In New Bedford, fathers, they say, give whales for dowers to their daughters, and portion off their nieces with a few porpoises a-piece. You must go to New Bedford to see a brilliant wedding; for, they say, they have reservoirs of oil in every house, and every night recklessly burn their lengths in spermaceti candles. -Herman Melville, Moby Dick (1851).
The coastline of Massachusetts has long been home to numerous species of whales, who have swum past the eastern coast of the Americas during their migrations. In the 18th century, entire towns sprung up solely to support a whaling industry that would reach its peak in the mid-1850s. Along with the island of Nantucket, New Bedford, Massachusetts was one of the centers of the whaling industry in America, its place in history cemented by the author Herman Melville setting the opening of his great novel Moby Dick there.
Despite whaling having long since ended as a major economic activity, whaling’s importance on the development of the early United States cannot be understated. An entire section of New Bedford has been preserved as a National Historic Landmark, buildings from the 18th and 19th century are preserved to teach future generations about the role of whaling in Massachusetts. On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, with my fiancee in town for a visit, we set off to explore this historic site. Add in some automotive updates, great restaurants, and wind-swept beaches, and we have the making of a fun weekend adventure:
As I said, a beautiful day, but slightly windy (as the video will demonstrate… I’m usually pretty steady-handed with a camera, but you can see the wind buffeting me as I tried to shoot the video):
The New Bedford Whaling Museum is open Tuesday through Saturday, 9:00 am – 4:00 pm and Sunday 11:00 am – 4:00 pm. Prices for tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for seniors, $10 for students age 19+, $7 for children 3-18, and children under age 3 can enter for free. The layout of the museum was a bit challenging to navigate, as the museum never seemed to achieve any sense of narrative flow – exhibits seemed to be laid out randomly, with no overarching theme or story throughout. There was a lot to look at, to be sure, and we learned a lot, but not without quite a bit of confusion.
Much better, and far more worth your time, is the New Bedford Whaling National Historic Park. The Visitor’s Center is open Monday through Sunday, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm, and is completely free of charge. Park Rangers stand ready to answer your questions, and numerous signs throughout the historic district tell you the story of New Bedford and whaling in the United States.
Thank you for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead!
2 thoughts on “The Whaling City.”
Yes I’d like a BLT for $1.30, please! This looked to be a very fun outing. I found George Washington on the whale’s tooth. My aunt Jodi used to do scrimshaw art back in the day. It takes a lot of patience! Someone needs to hit some of those ships at port with a rattle-can of Rust Oleum. Nice write-up!
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Thanks, Tyson! The level of detail on the scrimshaw I saw was astounding. And yes, I suddenly felt a lot better about the tiny speck of rust on the Accord (that was fixed) after seeing those ships!