Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Whaling just never stops with the stories...

When I look back on my storied -- some say fabled -- life, I remember fondly my years at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. This was in the days when the Old Dartmouth Historical Society was housed in a dusty block of early- and mid-Twentieth Century buildings cobbled together into a complex series of public exhibition and private office/storage spaces with quaint descriptive names. Like "The Wood Room" or "The Lagoda Room." There was a room downstairs that held a massive fleet of various ship models. One was built by a "prisoner" who saved the bones from his meals to use as modeling materials, or at least that was the story. It was a damned heavy thing.

I spent the better part of a year packing, cataloguing, conserving, and moving ship models, Victorian-era furniture, boxes of books, harpoons, walrus heads, paintings, artwork, farming implements and other items donated to the ODHS by people who were clearing their grandparents' attics and garages. I spent a lot of time getting intimately familiar with artifacts of the whaling era. That's what brought me into contact with John Bockstoce.
This Bockstoce, from

BOSTON - A 50-ton bowhead whale caught off the Alaskan coast last month had
a weapon fragment embedded in its neck that showed it survived a similar hunt —
more than a century ago. Embedded deep under its blubber was a 3 1/2-inch
arrow-shaped projectile that has given researchers insight into the whale's age,
estimated between 115 and 130 years old.
"No other finding has been this precise," said John Bockstoce, an adjunct curator of the New Bedford Whaling Museum.
PhotoThis photo released by the New Bedford Whaling Museum shows the tip of the bomb lance fragment, patented in 1879, that was removed from the neck of a bowhead whale captured at Barrow, Alaska, in May 2007. The body of the bomb lance was not recovered. The shiny scars are the result of a chain saw cut. (AP Photo/New Bedford Whaling Museum)

I never met this particular bomb lance. I know it was heavy, metal, and felt like death. The harpoons and lances and lance guns I encountered those days drove the cruelty of whaling home for me. Or maybe it was because the damned things were heavy and cumbersome and it was 115° in that attic. Do you know what it's like to carry a 70-lb line gun the entire length of a cramped attic space in 110°+ heat while the lunchtime hypoglycemia encourages the taxidermied walrus head to wave the narwhal tusk around?
Of course you don't. Stupid question. That never happens.
To you.
As the Executive Director of the New Bedford ART Museum reminded me, "How many times do we have to hear 'Whaling is past, who cares?' That animal was carrying a piece of New Bedford around for a century. I'll bet the whale cared."


ThirdMate said...

Here's the updated S-T story from NB.
And I do remember packing bomb lances just like that, probably from Frank Brown's shop. Some still had gunpowder in them.
Never got to do that at AT&T.

Karie said...

Wow! I though it was impressive that a piece of New Bedford had been swimming around for over a century. But now it sounds like the impact of finding it could have carried a lot more punch.

NBWM posted this release:


Large said...

OK,... now I gots me somethin to say,... first the statement..

"The tip of the fragment has six small indentations which are likely the ownership marks of a native Alaskan whaling captain. "

is this sort of like the 1st. Marine Division drawing big red ones on their hand grenades ??

OK so 100 years ago they ( some other whaler) gets his whale and upon cutting out notices a UXB and says to his first mate,.."hoist flag to signal Ben over on the fakeshaw I think we have something of his,.no wait we use 8 dents get me the file,.."

"I use a black stripe on the back of my shell casings so the Po-Po know who did dat drive-bye" -
Fitty cents younger brother Lil' Qwater

Sorry,.it just struck me as funny that someone would mark his powder packed missile of doom,..er,.. then again the Minuteman,peacemaker and such all have USA on the side..

(Emilly LaTella voice) ..............nevermind.........


BTW www.whalecraft.com says this puppy was shoulder fired ? ?


ThirdMate said...

I like the idea of adaptive re-use. Hell, I bet NBWM could make a bundle selling those old UXBLs to the RussoNippoNorseOrean cabal. Just another reason to visit the Cetacean Holocaust Memorial Gallery on JohnnyCake Hill.

I have held one of those "shoulder-fired" puppies. It's a lot like holding 35 or so Remingtons all tied together and I imagine the recoil was too. That's why they went deck-mount. And those cannons all had names like Thor'sHammer and ThunderClap. I'm not kidding.