20th Annual Moby-Dick Marathon

The 20th anniversary of the Moby-Dick Marathon was indeed a celebration of America’s greatest novel, of New Bedford’s place in whaling and industrial history, of shared heritage, and of Irwin Marks’ vision of a community event that would include readers of varied backgrounds. Our readers came from a dozen different states and from the Netherlands, our Livestream feed was followed in 26 different countries, including New Zealand and Zimbabwe, our foreign language readers added French, Spanish, German, Hebrew, Mandarin, Japanese, Dutch and Portuguese to the reading, and two dozen hearty souls stayed for the entire Marathon. The second Children’s mini-Marathon kicked off with teenagers from Iceland joining us via Skype to read in their native tongue before a full roster of our own young readers read through the abridged version of Moby-Dick. The Maratona de Moby-Dick em Lingua Portuguêsa, a new event this year, was a great success that featured 46 ‘leitores’ reading from Tiago Patricio’s four-hour adaptation of the Portuguese translation of Moby-Dick. The ‘Chat with a Melville Scholar’ sessions attracted more than 40 people to each session and Michael Dyer’s presentation on the new exhibition Mapping Ahab’s Storied Waves was given to a full gallery. The Cook Memorial Theater was filled to capacity to watch Culture*Park enthusiastically act out Chapter 40, Midnight – Forecastle.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

Nathaniel Philbrick reading Chapter One, Loomings.

We were thrilled to have Nathaniel Philbrick, author of In the Heart of the Sea, Why Read Moby-Dick? and several other great stories, start the Marathon for us as Ishmael. We were honored to have three of Irwin Marks’ children, David, Rebecca and Esther, along with Rebecca’s husband, Alban, join us in the Bourne Building, in the shadow of the Lagoda, where the entire Marathon took place for the first five years under Irwin’s guiding hand, to read from chapters two and three.  We were humbled by both the full-audience singing of The Ribs and Terrors in the Whale, led by Gerald Dyck, Dwight Thomas and several docents, and by the words of Father Mapple’s sermon orated by Reverend David Lima.

Our new Harbor View Gallery (HVG) was showcased over the weekend as the primary site for the reading. The view of New Bedford Harbor from this gallery created a new connection to the setting of the story. For many of our readers, spectators and supporters it was their first visit to the HVG and the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center (WJEC). The first floor of the WJEC, the Casa dos Botes Discovery Center, became Cousin Hosea’s Chowder Hall, where participants could enjoy chowder and soup donated by four local restaurants and sip some coffee and have a snack.

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery

David Sullivan and John Bullard at the lecterns in the Harbor View Gallery (Arthur Motta/NBWM Photo)

But, the 20th anniversary was more than the reading and associated events that took place on Saturday and Sunday, January 9 and 10. We began the four days of celebration on Thursday, January 7, by unveiling a stunning photography exhibit by award-winning photographer Nuno Sá, from Portugal. Nearly 200 people filled the Jacobs Family Gallery with their ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ as they viewed his vivid photos of marine life in the waters around the Azores. They then packed the Cook Memorial Theater to hear Mr. Sá’s presentation and see more of his impressive photos on the big screen.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum's Azorean Whaleman Gallery.

Consul of Portugal, Pedro Carneiro, begins the Maratona em Lingua Portuguesa in the Museum’s Azorean Whaleman Gallery. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

The next night began with a cocktail reception in the JFG before we moved upstairs to the former Center Street Gallery to watch the dedication of the space as it officially became The Herman Melville Room. Members of the Melville Society Cultural Project spoke on the gallery and their partnership with the Museum, before they cut the ribbon to formalize the process.

After the ribbon cutting, guests walked into the new building to check out the exhibit, In the Heart of the Sea, featuring costumes from the film of the same name before gathering in the Harbor View Gallery for a delicious dinner. Diners were then treated to an engaging presentation by our own Arthur Motta, titled “Moby-Dick: How Hollywood Changed New Bedford”.

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta photo)

Wattles Jacobs Education Center and Bourne Building on Saturday night, during the Marathon. (Arthur Motta/NBWM photo)

We are grateful to the sponsors, watch officers, volunteers, trustees, readers, spectators, supporters, media outlets, staff and apprentices who made this series of events possible. Of course, we are most grateful to the late Irwin Marks for his vision and dedication, and to the volunteers in 1996 who also believed in this concept, that made this event a reality.  As popular as the event was that first year, we think he would be truly impressed with the reach of the Moby-Dick Marathon after 20 years. It has become as global as the whaling industry itself.

New Bedford Harbor Small Craft Illustrated in Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.

Albert Van Beest painted this view of shipping in New Bedford Harbor in the mid-1850s. This boat, a lapstrake open boat with stayed masts and a jibboom appears to be of the dogbody type with a square transom. The foresail appears to be of the loose-footed type without a boom, as the mainsail boom is prominently shown. Typical of Van Beest's work, the boat is an element of the larger scene and while it may be reliably interpreted as a boat type, it's activities are ambiguous. This detail is from "View of Shipping in New Bedford Harbor," 1975.17.

Albert Van Beest painted this view of shipping in New Bedford Harbor in the mid-1850s. This type of boat, or one very similar to it, appears in the Panorama a number of times and in other paintings of New Bedford waters in the 1850s as well. This boat, a lapstrake open boat with stayed masts and a jibboom appears to be of the “dogbody” type with a square transom. The foresail appears to be of the loose-footed type without a boom, as the mainsail boom is prominently shown. Typical of Van Beest’s work, the boat is an element of the larger scene and while it may be reliably interpreted as a boat type, it’s activities are ambiguous. This detail is from “View of Shipping in New Bedford Harbor,” 1975.17.

Purrington & Russel painted several versions of this type of craft. This particular one has two unstayed masts with a boom on the mainsail, a loose-footed foresail, a jibboom and head sail, a square transom and is mostly decked over. Its use is ambiguous although it appears to be ferrying people. 1918.27.1

Purrington & Russel painted several versions of this type of craft. Unlike Van Beest’s painting above, this particular one has two unstayed masts with a boom on the mainsail, a loose-footed foresail, a jibboom and head sail, a square transom and is mostly decked over. Its use is ambiguous although it appears to be ferrying people. 1918.27.1

The boat shown in this detail from William Bradford's 1854 portrait of the ship Twilight of New Bedford appears to an almost perfect example of a Block Island Cowhorn. The two men are obviously fishing and the scene is in Buzzards Bay off Dumplin Rocks lighthouse. Note the double-ended "pinky" style of hull, the open deck, unstayed masts and lack of a jibboom. 1980.43

The boat shown in this detail from William Bradford’s 1854 portrait of the ship Twilight of New Bedford appears to an almost perfect example of a Block Island Cowhorn. The two men are obviously fishing and the scene is in Buzzards Bay off Dumplin Rocks lighthouse. Note the double-ended “pinky” style of hull, the open deck, unstayed masts and lack of a jibboom. 1980.43

While much has been written of New Bedford whalers, the famous ships, barks and schooners that sailed the world round, little has been written of the small working craft of the harbor. These boats were employed all up and down the East Coast in a variety of styles and sizes, from the large double-ended “pinky” schooner to the smaller pinky “Chebacco Boat,” dogbody Hampton Boat and  little working skiff. Perhaps it’s because at first glance there seems little to say about them. As they appear in prints and paintings, they all look sort-of similar and are engaged in some activity, but seldom can one tell what that activity actually is. Obviously small boats were used for a host of purposes including everything from fishing to freighting to ferrying people. Not appearing in either the official enrollments of American vessels in the coastwise American trade or the registers of ships engaged in foreign trade, these boats are often merely adjunct details to larger art works or photographs. Yet for all of their ubiquity, these boats suggest a fundamental element of a maritime culture. People worked on the water and used various sorts of boats to do it. These boats would, most likely, have been of local manufacture and designed for the waters they would ply.

Purrington and Russell commonly drew these boats with decks. This example shows a boat around 20 feet long, with unstayed masts, a jibboom and a loosefooted foresail.

Purrington and Russell commonly drew these boats with decks. This example shows a boat around 20 feet long, with unstayed masts, a jibboom and a loosefooted foresail.

This detail of a small New Bedford boat is part of a larger painting by New Bedford painter William Allen Wall. Wall clearly indicates that these boats were rowed as well as sailed. It is a very small version of this boat but the jibboom is clearly shown and the masts appeared unstayed. 2012.26

This detail of a small New Bedford boat is part of a larger painting by New Bedford painter William Allen Wall. Wall clearly indicates that these boats were rowed as well as sailed. It is a very small version of this boat but the jibboom is clearly shown and the masts appeared unstayed. 2012.26

If the boats are challenging to identify, their users are even more so. “Boatmen” appear occasionally in the New Bedford City Directories and these people made their livelihood either renting or working onboard small craft about the harbor. As larger shipping was anchored in the stream, boatmen would move people and goods from the shore to the ship.

In this view from the Panorama, two sloop-rigged work boats transfer the crew of a whaler and their sea chests onboard a vessel anchored in the stream. 1917.27.1

In this view from the Panorama, two sloop-rigged work boats transfer the crew of a whaler and their sea chests onboard a vessel anchored in the stream. 1917.27.1

Work boats alongside the ship William Hamilton, outfitting in New Bedford Harbor in June of 1848. Note the black seaman onboard and the sea chest coming over the side of the ship. 1917.27.1

Work boats alongside the ship William Hamilton, outfitting in New Bedford Harbor in June of 1848. Note the black seaman onboard and the sea chest coming over the side of the ship. 1917.27.1

A gaff-rigged sloop approaches the ship William Hamilton in New Bedford Harbor, June of 1848. Onboard are crew members ready to join the ship. 1916.27.1

A gaff-rigged sloop approaches the ship William Hamilton in New Bedford Harbor, June of 1848. Onboard are crew members ready to join the ship. 1916.27.1

Whether or not the people can be positively identified and discussed, the boats appear often enough that one can glean much information about them. When Purrington and Russell painted New Bedford harbor in 1848-1849 they included a large number of these small working craft. Unlike the formal oil paintings by prominent marine painters, the boats in the Panorama are not adjuncts, they are integral to the interpretation of a busy seaport. The Panorama was intended for audiences nationwide, and by showing the full array of busyness, the artists created an effective interpretive sequence. Among the more easily recognized are the larger two-masted schooners and single-masted sloops. These often appear as pilot boats in marine paintings. The larger ones were undoubtedly coasters as well trading domestic goods coastwise.

Here a large topsail schooner is shown standing down New Bedford harbor before a following breeze. 1918.27.1

Here a large topsail schooner is shown standing down New Bedford harbor before a following breeze. 1918.27.1

Purrington & Russell painted this view of three men in a long skiff jigging for squid or mackerel in New Bedford harbor opposite Palmer's Island. They are probably jigging for squid to use for bait. 1916.27.1

Purrington & Russell painted this view of three men in a long skiff jigging for squid or mackerel in New Bedford harbor opposite Palmer’s Island. They are probably jigging for squid to use for bait. 1916.27.1

In this curious detail, Purrington & Russell show two men in a rowboat towing a raft of logs up New Bedford Harbor. 1918.27.1

In this curious detail, Purrington & Russell show two men in a rowboat towing a raft of logs up New Bedford Harbor. 1918.27.1

The smaller boat close-by the larger is among the more common aspects of ship portraiture. But who was sailing these pilot boats? Who were the pilots? Where were the boats built and by whom? Why did they look the way they did? These questions are difficult, if not impossible to answer because these small craft are seldom the subject of the painting. The pilots were listed in the New Bedford City Directories and thirty-five appear in 1852 along with five named pilot boats. As these boats are seldom identified by either flag or by name their actual appearance is merely circumstantial.  The artists seem to include them as necessary decoration; evidence of the full range of complexity involved in an active seaport, but small craft often only appear as elements in the arrangement and structure of the composition.

William Bradford painted this scene of a merchant ship hove-to for a pilot off Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard in 1850. Note the small craft in the foreground and the pilot boat, a schooner, off the stern of the ship. 2005.20

William Bradford painted this scene of a merchant ship hove-to for a pilot off Gay Head, Martha’s Vineyard in 1850. Note the small craft in the foreground and the pilot boat, a schooner, off the stern of the ship. 2005.20

Detail from William Bradford, "Hove-to for a Pilot," 1850. This boat has a pinky hull, two stayed masts and a jibboom. It is obviously a fishing boat with two men engaged in fishing in the waters between Cuttyhunk Island and Martha's Vineyard. The cliffs of Gay Head are in the background. 2005.20

Detail from William Bradford, “Hove-to for a Pilot,” 1850. This boat has a pinky hull, two stayed masts and a jibboom. It is obviously a fishing boat with two men engaged in fishing in the waters between Cuttyhunk Island and Martha’s Vineyard. The cliffs of Gay Head are in the background. 2005.20

Likewise, another small craft commonly seen, especially in New Bedford scenes, is a two-masted work boat with a small jibboom, the hull of which is either double-ended (a pinky) or with a square transom (a dogbody). These boats seem to have evolved from the much earlier 17th century European “shallop,” often around 25 feet long, two-masted, fore and aft rigged, simple to sail and very weatherly, used for fishing and other work. On these New Bedford boats, the main sail is rigged with a boom and the fore sail is loose-footed. The short jibboom may have been removable. (See John Gardner,  “The Elusive Hampton Boats,” The Small Boat Journal (November, 1979). Sometimes the boats are ¾’s decked over with a passenger cockpit aft. Sometimes the masts are stayed and sometimes un-stayed. They appear in a variety of lengths.

William Bradford drew this pencil sketch of a Block Island Boat in the 1850s. The lines are a perfect Cowhorn but it is unclear if there is a removable jibboom. There is certainly an anchor on the starboard bow and tit has an after deck. 1960.7.9

William Bradford drew this pencil sketch of a Block Island Boat in the 1850s. The lines are a perfect Cowhorn but it is unclear if there is a removable jibboom. There is certainly an anchor on the starboard bow and it has an after deck. 1960.7.9

This craft is commonly shown with two men on board, and whether they are fishing, or doing something else is often ambiguous. The context of their appearance, especially in the formal marine paintings of artists like William Bradford and Albert Van Beest suggests that these are fishing boats. Boats of this type were built in a variety of sizes all along the New England coast. On Block Island a similar craft was called a “cowhorn.” In Gloucester there was the Chebacco boat, on the coast of Maine and New Hampshire there was a similar craft called a Hampton Boat. The New Bedford boats appear to be a kind of Hampton or Hambden Boat (see Chappelle, The National Watercraft Collection, Washington, 1960, pp. 254-257). Chapelle reports that these “two-man” boats were common as fishing and lobster boats on the coast of Maine in the late 19th century but the frequency with which they appear in New Bedford paintings suggests a much broader geography of use. In 1845, there was at least one lobsterman in New Bedford, Joseph Crapo, (City Directory, 1845, p. 80) and while no individuals are listed as fishermen in the Directory the Bartlett family operated a fish market at the Ferry Boat Wharf, so presumably someone must have been providing them with fish.

In the below list there are doubtless a number of builders who specialized in whaleboats. This was a major manufacturing sector of New Bedford’s whaling industry. Most, if not all of the below list of boat builders could and probably did build other sorts of working craft but the full extent of that production remains to be researched.

List of New Bedford boat builders from the 1845 City Directory
Alexander Wall, boat builder, 1845 Ray Street
Joseph Warren, boat builder, 1845, Ray Street
Daniel Wardsworth, boat builder, 1845, rear, 32 South Water Street
Lawrence Wardsworth, boat builder, 1845, rear, 32 South Water Street
Robert C. Topham, boat builder, 1845, Foot of Griffin
William H. Smith, boat builder, 1845, rear 98 South Water St.
Sprowell Pease, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Calvin D. Macomber, boat builder, 1845, no address
George C. Lewis, boat builder, 1845, 214 Ray Street
Ebenezer Leonard, boat builder, 1845 works for D. Wardsworth (possibly whaleboats)
Joseph Irish, boat builder, 1845, no working address
John D. Hillman, boat builder, 1845, 214 Purchase St.
Alvin Hinckley, boat builder, 1845, no working address
George Hart, boat builder, 1845, rear 94 South Water St.
Samuel E. Gabriel, apprentice to Robert C. Topham, 1845
Samuel A. Enholm, boat builder, 1845, works for R. C. Topham.
James M. Cranston, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Joseph W. Cornell, boat builder, 1845, 133 Ray St.
Edmund B. Coffin, boat builder, 1845, no working address
Shubael C. Coffin & Co. (Edward F. Slocum), boat builders, 1845, Rotch’s South Wharf.
Henry Butler, boat builder, 1845, no working address.
Frederick F. Bunker, boat builder, 1845, works for T.N. Allen, lives on Ray Street.
Charles Bosworth, boat builder, 1845, house and shop 61 South Water St.
James Beetle, boat builder, 1845, 214 Purchase St.
John G. Bailey, boat builder, 1845, 20 Elm St.
Rhodes G. Arnold, boat builder, 1845, South Water St.
Thomas N. Allen, boat builder, 1845, 94 North Water St.

“An Excellent Thing of its Kind”: The Culture and Context of Purrington & Russell’s Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World.

Apart from its intrinsic appeal and importance as a document speaking directly to the American whale fishery of the 1840s, Purrington and Russell’s “Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World” serves to contextualize New England’s maritime culture within the larger American experience of the day. Whaling was a specialized industry prosecuted by a number of active ports in New England and the Long Island. While America’s maritime trades were widespread and globally influential, whaling, while equally influential on a global scale, demanded skills, financing, hardware and other expertise far outside the normal activities of America’s trading ports. Obviously, Benjamin Russell (1804-1885), erstwhile New Bedford banker and leading citizen turned whaleman  artist, sought to earn cash from his traveling panorama picture show of the New England whale fishery. Although it was a large and demanding, labor-intensive industry worth over $8 million dollars per year to the national economy, the significance of whaling was little known or appreciated outside of its immediate geographical management sectors.

Ship India of New Bedford bound in, 1848.

Ship India of New Bedford bound in, 1848.

Russell included an accurate representation of Abraham H. Howland's house flag flying from the India's main peak. Under Howland's ownership the India was a Northwest Coast right whaler. William Tallman Russell owner her from 1827-1840 when she was primarily an Indian Ocean right whaler.

Russell included an accurate representation of Abraham H. Howland’s house flag flying from the India‘s main peak. Under Howland’s ownership the India was a Northwest Coast right whaler. William Tallman Russell owner her from 1827-1840 when she was primarily an Indian Ocean right whaler.

 

Detail of the starboard bow of the ship India of New Bedford. Characteristically, Russell painted the crew hard at work on the foredeck. Note that the ship has her anchor at the bow which the crew are probably securing prior to her arriving home at New Bedford harbor.

Detail of the starboard bow of the ship India of New Bedford. Characteristically, Russell painted the crew hard at work on the foredeck. Note that the ship has her anchor at the bow which the crew are probably securing prior to her arriving home at New Bedford harbor.

Panoramas in general were very popular in the 1840s and 50s, and Russell and Purrington certainly went all-out to create a stunning documentation of the whaling experience for the intended audiences. The New York Morning Courier in July, 1851 noted: “Ever since the great success of BANVARD with his panorama of the Mississippi River, the public have been overrun with panoramas and dioramas of every conceivable river and land known to the civilized world—panoramas of the North Pole—panoramas of the South Pole—dioramas of the Creation—dioramas of the End of the World—panoramas of California, of Oregon, of Asia, Africa, Europe and every part of America have been painted or daubed and, like every dog, each one has had its day, blazed awhile in the streets and in the newspapers, and then are gone—nobody knows whither.”

The same editorial then went on to praise the high quality of Russell’s panorama: “of all the gems we have seen, RUSSELL’S great panorama of a Voyage Around the World is, on the whole, the best.” It then went on to describe the “magnificent” and “sublime” scenes, but significantly noted that Benjamin Russell himself was the “lucid” narrator of the show which he based on his own sketches and experiences as a whaleman.

New Bedford whaling merchant John Avery Parker owned the ship Trident, which was among the most successful whalers sailing out of New Bedford at this period. The Trident landed many thousands of barrels of sperm and right whale oil at both Bremen, Germany and New Bedford. She made seventeen voyages between 1828 and 1873 when she was finally lost on the coast of Panama in the Pacific.

“The illustrations of ships at sea in every possible situation of the process of taking the various species of whale and the mode of preparing the oil, are sprightly, lively and very interesting…” (New York Morning Courier, July, 1851)  In the above view, the ship Trident of New Bedford is shown cutting in a whale at sea. New Bedford whaling merchant John Avery Parker (176901853) owned the ship Trident, which was among the most successful whalers sailing out of New Bedford at this period. Under Parker’s management the Trident landed many thousands of barrels of sperm and right whale oil at both Bremen, Germany and New Bedford, between 1828 and 1855. She made seventeen voyages total between 1828 and 1873 when she was finally lost on the coast of Panama in the Pacific. Parker was among Benjamin Russell’s creditors and throughout the Panorama Russell shrewdly identified some of the most successful ships of New Bedford’s most important merchants.

Russell scheduled an ambitious line-up of venues. Cities like New York and Boston seem obvious choices. Other sites, however, such as Buffalo, St. Louis,  Cincinnati and Louisville, Kentucky really do raise some significant questions as to the viability of the scheme as a money-making venture. While these were   fairly large cities and towns for middle-America in the 1840s and 50s, the specific appeal of such an alien subject matter as pelagic whaling to the farming and urban-dwelling citizens of the hinterland was undoubtedly a gamble. However, New Bedford did have business interests in all of these cities and towns, so Benjamin may been counting on an interested populace. Oil refiner and candle manufacturer William Tallman Russell (1788-1872) of New Bedford, for instance, sold his products to retailers in Buffalo, St. Louis and Baltimore.

View of Buffalo, New York, 1853.

View of Buffalo, New York, 1853 where Russell visited with the Panorama in November of 1849.

By 1850 Cincinnati had a population of 115, 000, St. Louis, 63,000, Buffalo, 40,000. New Bedford itself only numbered about 17,000 people. While, if the press accounts are any indication, the Panorama was wildly popular in New Bedford and elsewhere in New England, it’s popularity in the mid-west seems to have been moderate at best. In Buffalo in November, 1849, the press really did approve heartily of the show: “[it] is one of the most interesting and attractive exhibitions that has been witnessed in Buffalo. It presents views of some of the loveliest islands in the world, and shows how man plays with and conquers the leviathan of the deep. Come and see it. It will give you more real information than can be gleaned from books in months. The view of the beautiful city of New Bedford alone is worth the price of admission.”

Advertisment for the Panorama from the Buffalo Daily Courier, November 24, 1849

Advertisement for the Panorama from the Buffalo Daily Courier, November 24, 1849

 

Benjamin Russell however, complained of competition from other panoramas and attractions almost everywhere he went in the mid-west. Most of these cities and towns had large halls especially devoted to exhibiting panoramas. In Boston it was Amory Hall, in New York is was at Stoppani Hall, Broadway and in Buffalo is was Clinton Hall on the corner of Washington ands Clinton Streets.

Maro at Huaheine

For this view of the fabled islands of Polynesia, Benjamin Russell chose a scene based on the lore of the whale fishery in the Pacific. In March of 1825, the Nantucket Inquirer newspaper then the New Bedford Weekly Mercury in April 1, 1825 published a letter. The letter was written by the Nantucket whaling master Richard Macy of the ship Maro dated Coast of Japan, August 16, 1824 “I steered first to the Society Islands, where I proposed to stop in order to procure wood and water – the island I selected for that purpose is called Eimeo, and lies 20 miles west of Otaheite. I entered a harbor on the north side of the island, which is not to be surpassed for access and safety by any harbor I this ocean. I took my ship 2 miles up this beautiful harbor (entirely landlocked) and tied her to an old tree.” Such a romantic and undoubtedly beautiful location was guaranteed to entice landlocked young fellows into the whale fishery.

Russell may have had an ulterior motive, such as labor recruitment by visiting these inland cities and towns. These places were potentially full of young men hungry for adventure. It may be a mere coincidence but in the same New York paper where a glowing advertisement for the Panorama appeared, the New York Morning Courier, October, 1851,  a lengthy story appeared about the success of the American whaling industry with a paragraph specifically highlighting that the New Bedford fleet needing 4000 young men to man its ships.

Among the more fascinating questions about Russell traveling with this enormous painting and, presumably, the apparatus necessary to work it, is how did he get around? Between 1848 and 1851, railroads were rapidly connecting America’s mid-west cities and towns. Russell had even included a picture of the railroad in New Bedford at the extreme beginning of the Panorama.

panorama railroad picture

In what may be the earliest picture of the railroad in New Bedford, Russell and Purrington drew a locomotive, coal car and other cars on the line passing north behind Wamsutta Mills.

Even at their best, however, these railroads were not quite up to scratch. John Avery Parker described his journey to Buffalo from Albany on the railroad as particularly arduous:

“Take it from Albany to Buffalo the road with some exception is more like riding in an old stage coach than on a railroad and the worst managed road that I ever rode over and the slowest road by about one half of any road in Massachusetts and about 75 percent higher fare 12 or 13 miles is all you go per hour. On our great Western Railroad from Boston to Greenbush they go over 20 miles per hour including stops. Very seldom more than 5 minutes is taken to land baggage and passengers, on your road from 10 minutes to 30 are generally taken up and no punctuality observed in starting. I will give you some facts which I was an eye witness to and could give you two hundred more witnesses for there were about that number altogether. We reached Utica from Troy in good time no complaint. Stopped all night at a good house first rate (Brag’s Hotel) next day two o clock was the starting hour our ladies got seated in the cars at ¼ before two at 3 oclk we started after backing & filling one whole hour. @ 3 oclk along we went for Auburn where we were told we should arrive by 8 oclk in the evening which was the hour we arrived at Syracuse which was the time my company wished to stop. Could not get our baggage because it was put in for Auburn in fact it was as much as a man’s life was worth to get in the neighborhood of our baggage so I took my seat in the cars thinking that the safest place. In the course of an hour we started and soon brought up and found they had wood & water to take in, after getting a supply as I supposed we backed up again as I judged nearly to Syracuse from thence we started ahead. Soon after the cars began to move at a slow pace all hands were called on to get out and push at the wheels to keep her moving. Finally got started and rode off 8 or 10 miles an hour, got on a few miles farther. We brought to a stand again and finally got to Auburn—12 oclock same night. Next morning we were told the cars left at 9 oclk we of course were to the depot in time. At about half past ten we started from Auburn and got on after that with the usual delays.” (MSS 14, John Avery Parker Papers, Letter book, October 9, 1847).

Russell must have encountered very similar challenges in his travels to those described by Parker, even more when one considers that there was no railroad to St. Louis from Louisville, Kentucky in 1850. Russell must have come to St. Louis via steamboat.

St. Louis, Missouri, waterfront, 1849 from a wood cut by Julius Hutawa.

St. Louis, Missouri, waterfront, 1849 from a woodcut by Julius Hutawa.

By the time that Russell had actually made into the American interior with his fascinating pictures of the adventures of world travel in the whale fishery, gold had been discovered in California. Men were leaving the old ports of the East Coast and traveling westward by whatever means they could.

Josephine gold rush

In this 1849 New Bedford broadside, the ship Josephine is advertised as leaving New Bedford for the gold fields of California. The Gold Rush was a major drain on skilled mariners and others who had hitherto spent their careers, or hoped to, in the whale fishery and maritime trades.

Visualizing Whale Sounds

From Woods Hole Currents Magazine

From Woods Hole Currents Magazine

As we get better acquainted with the sounds cetaceans make, researchers look for innovative ways to analyze and interpret what is being heard. Recent articles, including this one by Science News for Students, based on a recent publication in Science Communication, a recent interview by NPR featuring Katy and Roger Payne, as well as the article featured below, indicate that language has structure and can be learned.  This then drives research into whale culture and social structure. Hal Whitehead, from Dalhousie University, has been studying sperm whale social structure for decades (see Sperm Whales: Social Evolution in the Ocean, published in 2003). He will speak on this topic here on Tuesday, November 10, during our Whales in the Heart of the Sea lecture series.

One of the most interesting facets of this research is the use of spectrograms to visualize the sounds being made. Being the sight-focused species that we are, this visual representation of the sounds enhances our ability to recognize patterns, if indeed there are any.

What is a Spectrogram

This recent article in Smithsonian Magazine, featuring the work of David Rothenburg in Medium, combines spectrogram, sound and art to depict recognizable audio patterns as colorful shapes. We still don’t know what the male humpback was trying communicate with these vocalizations, but it’s clear that the sounds are not random meanderings.

The legacy of marine mammal sound recording started by William Schevill and William Watkins 60 years ago continues with new technology and new interpretive techniques. We will continue to follow these trends as the new stewards of the William A. Watkins Collection of Marine Mammal Sound Recordings and Data.

A Scoop of …. with Your Ice Cream

Whaling became a global industry because there was a need, and thus a market, for the products derived from blubber and baleen. Lamps, lighthouses and streetlights were all lit with one form or another of whale oil. Spermaceti candles were a valued commodity because they burned cleanly without smoke. Lubricants were made from the blubber and jaw pads of toothed whales. Corset stays, collar stiffeners, leaf springs and other products were sliced out of baleen. But, perhaps the most unusual source of a whale-based product is the black, tarry substance secreted by the intestines of male sperm whales. This unusual biological creation is known as ambergris, French for gray amber.

Beak of giant squid (Architeuthis dux). Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Beak of giant squid (Architeuthis dux). Photo from Wikimedia commons.

Sperm whales eat lots of squid. Squid digest well, except for their beaks. If the whale doesn’t vomit the beaks they will pass through the three stomachs into the intestines. The sharp edges of the beak most likely irritate the inner walls of the intestines. Thus, some sperm whales, apparently only males, secrete the ambergris to coat the sharp edges of the beaks. Eventually the lump of beaks, ambergris and other digestive tract material find their way out the back end of the whale. Once in the water, which is colder than the inside of a whale, the ambergris becomes much more of a solid. Exposure to air and salt can oxidize the lump and lighten its color to gray rather than black, hence the name.

Ambergris and Scrimshaw Tooth from Capt. Harry Mandly of Valkyria

Ambergris and Scrimshaw Tooth from Capt. Harry Mandly of Valkyria

Some of us here have wondered who first figured out that a substance (a protein called ambrein) could be extracted from these lumps and used in perfumes as a fixative for color and aroma. What types of experiments were he/she/they doing? Did they know the source of this ambergris? Were they searching for something else?

We do know that ambergris has been used in food, burned as incense and used as an aphrodisiac for centuries. However, I think it may come as a surprise to learn that the first known recorded recipe for ice cream would include ambergris, or ambergreece, as it’s written in the recipe, as a potential ingredient.

The story of the origin of ice cream is a fun read anyway. You can listen to a podcast on Gastropod or read their article. But, to know that a substance that comes out of the back end of a whale was part of the original recipe is amusing. People have mixed it into their eggs and shaved it on top of their port wine. But, if it finds its way back into ice cream, it will have to happen in another country. Use of ambergris, and all other marine mammal products has been outlawed in the U.S. since 1972 when the Marine Mammal Protection Act went into effect.

Panorama Conservation Project Reveals Hidden Content.

One of the great treasures of the New Bedford Whaling Museum collection, Caleb P. Purrington and Benjamin Russell’s 1848 painting, Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage Round the World, is currently receiving conservation treatment. Concerns with the 1,285 foot long painting include flaking paint, wrinkling and tears in the fabric. The entire composition consisting of tempera on cotton sheeting, even after being bundled around from city to city 150 years ago, remains in a remarkable state of preservation. It  is nonetheless in need of attention. The painting is stored on rolls, as it was originally, and abrasion has caused some paint loss. For its treatment, the painting has been separated into a series of padded spools. One at a time, the spools are mounted on a custom-fabricated steel table outfitted with cogs, cranks, swivels and other apparatus necessary to maneuver the giant paintings safely and effectively. Its location in the Bourne Building, just adjacent to the model whaling bark Lagoda, gives visitors the opportunity to witness the ongoing treatment firsthand. One goal of the treatment is to minimize the loss of paint as it flakes away from the cotton sheeting. Using a combination of liquid spray consolidates and targeted forensic triage the conservators are systematically stabilizing this important artifact of American maritime history. Another goal is to repair any damage to the fabric.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

Conservator Jordan Berson at work with a dahlia sprayer humidifying the cotton substrate and fixing the pigments in place.

One ten foot section of the Panorama is treated weekly to consolidate the fragile and powdered paint layer, in order to prevent it from falling off the cotton substrate. First, the section is examined for minute particles on the surface that are carefully  removed with tweezers. Particulate commonly found are lint, human hairs, dirt and other debris. Once the surface is free of such materials, the section is sprayed with a superfine mist of weak-gelatin solution from a dahlia-sprayer. The solution (.75% conservation grade gelatin in deionized water) serves a dual purpose: as an fixative for the powdering paint, and to humidify the cotton sheeting substrate and reduce wrinkling. 

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores. Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

The Panorama unrolled to the section showing Horta, Fayal in the Azores.
Photo by Melanie Correia, July 15, 2015

While the conservators examine and treat the painting for its forensic issues, the curators and historians seize the opportunity, while the painting is flat on its bed, to examine the great whaling document for the details of its content; and this painting is replete with fascinating historical details. Everything from flags to geography, to the rigs of ships and boats, is documented in varying degrees of detail and accuracy. Benjamin Russell (1804-1885) was a self-trained artist and himself a whaleman. He is a fascinating figure in New Bedford history. As a young man his prospects were great. His family were successful merchants and he sat on the board of directors of the newly formed Marine Bank. The national banking crisis precipitated by the Andrew Jackson administration, however, caused a constriction of credit and Russell’s assets were insufficient to cover his debts. So, like many in desperate straits, he sought his future at sea and went a’whaling. He sailed on at least one whaling voyage onboard the ship Kutusoff of New Bedford, a sperm and right whaling cruise to the Indian Ocean and the Northwest Coast of North America, 1841-1845. While on the voyage he is said to have kept a sketchbook to record the exciting events and scenes of the hunt intending to use the experience to further his career as a whaling artist. By the 1860s he had firmly established himself in New Bedford and was working as a ship portraitist and print maker, but after he had returned from his whaling voyage he and local sign painter Caleb Purrington (1812-1876) undertook this traveling panorama picture show to take whaling to a broader American audience.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer take a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping shown in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

Senior Maritime Historian, Michael P. Dyer takes a break from writing his notes about the details of Purrington and Russell’s shipping in the harbor at Horta, Fayal to discuss the project with visitors.

For anyone interested in whaling history and especially for those conversant with the  limited quantity of published American artistic production documenting the whale fishery of the 19th century, any picture offering details of the period of the 1840s is naturally of great interest. The panorama, however, was never meant to be studied as a fine work of art. It was meant to be viewed by a mass audience from a certain distance; hence the artists emphasized broad details for maximum impact and painted the rest with just enough definition to be seen and understood by the audience but not to be examined in detail. Several good examples demonstrate their working style in the creation of this painting where scenes are included but are later painted out entirely or changed significantly.

For instance, as the voyage leaves the Azores, actual whaling begins as sperm whales are seen, boats are lowered and the chase is on.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination.

This section of the painting showing ships and boats engaged in sperm whaling was extensively reworked and many of the changes are visible through close examination. These include the house flag at the top of main mast (the tall one in the middle), the set of the sails, and a large-scale sperm whaling scene, barely visible and easily overlooked.

However, the artists, probably Russell himself, were not content with the scene as it was originally drawn. The sails of the ship, which is shown hove-to with its main topsails and topgallant sails aback, indicate that the wind is blowing from one direction. The American ensign and the house flag at the main also show that wind direction. The original house flag flying from the top of the main mast was originally painted flying the wrong direction and was later painted out completely. Not only was it flying the wrong direction, but the entire design of the flag was changed. It appears that originally, the house flag could have been that of T. & A.R. Nye, it being a blue swallowtail with white lettering, but it was changed to a completely non-descript and unidentifiable design.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

This detail photograph of the house flag from the above view clearly shows that both the direction and the design of the house flag were completely changed. The faint outline of a blue swallowtail flag with white lettering is visible to the right, while the newly painted flag to the left is unidentifiable.

Likewise, the artists changed the foresail which, originally shown as being set, is shown clewed up. This presumably reflects Russell’s practical experience as a sailor and a whaleman, where “having determined from the known quality of the ship, what sail would be best to heave-to under,” Russell made the changes that he thought necessary.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

Note the faint outline that shows the foresail had originally been painted as being set. In the final view it is clewed up.

The artists made other changes in this scene as well. Whether the pictures did not effectively mirror the accompanying narrative or vice versa, that the painting was not following the narrative, the artists eliminated and changed two sperm whaling scenes. It may well be that the painting and the narrative were in a state of creative evolution together and that the artists were making it up as they went along in order to produce a better product in the end. In the below scene, as it was originally painted, a whaleboat is shown on the flank of a very large sperm whale which has been lanced and as shown by its bloody spout, is dying. This could have been the point in the narrative where Russell describes the whaleman’s language “his chimney’s a’fire,” to indicate a whale that has received its death wound.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

Whether the artists simply were not ready to talk about the killing and processing of a sperm whale at this stage in their narrative is speculation, but for some reason they chose to paint out this sperm whaling scene.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene and leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the below scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

A few scenes on, they did it again, painting out an entire sperm whaling scene leaving another in its place. Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Note the faint view of the men in a whaleboat in the above scene along with the even more faint outline of the flukes of a sounding whale just above them.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

Above is a detail of the sperm whaling scene that they left in place. It shows a whaleboat going “head and head” onto a sperm whale, meaning that the boat is approaching the whale from the front as opposed to the flank. Such details as this helped the narrator to tell the story well and to demonstrate some of the techniques that American whaleman had mastered over the 100 years of their sperm whaling experience.

As the process of conservation on the Panorama goes forward, doubtless many more new observations will come to the fore regarding the process of its creation. Such observations will fill gaps in the sparse historical record of the Panorama and make for an exciting new narrative about it and its place in American whaling history.

Sources:

William Brady, The Kedge-Anchor; or, Young Sailors’ Assistant (New York, 1850), p.173, entry #308.

The Mystery of the New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company Models

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with the partially assembled New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company models. Photo: Arthur Motta.

As the community debate continues about whether a casino should (or should not) be built on New Bedford’s waterfront, the old New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company (NBG&ELC) buildings  stand at the heart of the latest proposed reuse of the site. Also known as the Cannon Street Power Station, the last redevelopment effort, launched in 1997, desired to transform it into a “world-class” aquarium. Turbine Hall, the 1917 monumental structure at the center of the site, once again figures prominently as an architectural centerpiece in the early conceptual drawings of a proposed casino complex.

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

The proposed New Bedford Aquarium, model, ca. 1998 (Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.)

I will not elaborate on the remarkable history and importance of the company, the building or its many additions constructed over the decades in order to deliver power to the region. It has been well documented by research historian Peggi Medeiros, for its nomination in 2002 as a Historic District on the National Register of Historic Places (an effort led by the Waterfront Historic Area League and its former executive director, Tony Sousa). Peggi also recently reviewed the site’s history in the Standard-Times in light of the casino proposed by KG Urban Enterprises.

Instead, my focus is to ask the public’s help in solving a mystery regarding a very unusual group of large wooden models of the old NBG&ELC complex, rediscovered recently in the Whaling Museum’s collections.

Now, you may be wondering: How does the Whaling Museum not know about these objects? The answer is: We do know a little about them, but not the maker or makers, when and where they were made and for what purpose. With more than 750,000 objects in the Museum’s collections, the curatorial staff continues its unending quest to preserve and interpret it all, and on rare occasion, is presented with mysteries such as this one, which any latter-day Sherlock Holmes would relish solving.

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

Some of the original exhibit labels remain attached to models. Photo: Arthur Motta

What we do know is that it was part of an exhibit by NBG&ELC at the New Bedford Armory for the City of New Bedford’s Centennial celebrations of 1947, and thus, it may be the only extant display of the New Bedford Centennial Industrial Exposition, which touted the city’s major business concerns. The model includes several hand-lettered labels explaining the functions of the buildings.

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947.  Photo: Arthur Motta

Portion of the Centennial feature in the Standard-Times, July 4, 1947. Photo: Arthur Motta

Under the headline “Thousands Visit Centennial Industrial Exhibit at Armory,” a two-page feature article in the New Bedford Standard-Times remarked only briefly how “Miniature old and new plants, gas tanks and a model freighter were combined to make the novel display of the New Bedford Gas and Edison Light Company” (July 4, 1947). Despite its many photos, the feature article did not include one of the exhibit.  So it may be that the models were fabricated expressly for the exposition, however, this has not been confirmed with research to-date.

The models came to light relatively recently, when reallocation of all storage space was necessitated in advance of construction of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center. Stored deep in the recesses of Johnny Cake Hill’s labyrinth of storage rooms, the models’ presence predate the living memory of the longest-serving staff member, Barry Jesse, who recalls it being in the attic in 1971. Even Eversource spokesperson, Michael Durand and Dana P. Howland, a former director of the company – both men with the longest institutional memories of the utility around – didn’t know of the models’ existence.

D. Jordan Bernson, collections manager, with the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

D. Jordan Berson, collections manager, with some the NBG&ELC models. The large metal tank model weighs approx. 50 lbs. (photo: Arthur Motta)

Recently, collections manager D. Jordan Berson and me committed to laying out the sprawling 24 models to see what we could see. It required more floor space than we had anticipated. Constructed of fir plywood, metal and wire, the models are of an undetermined scale, perhaps a quarter inch to a foot. The largest, Turbine Hall, is about 6 feet in length. Several of the models will require careful repair if the entirety is ever to be exhibited again. Indeed, Dr. Christina Connett and her curatorial staff debated the models’ inclusion in the recently opened exhibition, Energy and Enterprise; Industry and the City of New Bedford. However, without its full history, the models were deferred for perhaps a future project and the “Energy” narrative of the current show was related through other objects and images from the collection.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company complex, 1897.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, 1897.

Using among several references an aerial photograph of the NBG&ELC complex reproduced in the Centennial “Official Souvenir Book” of 1947, we managed an approximate assembly of the plant, sans the missing freighter model aforementioned in the newspaper account. Mr. Berson indulged my request that he be photographed with the models in order to relate scale, although upon inspection of the photos his presence in them recalls for me some distant Christmas morning scene with a Lionel train set!

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company,  New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company, New Bedford Standard-Times, 1924.

The insides of the models are hollow; no internal details were meant to show. Only the exteriors are treated; all ofwhich are painstakingly hand-painted to include dozens of mullioned windows, entablatures, smokestacks, chimneys and vents.  It should be noted here that actual interior of NBG&ELC’s Turbine Hall is amazing, designed by the renowned engineering firm Webster & Stone – designers of the MIT dome in the same year – Turbine Hall’s interior looks like something out of a Jules Verne novel, with its colossal steel girders, massive bolts and riveted crossbeams. Only one of  four soaring smokestacks still stands at the site. The aquarium designers of 18 years ago took full advantage of these imposing elements, and it is hoped, any new project will, too.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

So please contact me about what you may know of the origin of the NBG&ELC models. My email address is: amotta@whalingmuseum.org.

Perhaps a late, great uncle built it upon retirement. Or a great grandfather worked in a carpentry shop that was hired by the company to build a miniature of the power plant at a scale sufficiently large enough to create an impressive display in the Armory’s sweeping Drill Hall.

Many of the smaller models in the group have metal eyelets screwed in along their bases, it is assumed, in order to fasten each building to a very large base-board, probably painted to delineate the plant’s grounds and also to hold them in position. Unfortunately, the base is missing. To add to the puzzle, some of the models look like structures from an earlier era in the company’s history, as can be inferred from an 1897 illustration of the complex. Could it be that the models as originally exhibited were intended to show the company throughout its history?

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Also, without the base we could not surmise the location of the mysterious so-called Lake Trinidad, noted in historical accounts of the site. As the Standard-Times reported “In 1924, a looming coal strike inspired the installation of an oil-gas generator. This inspiration had drawbacks – the oil-gas generator suffered from a bad case of by-products. The set yielded tremendous quantities of tar and lampblack. The tar was finally run off into a large puddle where it grew to be 3 feet deep and won the name of “Lake Trinidad!”” (Oct. 29, 1950) This was a mocking reference to one of the world’s largest natural asphalt lakes.

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

Turbine Hall, ca. 1997 (photo: Cambridge Seven Associates)

In closing, we need to learn more about the models and hope someone may know something about their creation. They represent a considerable slice of history for an always-strategic site on New Bedford’s central working waterfront – first, as a simple landing place for the native Wampanoag and then the earliest European explorers; then settlers; then colonial burying ground; then wharves and piers; then iron foundry; then illuminating gas manufactory, then electric lighting company; then New Bedford Gas & Edison Light Company; then a wholly-owned subsidiary of New England Gas & Electric Association; then CommElectric; then NSTAR; then a proposed aquarium; now Eversource; and perhaps, a future casino.

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

Former New Bedford Cannon Street Power Station, 2015 (photo: Arthur Motta)

SOURCES:

Ellis, Leonard Bolles. History of New Bedford and its vicinity, 1602-1892, Syracuse, N.Y: D. Mason & Co., 1892.

http://www.southcoasttoday.com/article/20150328/NEWS/150329366

KG Urban Enterprises

New Bedford Free Public Library (newspaper microfiche collections)

New Bedford Semi-Centennial and Industrial Exposition Official Souvenir, Providence, R.I.: Journal of Commerce Company, publishers. 1897.

Cambridge Seven Associates, Inc.

World Oceans Day

In honor of World Oceans Day, we would like to share links to two video clips featuring the most acrobatic of all whale species, the humpback whale (Megaptera novaeangliae).

Humpback whales feeding at the surface. Photo courtesy of Whale and Dolphin Coservation, taken by Karolina Jasinska.

Humpback whales feeding at the surface. Photo courtesy of Whale and Dolphin Coservation, taken by Karolina Jasinska.

The first, from BT.com, features a calf trying unsuccessfully to emulate its mother. The second is a clip from the Huffington Post from 2014. It features drone footage, a research tool growing in popularity because of the access it affords in watching whale behaviors.

As you view these clips please think about the whales’ habitat and how the actions of all us impact, positively or negatively, where they live. The simple action of properly disposing of trash so that it doesn’t get into waterways protects all ocean animals.

The oceans regulate planetary chemistry, dictate weather and climate, are the ultimate source of our drinking water (think water cycle) and cover nearly 3/4 of the planet’s surface. Despite the name ‘Earth’ we really are the water planet. It’s everyone’s responsibility to be stewards of our global ocean.

New Bedford’s Holy Acre: ethnic prejudice in the textile era

The upper part of Holy Acre, Turners Court, south side looking east from Acushnet Avenue, 1907. (1981.61.408)

The upper part of Holy Acre, Turners Court, south side looking east from Acushnet Avenue, 1907. (1981.61.408)

“Holy Acre” was the unofficial name for a small section of New Bedford, Massachusetts, during the latter half of the nineteenth century, a time when the city was rapidly transitioning from a whaling port to a textile and manufacturing center.  A working class neighborhood of immigrants, Holy Acre, was located south of Wamsutta Mills, east of the rail yards spanning east to the water’s edge of the upper harbor. Acushnet Avenue marked its western border; Wamsutta and Pearl Streets its northern and southern borders respectively; the tidal marshes of the near upper harbor its eastern border. It included “Turner’s Court,” a dead-end street east of the avenue.  At the turn of the 20th century, a new embankment constructed to elevate the railroad – stretching south from the trestle bridge over the intersection of Wamsutta Street and Acushnet Avenue – formed Holy Acre’s eastern edge.

Atlas of 1911 shows the area known as Holy Acre isolated by the rail yards and tidal lands.

Atlas of 1911 shows the area known as Holy Acre isolated by the rail yards and tidal lands.

Who coined the name of Holy Acre remains undiscovered. The New Bedford Standard-Times noted  “the surmise is that it was so named by some member of the Police Department in an earlier era when it was known as an unsavory neighborhood.”[1] Located literally on the wrong side of the tracks this area was constantly enshrouded by the heavy smoke of locomotives borne by the prevalent southwesterly winds. Several murders are purported to have been committed there, however, only two such crimes, in 1901 and in 1908 are cited in the same newspaper account.

Another theory for the moniker may be that it was a sardonic reference to the holy city of Acre, located in the Levant of old Syria, today part of northern Israel. Located north of the larger city of Haifa, the ancient section of Acre today remains surrounded by the sea on three sides and fortified by massive walls, which date to the Crusades, the site of many battles for its control. The allusion to an impenetrable enclave set apart from a larger community and located against the sea is made in a 1914 article titled “Holy Acre an Alien Walled Town Set Down Within the Limits of New Bedford,”[2] in which the local newspaper noted its denizens hailed “from Portugal, Syria, Turkey, Italy and men of the Jewish faith live here.”

The south side of Holy Acre, Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue, 1908. (1981.61.221)

The south side of Holy Acre, Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue, 1908. (1981.61.221)

Holy Acre was by the 1890s widely recognized as a settlement of Italian immigrants; however, the 1914 article also claims the neighborhood was originally built by Irish immigrants. “They made the town. From them, it came to be called Holy Acre and was known as a little emerald isle amid a population of nationalities.” In any case, the area was considered by New Bedford’s Anglo establishment an unsavory and dangerous section of town, “which has long been a menace to the health of this community.”[3] Not only in New Bedford but throughout the textile and manufacturing towns of the Northeast, mounting anti-immigrant sentiment was fueled by competition for mill jobs. Growing competition from southern mills and increased pressure to reduce wages and increase productivity were set amid an influx of immigrants seeking the promise of American prosperity.

Under the headline “Italian Colony – Numbers about 300 in New Bedford – Few Women in Holy Acre – Successful Italians Who Have Established Themselves in Business,” a 1909 Sunday Standard newspaper article (despite the latter half of the title), goes to considerable length to disparage the community. “In the work of excavating for the new mills, a large amount of unskilled labor is required, and such work is adequately supplied by the Italians who work with pick and shovel…. Education has been aptly called the gloomiest chapter of Italian social history; a chapter full of painful advance, of national indifference to a primary need and of a present backwardness that give to Italy, (next to Portugal), the sad primacy of illiteracy in western Europe.”[4] Almost as an obligatory to the headline, the article notes in closing two Italian grocers, a dentist of the second generation and an Italian-American policeman – whose beat was Holy Acre, as examples of success in the community. The article is remarkable in its prejudice, ignoring such national figures as Marconi, who six years earlier achieved the first U.S. transatlantic wireless transmission at nearby Wellfleet, Massachusetts and was a topic of the national press.

A view of Holy Acre's immediate neighborhood: the rail yards. The Holy Acre is just out of the picture to the right. 1994.39.20

A view of Holy Acre’s immediate neighborhood: the rail yards. Holy Acre is just out of the picture to the right. 1994.39.20

The threat of epidemics from foreigners arriving in port was a constant concern of the authorities, which included a quarantine officer whose job was the inspection of vessels before disembarkation was allowed. In 1893, the Evening Standard under the headline “Holy Acre to be Purged” detailed the Board of Health’s condemning of buildings “deemed unfit for habitation by the authorities.” The newspaper listed the owners and occupants’ names of the six houses condemned, out of approximately 40 structures in the neighborhood. The surnames were of a wide variety of origins rather than representing a majority group. Noting “Holy Acre had long been a menace to the health of the community” and “already known as one of the worst localities in the city,” the writer continued: “…as the land is below tidewater it is surprising that the unfortunate people who are obliged to occupy the buildings in this court have not long ago succumbed to contagious diseases more terrible than those which afflict children. It has been a regular breeding pen for diphtheria and kindred ailments, and during the smallpox outbreak many people in the community entertained fears that this disease would develop in this closely tenanted hamlet… water has been known to remain in the cellars of some of the houses nearly the whole year, and the yard next to the corner building presents a most sickening spectacle.”

The Police Department in its annual report to the municipal government kept detailed records of the ethnicity of those arrested under “Country of Origin.” Numerous articles appeared in New Bedford papers, which focused on the ethnicity of various sections and neighborhoods in the city. In 1914, the annual report of the Chief of Police listed 38 countries under its “Nativity of Prisoners” files. Three murders were committed that year out of 4,042 offences listed for 103 categories of crimes, which ranged from “Breaking and Entering” (69) to “Night Walking” (20), in a long list of wrongdoings which included Stubbornness, Injury to a Shade Tree, and Stealing a Trolley Ride. The largest number of arrests was for Drunkenness (2,426). The reports do not list the locations of offenses, and Holy Acre does not appear as a reference in any of them from 1880 to 1918.

Holy Acre is referenced in the Board of Health’s 1893 annual report as it related to drainage issues and the outbreak of typhoid fever across the city that year, however, a map of confirmed cases indicated only one case in that neighborhood.

City of New Bedford Board of Health Annual Report 1893.

City of New Bedford Board of Health Annual Report 1893.

Disease, contagion and risk to public health rather than violent crime appear to be more the general concern about Holy Acre. The Board of Health was established in New Bedford in 1878 under a new Act of the Commonwealth. Health concerns included stemming plague and disease from immigrant-laden vessels, implementing quarantines and investigating outbreaks of illness among mill operatives. Almost immediately, their annual reports document the work of licensing cesspools and extending sewers to the river’s edge. The “lagoon” south of Wamsutta Mills in the vicinity of “Turner’s Court also known as Holy Acre” is noted in reports dealing with the health risks of the generally filthy conditions in this area due to inadequate drainage, unlicensed cesspools and the need for sewer extensions.

"The house of the organ grinders" at Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue on the Holy Acre, 1914. (1981.61.215)

“The house of the organ grinders” at Pearl Street & Acushnet Avenue on the Holy Acre, 1914. (1981.61.215)

Before its development this area consisted of tidal marshland and the 1883 report lamented that there was not in existence a city regulation restricting building or moving structures onto low land due to the unsanitary living conditions they created.

The lagoon was ultimately filled, which created new land east of the railroad corridor. The houses of Holy Acre as well as several shops and manufactories including a paint factory were demolished over the years into the 1940s. Addendums to the 1923 Sanborn Atlas of the city reveals the disappearance of all but a few structures along the streets of Holy Acre: Turner’s Court, Wall, Pope, Seneca and Peal Streets east of Acushnet Avenue.

The 1909 newspaper article concludes an ultimate solution for Holy Acre: its occupants’ migration to the interior of the country (the Ozarks, for example). “What the future has in store for Holy Acre and for the Italians of New Bedford is difficult to say. Whether or not the movement, now so prevalent in America, toward sending immigrants out to develop the rural districts will include such Italians as live in New Bedford and incidentally most effectually benefit their condition, is a problem which time alone can solve.”

Nearly a 150 years later, the irony is that New Bedford’s  Holy Acre did not entirely disappear, insomuch as its maligned reputation – earned or unearned – remains: a vestige of cultural weathering[5]  in the minds of some citizens. Contemporary Google Map® images overlaid with the 1911 Atlas reveal the current footprint of the former Holy Acre. Now the site of rubber recycling, supply and trucking companies, it remains an isolated district of the city, as hardworking, and perhaps for some few, as off-putting as it was formerly. Today, its high viability along the Route 18 Connector, which brings traffic from Interstate 195 into the downtown, has earned it the ire of urban planners and those who would promote a best first impression of the city to visitors. As for a solution to Holy Acre’s modern-day looks, it may be one that “time alone can solve.”

Holy_Acre_Merge_4-photos

SOURCES

[1] New Bedford Standard-Times, December 2, 1951, p.16.

[2] New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 1, 1914, p. 12.

[3] New Bedford Evening Standard, April 14, 1893.

[4] New Bedford Sunday Standard, November 7, 1909

[5] Heath, Kingston W. The Patina of Place University of Tennessee Press, 2001. P.xix

100 Years Ago Today: Johnny Cake Hill readies for a grand museum edifice

Johnny Cake Hill ca. 1900 (NBWM #2000.100.80.1)

Johnny Cake Hill ca. 1900 (NBWM #2000.100.80.1)

On a windswept March 13th, 1915 a group of men stood on the crest of Johnny Cake Hill, their backs to the Seamen’s Bethel. Their gaze was directed at two aged and weather-beaten wood frame houses directly across the street. The weather did not interfere with the task at hand: to clear the way for a grand museum edifice planned for the site.

A gift to the Old Dartmouth Historical Society from Miss Emily H. Bourne, the new museum building would greatly expand the Society’s existing galleries, which fronted on Water Street. It would be built to honor the memory of Emily’s father, Jonathan Bourne, Jr.; his name to be prominently carved into the frieze above an imposing front entrance, which would rise on this spot within a year’s time.

#12 and #14 Bethel Street (photo: New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 14, 1915)

#12 and #14 Bethel Street (photo: New Bedford Sunday Standard, March 14, 1915)

With the land beneath the structures already under control of the project, the task on this day was the dispensation of the buildings. In classic Yankee fashion, the public auction to sell the houses quickly commenced with the mandate that they be removed or dismantled in a requisite time. Auctioneer Fred W. Greene, Jr. called out the bidders’ offers for #12 and #14 Bethel Street; the former a well-worn shingled half-Cape style house with a bracketed awning over its front door, the latter a shabby full-Cape with nine windows placed symmetrically to its centered door serviced by a sloping porch and staircase.

Detail of  Bethel Street block, New Bedford City Atlas, 1911

Detail of Bethel Street block, New Bedford City Atlas, 1911

The 1911 New Bedford Atlas lists the owner of the #12 Bethel as Juliet A.M. Barney, and #14 as Henry E. Woodward. Boarders of many backgrounds and nationalities were typical in these tightly settled neighborhoods of the oldest part of town. The 1911 City Directory lists a few for these addresses: John Francis, laborer; Charles Williams, teamster; Manuel Lopez, seamen; Joseph Teixeira, mill hand; Mrs. Julia M Teixeira, widow.

News of the auction in the March 15 New Bedford Sunday Standard did not include information about former owners or occupants or what became of them; only that the sales were executed with dispatch and for short money. “The houses numbered 12 and 14 Bethel Street were sold to Zephir Quintin for a total sum of $79, the house on the south (#12) bringing $41 and the one to the north $35.” The Standard noted that the new owner had just ten days to remove them before excavation of the site would begin.

Johnny_Cake_Hill_1915_headline

Interest seems to have been tepid, perhaps due to the time constriction. “The bidding started at $10, then made a jump to $20, to $25, and by small jumps to $35.  The next jump was to $37.50. Dollar bids brought the price up to $41, the selling price. The bidding on the other house was much the same, with the price starting at $20.” The reporter concluded “While the houses were very old, the lumber in them was not valuable, and the price paid, considering that the structures are to be removed was a fair one.”

The larger building had a history, which was noted by Old Dartmouth Historical Society members present for the sale. “Particular interest was manifest in the larger building. Henry B. Worth, who attended the sale, said that a picture in the possession of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society showed the Friends’ Academy standing at right angles to the street, while the building now standing on the site is parallel to the street. That the school was swing around into that position is very probable, said Mr. Worth.”

With the houses at the crest gone, excavation began and swift progress on the new building continued uninterrupted until its dedication in November 1916. An additional house immediately south of the new museum would also be removed eventually, its footprint now the upper lot adjacent the south face of the Bourne Building. This area is destined to become the upper courtyard entrance of the new Wattles Jacobs Education Center, scheduled to open in fall 2015.

Bourne_Bldg_100_graphic_1