Wednesday, April 05, 2006

A Dead Whale Or A Stove Boat

These rotting pilings are all that remained of a wharf that dated back to the glory days of sailing ships. New Bedford harbor once hosted the largest fleet of whaling ships on earth As a kid growing up in the 1940's and 50's I used to go to the library and look at oil paintings on the walls depicting various ships under sail, and the smaller whale boats they carried, about 28 ft. long under both oar and sail. In front of the library was a bronze statue of the front of a whale boat, the harpooner standing there with his harppon raised, ready to thrust it into the whale. The inscription carved in the stone base read "A Dead Whale Or A Stove Boat".

I was probably about 5 or 6 before I realized that "stove" didn't mean what you cooked on. It meant stoved in, crushed, demolished, by the mighty slapping of a mad harpooned whale's tail coming down on the fragile wooden boat. Everyplace you went in New Bedford were reminders of the whaling days, from paintings in public buildings to souveniers from the far corners of the world in most everybodys' house, brought back by a friend or relative from one of those voyages. Then there was The Whaling Museum on Johnny Cake Hill where a 1/2 size scale model of the whaling ship Lagoda filled the main room, and a full sized whale boat complete with oars, sail rig, harpoons and lance, and the big wooden tubs of carefully coiled harpoon line were on display. There were more momentos of far off lands and lots more oil paintings. One intriguing series of oil paintings was done in black and white.

The whaling days were over by WW-I, replaced by smaller boats fishing Georges Bank off Newfoundland for cod and haddock. The last whaling ship still under sail power left New Bedford on a final voyage in 1918.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Jane said...

Found your blog on whale boats as I am immersed in Moby-Dick right now. I grew up in Miami (across the street from Vizcaya). My grandfather settled in Miami in 1911. He owned land all along the east coast from St. Augustine to Key West but lost everything in '29. My mother and her 2 brothers were born in NYC (no local hospitals back then) and were brought home by train a few days later in a laundry basket. Have you heard of Mana-Zucca, the famous composer? She was my great aunt and lived on Miami Beach, as well as on 57th St. NYC.

10:29 AM  
Anonymous c smith said...

hello! I'm a transplant from New Bedford to Central MA. I grew up just outside of NB abd went with my parents every Sunday after church to buy fish from the boats as they came in to harbor. That was in the 50's and I was a mere waif!!
I have a set of lamps depicting the whaler and inscription "A dead....." My mother bought these from a lighting store in N.B. and I'm trying like crazy to get an appraisal. Imagine the statue in front of the Library in N.B. only imagine it 20" tall and done in brass.
I have fond memories of the piers and fishermen and all the smells and sounds of the activity on the docks when i was a child with my Mom getting fish for supper. I didn't appreciate it then and now it's a part of my youth. If anyone has never walked on Johnny Cake Hill and visited the Sailors Bethal and read the names of the lost fishermen then you should venture there and see those things and so much more.
Peace, be well......and if anyone wants to buy a lamp...........thanks, C Smith

4:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My step-grandfather, Milton Brown,was one of the makers of the half-size model of the bark "Lagoda" at the Whaling Museum at New Bedford.
One son, Stanley, operated the Whaling City Country Club/New Bedford Links, on Hathaway Road for decades; another son, Milton ("Buster") was a professional Greenskeeper for golf courses in New Bedford and on the Cape.

5:35 PM  

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