Tag Archives: Old Dartmouth Historical Society

Quasimodo: The Museum’s Humpback Whale

Story by Lauren Coombes, Education Intern.

The Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae) skeleton that hangs in the Jacob’s Family Gallery is a 37 foot long male nicknamed Quasimodo, whose estimated age at time of death was 3 years old. He was found in 1932 and was first hung in the museum in 1936. This is his story.

Quasimodo's ribs, on Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

Quasimodo’s ribs, on Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM Collection. 1988.6.338.b

On December 29, 1932 Captain Ralph W. Wood noticed a mysterious black object floating off Noman’s Land, an island 3 miles off the southwest corner of Martha’s Vineyard. He lived on the island with his family and they were the island’s only inhabitants. Captain Wood then took his powerboat Flit out about a mile from the island and discovered that the object was the carcass of a humpback whale. As he arrived, so too did the U.S. Coast Guard. Captain Wood convinced the Coast Guard to help him tow the whale to land, citing it as a menace to navigation. From there they attached a four-inch hawser to the carcass. The whale was difficult to move and, “three such hawsers were snapped before the whale could be beached on the Noman’s Land shore!”

After towing it to shore they fastened the whale to a large rock. Soon after, a nor’easter then tore the whale from the rock, throwing it farther up shore and past the high water mark. The carcass was then left until August, 1933 when Wilbur G. Sherman, an old-time whaleman from New Bedford heard about the whale and arranged a meeting between Captain Wood and William H. Tripp, curator for the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. John B. Smith, a scientist connected with the Boston Museum of Natural History accompanied Tripp on his August visit to the island. Mr. Smith determined that the specimen could be salvaged and set up in a museum. Mr. Tripp then convinced the Historical Society’s board to purchase the whale. Mr. Tripp made the voyage to Noman’s Land accompanied by Captain Wood, Bertrand T. Wood (Captain Wood’s son), Mr. Sherman, Lester Brownell, George T. Plummer and Paul Lynam.

Bones and tent on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Bones and tent on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.306

Throughout September the crew attempted to strip Quasimodo of his blubber, take out his bones, and tag them so they could easily be put back together later. Bertrand Wood kept a detailed journal, similar in style to that of a sea log, of the stripping and cataloguing process. He gave members of the project names that would befit a whale ship. Mr. Tripp was the Commodore, Ralph Wood was the Captain, Bertrand Wood was the first mate, Mr. Sherman was the official whale-cutter, William L. Pierce was the assistant cutter, Herbert Wood was the assistant cutter, and Jerome Fraser was the cook. As they took apart the whale they found that two finger bones were missing, and a news article also reported that the Atlas, the first vertebra of the skeleton, was also missing and never found. Though it is confirmed that the finger bones were in fact missing, there appears to be a proper fitting atlas on our skeleton.

The process of cleaning the bones was the next step and they were buried at Horseneck Beach in Westport, MA for 6 months. They were then uncovered, scraped, and reburied for another 6 months. This burying of a skeleton in sand was not an unusual way to prepare it. The location of the burial was kept confidential and was constantly under watch to prevent thieves and pranksters. After they were uncovered and scraped for the second time, they were left to bleach for several days in the sun, on the roof of the Museum. After the bleaching process was complete the skeleton was assembled and was hung in the Bourne Building in 1936. And curator Tripp quoted “We are no longer a whaling museum without a whale.” The whale was then taken down and reassembled in the 1980s near the theater, and with the completion of the Jacobs Family Gallery in August 2000, it now has its official home.

Quasimodo's spine on shore of Noman's Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

Quasimodo’s spine on shore of Noman’s Land. Photo from NBWM collection. 1988.6.301

There is no confirmed cause of Quasimodo’s death, but one possibility is that he was killed by an orca (killer whale). This is due to the fact that Quasimodo was found without a tongue. It is a common behavior of orcas to bite off the tongues of other whales and leave them to die. Curator Tripp drew this conclusion when he examined the whale on his first visit to the island. Although not common in our coastal waters, orcas can be found off our coast. At the time this story was being written (summer 2016), an orca had been spotted by a fishing charter operator off the Massachusetts coast.

According to a recent NOAA report, there are fourteen humpback whale distinct population segments (DPS) that have been identified around the globe. Of those fourteen two are classified as threatened, the Central America DPS and the Western North Pacific DPS. An additional two groups are classified as endangered, the Arabian Sea DPS and the Cape Verde Islands/ Northwest Africa DPS. The current population is estimated to be 70,000-80,000, which is still less than 50% of their pre-whaling population. Though their biggest threat of commercial whaling no longer affects this species, they face many other significant threats. These threats include: entanglement in fishing gear, ship strikes, harassment from whale watch boats (especially in countries with little to no regulation), noise pollution and habitat impacts.

Works Cited

The Bulletin from Johnny Cake Hill A Newsletter from the Old Dartmouth Historical Society & Whaling Museum Fall 1987

The Standard-Times, New Bedford, MA Friday, July 17, 1987

Wood, Bertrand. Legends and Stories of Noman’s Land Island. (Jewett City, CT, 1978).

Our Latest ‘Whaling Voyage’. The Standard Times, New Bedford, MA Oct. 15, 1933.

The Standard Times New Bedford, MA, September 16, 1933.

NOAA Fisheries “Humpback Whale (Megaptera novaeangliae). Updated July 12, 2016. http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/whales/humpback-whale.html


110th Annual Meeting

Hon. Armand Fernandes, Jr.

Hon. Armand Fernandes, Jr.

The Honorable Armand Fernandes, Jr. was elected 26th Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society – New Bedford Whaling Museum at the 110th Annual Meeting of the Society on May 24, 2013, held at the museum. Incoming trustees to the 31-member board for the term 2013-2016 include James G. DeMello, Llewellyn Howland III, Joaquim Livramento, Hon. Phillip Rapoza, Maryellen Shachoy, and Gurdon B. Wattles.

The Honorable Armand Fernandes, Jr., a New Bedford native, is a retired Associate Justice of the Massachusetts Trial Court. His paternal grandparents emigrated from the Vila Real province in northern Portu­gal. His mother, age 97, is a native of Madeira. A New Bedford High School Gridiron Hall of Famer, Armand attended Lehigh Uni­versity where he met his wife, Patricia. After Lehigh, he attended Suffolk University Law School where he received his law degree. They have four children – all Lehigh alumni, and eight grandchildren.

Prior to his appointment to the bench, Judge Fernandes maintained a suc­cessful private law practice engaging in many jury and non-jury trials in the Federal and State Courts.

Spanning many years, his civil and criminal practice dealt with several high profile cases, some of which drew national attention. During this time he also served as Assistant District Attorney for the Southern District, Assistant City Solicitor, City Solicitor for the City of New Bedford, and legal advisor to the New Bedford Police Department. He has served on several Massachusetts Bar Association committees and lectured at continuing legal education programs.

Armand was introduced years ago to the Whaling Museum by friend and trustee, the Hon. D. Lloyd Macdonald and has served as its Clerk. His motivation in serving as Chair continues a longstanding commitment to public service. “Our region played a critical role in the growth of America – from whaling, to the Underground Rail­road, to the textile era and the fishing industry. Not enough of its contributions are taught in schools and our job, in part, reveals these connections, which can help people grasp the potentiality of the future,” he said.

A resident of Dartmouth, James G. DeMello is a graduate of Northeastern University and the Wharton School of Business at Pennsylvania State University. He is the for­mer CEO of Acushnet Company and the former owner and President/CEO of Acushnet Rubber Company. Active in the community, he is an advisory board mem­ber of Saint Luke’s Hospital, Polyneer, Inc., the University of Massachusetts, and Portuguese United for Education, Inc.

Llewellyn “Louie” Howland III returns to the board for his fourth term. Long-time chair of the Scholarship and Publications Committee and member of the Collections Committee, he has overseen many museum publications. A resident of Jamaica Plain, he is proprietor of Howland and Company, an antiquar­ian bookseller and he has written and lectured extensively on maritime history and art.

Joaquim “Jack” Livramento, a New Bedford native, received his master’s degree from Southeastern Massachusetts University and worked as a chemist at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and Springborn Laboratories. He was elected to the New Bedford School Committee in 2011.

The Honorable Phillip Rapoza is the Chief Justice of the Massachu­setts Appeals Court. He was appointed to that position in 2006 after 15 years of judicial service on the District Court, Superior Court, and Appeals Court. Chief Justice Rapoza is active in various international justice endeavors. In 2002, the President of Portu­gal bestowed on him the rank of Commander in the Order of Prince Henry the Navigator for “promoting closer relations between the judicial systems of our two countries.” He has led international justice efforts and served on UN-backed war crimes tribunals. He currently serves as President of the International Penal and Penitentiary Foundation, headquartered in Switzerland. A Dartmouth native, he graduated magna cum laude from Yale College and received his law degree from Cornell Law School.

A resident of Marion, Maryellen Sullivan Shachoy gradu­ated from Marymount College and attended Westfield College University of London, the London School of Economics, and Harvard University. Maryellen managed volunteers and coordinated special events at Massachu­setts General Hospital and WGBH. She also served as Finance Director for the Massachusetts Democratic Party and the Dukakis for President Campaign. She has served on the Board of Direc­tors for the League of Women Voters and American Cancer Society and volun­teers for the United Way, WGBH/Channel 2, and St. Rita’s Church in Marion. Mrs. Shachoy is also a member of the Beverly Yacht Club, New York Yacht Club and The Bay Club.

Returning to the board after two terms as Second Vice-Chair, Gurdon B. Wattles is an ardent champion of the museum. During his career, Gurdon served as President of the former American Manufacturing Company and Safety Railway Service Corporation and was a director of the former Eltra Corporation. He has frequently acted as a catalyst to bring important Museum projects and initia­tives to bear, specifically the Wattles Gallery, the Apprenticeship Program, and the Education Center and Research Library. Gurdon serves on the boards of the Newark Museum (NJ), Audubon Society of RI, and the Sea Research Foundation including Mystic Aquarium, the Ocean Exploration Center and Jason Learning under Dr. Robert Ballard.

Outgoing chair, John N. Garfield, Jr., noted, “The stars have been in alignment these past four years. Our museum has grown in stature, and prospered. Our depth of collections, scholarship, exhibitions, education and outreach has grown. Congratulations are due to our entire museum community for these remarkable years.”

In his inaugural remarks as chair, Judge Fernandes said, “We will continue to be the best of what we’ve been, and to cultivate our role as the region’s cultural nexus. I look forward also to the Mu­seum seizing the Digital Age; this will extend our presence worldwide just as our whaleships once did. Education is the great equalizer; it’s my hope we will expand our Apprenticeship Program and see our ap­prentices through to higher achievements. And, finally, reuniting the Research Library and a state-of-the-art Education Center with the museum’s main campus is a big goal, but it’s now within our reach.”

Officers for the 2013–2014 term: Hon. Armand Fernandes, Jr., Chair; George B. Mock III, First Vice Chair; Lucile P. Hicks, Second Vice Chair; Joseph E. McDonough, Treasurer; Donald S. Rice, Assistant Treasurer; Carol Taylor, Clerk.

Board of Trustees: Dr. Patricia L. Andrade, Charles Bascom, Nathaniel Bickford, Mary Jean Blasdale, William do Carmo, James G. DeMello, Roy Enoksen, Michelle N. Hantman, Edward M. Howland II, Llewellyn Howland III, Lawrence S. Huntington, Patricia Jayson, Keith Kauppila, David N. Kelley II, Elizabeth Kellogg, Jaoquim Livramento, Hon. D. Lloyd Macdonald, Eugene Monteiro, Barbara Moss, Hon. Phillip Rapoza, Jeffrey L. Raymon, Maryellen Shachoy, Hardwick Simmons, Gurdon B. Wattles and Harvey J. Wolkoff.

Francis Davis Millet, a Titanic loss for New Bedford

The City of New Bedford lost what would have been an important work of art when RMS Titanic sailed into history 100 years ago today.

Aboard the doomed ship was Mattapoisett native son, Francis Davis Millet. Like other local artists – Albert Bierstadt and William Bradford before him – Millet rose to prominence in the international art world. He was particularly involved in the conceptual design of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1892 in Chicago and he won numerous international awards for his work.

Millet went down with the ship and purportedly with him, went plans for a panoramic mural of New Bedford history, which he agreed to create for the walls of the newly expanded New Bedford Free Public Library, which only recently had reopened in 1912 in the fully rebuilt “Old City Hall” that had sustained extensive fire damage in 1906.

The Millet mural was to encompass the ornate concave cove connecting the walls and ceiling above the internal oculus of the third floor. The mural was to depict Gosnold’s 1602 discovery of the harbor, the Whaling Era and the thriving textile industry of 1912.

Millet’s 1903 mural for the Call Room of Baltimore’s Custom-House provides a hint of what the New Bedford Mural might have looked like. A photo of Millet and his assistants at work on the Baltimore mural survives and reveals that he included a whale ship in that scene.

A synopsis of Millet’s many accomplishments are well noted in Artists of New Bedford; A Biographical Dictionary, by Mary Jean Blasdale, published at the New Bedford Whaling Museum by the Old Dartmouth Historical Society in 1990.

In the 61st Annual Report of the Library in 1912, Librarian George H. Tripp lamented “Mr. Millet’s death, before the beginning of the mural decorations which were to adorn the library walls and at the same time commemorate allegorically certain features of New Bedford past, was a serious misfortune to New Bedford. The artist, in his letters to New Bedford people, previous to his death, had indicated that he was about ready to be begin the series of paintings which he had thought out as appropriate. While the decorations of the walls will, in all probability, be treated somewhat after the original plan at some time in the future, the trustees feel that Mr. Millet was the one man for the work, because of his reputation for fine attainment, and because of his familiarity with the traditions of the calling which it was understood he would illustrate.”

The Trustees voted in 1912 to purchase “the well-known picture, “The Black Sheep,” from the heirs of Francis D. Millet.” It still hangs in the library today. Millet rests in Central Cemetery, East Bridgewater – his boyhood home after Mattapoisett.

Tripp was correct in his assessments but for the assumption that a mural similar to Millet’s conception would be accomplished. It was not to be.

A little more than a decade ago, while the Library’s final restoration phase was underway, there was some interest in seeing a mural realized in the style of Millet. However, it did not happen, due to funding – and perhaps more importantly – because Millet’s grand design dissolved in the deep on that cold April night. The Library cove remains a blank canvas; silent testament of what could have been, but for the hand of fate.

Annual Meeting, May 20

The 108th Annual Meeting of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society – New Bedford Whaling Museum will take place Friday, May 20 at 4:00 pm. in the Cook Memorial Theater, followed at 6:00 p.m. by the opening of a new exhibit titled Sitting in New Bedford.

At 2:00 p.m. a Volunteer and Trustee Remembrance at the Seamen’s Bethel will precede the annual meeting. Family, friends and associates are invited to join the volunteer council and the board of trustees as they gather in fond remembrance of departed members.

At 4:00 the trustees and membership of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society will convene in the Museum’s Cook Memorial Theater for their 108th Annual Meeting.

The annual meeting is followed at 6:00 p.m. by the opening of the Museum’s latest exhibit, Sitting in New Bedford.

Located in the Gratia Houghton Rinehart Gallery, Sitting in New Bedford whimsically uses eclectic collections to show the many faces, everyday and unique objects, and surprising aspects of this city’s present and past. Furniture, workbenches and unique places people “sat” are just some of the diverse mix of art and artifacts included, some never seen before.

Curator Dr. Greg Galer, drawing upon pop-culture terminology, suggests the exhibit as a three dimensional “mash up.” By bringing together diverse materials, both complimentary and seemingly dissonant, one finds a fascinating and fun resonance, a perfect take for the summer. Come see and join the many ways of “sitting in New Bedford.” The exhibit even offers opportunities to sit for your own portrait and add your face to the many in the gallery.

The day concludes with After Hours featuring live music, refreshments and cash bar from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. in the Jacobs Family Gallery sponsored by Fiber Optic Center, Inc., Whaling City Sound, and Perfect Pour LLC.