June 29, 2013

6/27/13 - New Bedford Whaling NHP

The weather was lousy. It had stormed all night. The RV park roads were flooded. Seemed like a good day to do something inside--so we headed to the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park in New Bedford, Massachusetts.

This particular national park is spread over 13 blocks of the Waterfront Historic District.  This means I can convince George to wander the streets and look at the old buildings.   This Greek Revival building was a bank, then a courthouse, then other businesses, and now it's the Park Visitor Center.  The courthouse identification still shows over the door.

Not knowing a lot about whaling (except that I don't like it), the video at the Visitors Center explained how important whaling was in the 18th century, and how New Bedford, Massachusetts, became the whaling capital of the world.   In the 1850s more whaling ships sailed from New Bedford than all other ports combined.  Besides using oil for lamps, baleen was used for corset stays (ugh!), skirt hoops (I'll think about it tomorrow) and buggy whips.  Two and a half centuries later, we don't have much use for any of that.

Next stop was the New Beford Whaling Museum at 18 Johnny Cake Hill (which I think is a great address!) It is literally ALL about whaling.

There are whale skeletons suspended from the ceiling. (Note: no whales were killed for this display.) There are educational exhibits and artistic ones. 

The museum has a half-scale model of a whaling bark. (I would have called it a ship, but sailors create vocabularies designed to confuse the rest of us.) It's 89' long, so the original would have been about 180'--still not big enough to live on for a couple of years, with no guarantee of any pay at all!
What surprised me most is that although a ship might be out for 3-4 years, it would probably only kill 20 whales. Since they'd annihilate all the whales in an area of ocean before moving on, the mind boggles at the number of ships there had to have been to kill most of the whales in the world. Good thing they figured out that kerosene and gas from petroleum would burn too.  Of course, that's another environmental issue, but they obviously didn't worry about any of that in the 19th century!

We could see the fishing boats in the harbor (sort of) from the museum observation deck.  It would be a pretty view on a sunny day.
The sailors tied complicated knots and carved scrimshaw, whether because of an artistic bent, or out of sheer boredom, or probably both.  I like the polar bear cribbage board on the top picture.  The other one is a collection of whales and other creatures in the sea.

We'd used up the time on the parking meter, so we had to move the truck from where it was by the Sundial Building, where clocks were made. Sailors set their instruments by the time on the dial, and called it "New Bedford time".  (Too cloudy today to check it out today.)
The Schooner "Ernestina" is near the Wharfinger Visitor Center on the waterfront. The ship (oops! I mean schooner!) had a varied career. The building was used for daily scallop and fish auctions for years. 
We wandered through the cobblestoned streets and took pictures of old buildings.  (That's my favorite part.)   I kept tripping on the cobblestones...
We went into the Seamen's Bethel, where Herman Melville went to church before he sailed on a whaler in ???. He described the chapel in Moby-Dick, and perhaps got the idea for Captain Ahab's death from one of the cenotaphs (memorial to men lost at sea) on the wall. Melville likened the old-style high box pulpit to a "ship's prow".   In 1959, they installed a new pulpit that really does look like the bow of a ship.   (I think it's a little tacky myself.)

Here's the link to more pictures of New Bedford

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