, followed on day 4 by a hike up Monument Mountain before returning to Arrowhead to read the concluding chapters.

October 13-14: At the San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park, promises a "uniquely San Franciscan" MDM. Last done here in 2015. Details at Commemorates Melville's brief visit to San Fran in 1860.

Canio's Bookshop in Sag Harbor organized an annual MDM for many years, starting in 1983. The event went dormant for a decade or so, then resurfaced in 2015 and 2017. Will it return in 2019 for Melville's 200th birth year?

The November New York City MDM was bi-annual for a while, but appears to be in hibernation.

The Provincetown Public Library had its 3rd annual MDM in April, but I didn't get the memo. Maybe next year.

Friday, May 25, 2018

Today in History

Stumbled on this little document while browsing Harvard Library's fantastic Mirador Viewer: a receipt for $10 paid to Samuel Bartoll for "painting the [Marblehead] Custom house boat including oars, mast, etc.," paid on May 25, 1804.

Using some white-pages search websites, there was no "Bartoll" or "Bartol" currently listed in Marblehead, Salem, or Lynn.

This could be him—born 12/24/1786 in Marblehead, thus 17 years old when this job was done; more likely it was his father, "Samuel Bartol Drummer 1776 W 6 Painter," 39 years old at that time.

Let's stop now before going farther down the geneological rabbit-hole. A road-trip to Marblehead's cemeteries would be interesting.

Marblehead Harbor Master
Using blogmate Lemuel's favorite conversion tool, Measuring Worth, the current value of that $10 paid to Samuel in 1804 ranges from $195 to $364,000(!). From my ignorance of things economic, it looks like the "labor value" applies, "using the unskilled wage"—$2,730 in 2017 dollars.

Given the scale of the Marblehead Harbor Master's current boat, that doesn't sound unreasonable.

FYI: Here is Harvard's fascinating cache of "customs documents, correspondence, and United States Treasury Department circulars sent to the Marblehead Custom House, dated from 1789 to 1878."

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Latest News from the Feejees - 10

50,000,000 Shades of Grey fans can't be wrong...

MDM regulars will recognize Mary K. Bercaw Edwards, making the case for Moby-Dick in The Great American Read on PBS. An experienced sailor, Melville scholar, and a pillar of MDMs at the Whaling Museum and Mystic Seaport, Ms. Bercaw Edwards knows whereof she speaks.

The 2-hour broadcast can be streamed on the program's home page. Skip to time 56:00 to hear why M-D is that fabled "great American novel."

It would be petty to gripe that this whole "list & vote" thing is a meaningless popularity contest skewed by the whims of ill-informed adolescents and political/religious zealots, so let's ignore that. No "Top x" list can satisfy everyone. (Where the dickens is Joyce's Ulysses?) Still, taken for what it is, this list might point you to a good read, and might point some wanderer to Moby-Dick.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Beckett's 112th

Samuel Beckett, born on this day in 1906.

Ahab in Ch. 135; The Chase.—Third Day
Thinking is, or ought to be, a coolness and a calmness; and our poor hearts throb, and our poor brains beat too much for that. And yet, I've sometimes thought my brain was very calm—frozen calm, this old skull cracks so, like a glass in which the contents turned to ice, and shiver it. And still this hair is growing now; this moment growing, and heat must breed it; but no, it's like that sort of common grass that will grow anywhere, between the earthy clefts of Greenland ice or in Vesuvius lava.

It’s for the whole there seems to be no spell. Perhaps there is no whole, before you’re dead. [...] I hear from here the howl resolving all, even if it is not mine. Meanwhile there’s no use knowing you are gone, you are not, you are writhing yet, the hair is growing, the nails are growing, the entrails emptying, all the morticians are dead.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018


Noted on Hershel Parker's blog: The French Ministry of Education has added The Confidence-Man to the agr├ęgation examination for English; specifically the Norton Critical Edition, 2nd edition, Hershel Parker and Mark Niemeyer, eds.

This Wikipedia entry explains the agr├ęgation (I think).

Read these three posts for what this might mean to the world of Melville studies. Years ago, I read somewhere that the reason we study Prufrock is that it's what our profs were required to study. Could it be that in five years, The Confidence-Man will be more familiar to French readers than to (North) American readers?