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.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Today in History

From The New York Times, on this day in 1924:
LAST OF THE WHALERS WRECKED IN STORM; The Wanderer, From New Bedford, Ends Her Career on Final Cruise -- 8 of Crew Missing.

The Wanderer was the last whaler to sail from New Bedford. On her last voyage (1924) from New Bedford, the vessel anchored off Martha's  Vineyard to wait out an approaching storm. During the night the anchor let go and the ship was ultimately destroyed on the rocks.

The Whaling Museum's photo archives has dozens of photos of the Wanderer, as well as "Mate Gomes" mentioned in the Times article--search their Photo Archives with Keyword: Wanderer.

Check out "bark Wanderer's try-works" and  "the Wanderer trying-out at night."

Today, the mizzen mast of the Wanderer stands as a flagpole in Mattapoisett's Shipyard Park, just feet from where she was built.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Other "Lit Marathons" in the Boston area

...Hawthorne, Homer, Shakespeare, Dickinson, Whittier, even Rowling. See this recent Boston Globe article.

[Hat tip to brother T.]

Friday, August 5, 2011

Road Trip - When Herman met Hawthorne

161 years ago today, Herman Melville met Nathaniel Hawthorne. The influence that this meeting had on Moby-Dick is a subject for another time. For now, let's say that it wasn't for nothing that M-D was inscribed to Hawthorne.

If you can't make it to the "Hawthorne & Melville Annual Hike" up Monument Mountain this Sunday (Aug. 7), you can browse a commemorative road-trip here. I drove out to western Massachusetts two days ago for a quick snapshot safari, but found that every answer led to more questions.

View from Melville's "piazza"
First stop, Arrowhead. I got in on the lightly attended (three visitors, total) penultimate tour of the day. Our guide was well-practiced and very knowledgeable. (We were told that Hershel Parker bought Herman & Lizzie's bed at auction and donated it to Arrowhead. A national treasure is Mr. Parker. Most of the details here are taken from his biography of Melville.) The place is in great shape inside, thanks to the off-season work of skilled volunteers.

Pontoosuc Lake, Pittsfield
Thursday, August 1, 1850 was Melville's 31st birthday.  Two days later, a group from the Melvill farm (purchased by Herman in September, 1850 and named "Arrowhead"), including visitors Evert Duyckinck and Cornelius Matthews, took a fishing trip to Pontoosuc Lake, on the other side of Pittsfield. Duyckinck and Matthews had been invited out to the farm by Herman. The following day, August 4, was Herman and Elizabeth's third wedding anniversary.

Stockbridge station
Monday, August 5, 1850, Melville, Duyckinck, and Matthews took the train to Stockbridge, where Dudley Field (Jr.) had arranged for the two out-of-towners to meet "all the celebrities of Stockbridge" (Parker). There they met Field and Oliver Wendell Holmes. Holmes's grandfather owned 24,000 acres in the Berkshires—a valuable holding as the coming of the railroad in 1850 led to the development of the area as a playground for the rich. Arrowhead is on Holmes Road; Oliver had a summer home down the road, on the river.

The four went to the Field "cottage" in Stockbridge, then set out for Sacrifice Mount as a "rehearsal, for the grand climb." I could find no location for Sacrifice Mount or the Field home. Parker mentions that the cottage is (was?) "on the village green ... [a] square, red-brick house later known as the Old Parsonage." Note that the well-to-do referred to their Berkshire homes as "cottages" in the same way that the Vanderbilts and the Astors referred to their palaces in Newport.

Returning to the Field cottage, the four were joined by James T. Fields (publisher of The Scarlet Letter) and his wife, Henry Sedgwick ("of the famous Stockbridge family" [Parker]), and Mister Nathaniel Hawthorne. (So, Melville and Hawthorne actually first met at Field's house in Stockbridge!)

From Monument Mountain
"Miss Jenny Field" (Dudley's sister?) came along as all ten rode out to Monument Mountain "in three conveyances." There is no record of the actual route they hiked. We know they abandoned the wagons partway up the mountain. They got caught in a rainstorm, drank some champagne, listened to Matthews recite poetry, and watched Herman climb out on a rock, pretending it was a bowsprit.

The mountain is now owned by The Trustees of Reservations. (Download a trail map here.) I hiked up the west side. The trail followed an old dirt road until it became steep, so I imagine this was their route. On a humid August day, this was a good workout — not a hike I'd enjoy in long woolen trousers, no matter how much champagne was on offer. Some photos from the trail are in this album.

In the Ice Glen
The group then returned to the Field cottage for a big, well-lubricated turkey dinner. Joel Tyler Headley dropped in and induced the men to hike the "Icy-Glen" (mentioned in Moby-Dick, Chapter 102). This is a short hike, just a few blocks from the Red Lion Inn in Stockbridge center. See the album for all the photos and information. Bring bug dope and shoes with good traction. On a humid day the mossy rocks are slippery. I did get a few drafts of cool air, but there was no ice to be seen. The route is unobtrusively engineered to aid the visitor through the boulder field, with stone steps and bridges. An alternate fork on the trail toward the Glen makes a sweat-inducing, mosquito-infested climb to an observation tower ("Laura's Tower") with limited views.

The party returned again to the Field house, and at 10 P.M. the three from Pittsfield took the train home. The brakeman consented to pause the train near the Holmes Road crossing, saving them a two-mile walk back from the Pittsfield station. Duyckinck and Matthews stayed at the Melvill farm that night.

So ended the Big Day. It led to the birth of Moby-Dick as we know (and love) it. And it was all orchestrated by David Dudley Field. More about him in a subsequent post.

Monday, August 1, 2011