Circumambulate the city of a dreamy Sabbath afternoon. Go from Corlears Hook to Coenties Slip, and from thence, by Whitehall, northward. - Chapter I, LoomingsWe hear them in the opening minutes of every Moby-Dick Marathon—Corlears Hook, Coenties Slip, Whitehall. In one sentence, Melville mentions three well-known locations along New York's working waterfront. He also slips in a shout-out to his mother's family back in Albany, and names a spot that is tied to her family in a way even he may not have known about.
What I learned in my researches was a revelation to me—sawmills on the Hudson; north of Coenties Slip bowsprits run in over street traffic so you could touch the figureheads; the ship-chandlery shops north of Market Street (halfway between the Battery and Corlears Hook).Check Google Maps—Market Street is still there, leading right down to the East River. The dockyards long gone (mostly), replaced by the FDR Drive.
- Melville Biography, An Inside Narrative; Hershel Parker; p.13
|Corlears Hook, 1841|
By Melville's time, the area had evolved into an isolated slum, frequented by seamen from the nearby waterfront, and prostitutes. Some sources claim that the term "hooker" derives from this neighborhood's name.
Today, Corlears Hook is memorialized by a small park.
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Corlears Hook Park, looking south toward the river
My next posts will look at the other locations mentioned in Loomings, Coenties Slip and Whitehall, and their (surprising) ties to Melville's family.
(Note: The full map of 1841 Manhattan can be found at this outstanding Boston Public Library site.)