Chiclet, ship’s cat aboard the historic tanker Mary A Whalen in NY’s Atlantic Basin,
now digging in her claws in preparation for Hermine
In the early Seventies I worked as a lighthouse keeper on three islands off the west coast of Scotland.
I was 19 when I interviewed for the job. My hair hung well below my shoulders. I had a great set of Captain Beefheart records and I walked about with a permanent grin on my face as I had recently, finally, lost my virginity. I rolled my own cigarettes, was a member of Amnesty International and had just read Kerouac’s Desolation Angels. In short, I was eminently suitable for the job…
Thus begins a marvelous essay by Peter Hill, in the London Review of Books.
In the Theaters: The Light Between Oceans
The gorgeous new period drama The Light Between Oceans does know what it’s looking for. Set on the fictitious island of Janus, which lies some distance from the Australian coast, the film understands the romance and the mystique that arises from picturesque isolation.
The lighthouse keeper on this godforsaken paradise is Tom, played by Michael Fassbender with tight lips and a weary stare. He’s a stoic World War I veteran with no family and a fat ton of survivor’s remorse.
These qualities would seem to make him the ideal candidate for such a solitary gig, but lighthouse keepers, we’re told, fare better when they have companions to help tend to the chores. So it’s good for work when Tom quickly falls for Isabel (Alicia Vikander), the pretty young woman in the closest port town who’s OK with the isolation. keep reading
In the 1860s, a whale from Gothenburg, Sweden was shuffled across European cities and set up as a morbid cafe, recounts Joe Roman in his book, Whale. A passerby would see large whale jaws hinged toward the sky, revealing upper-class social adventurers drinking tea in its cavernous throat. +
By 1868 Captain Edward Penniman had become a successful enough whaler to build himself this fancy French Empire-style house on land he bought from his father. By 1868 Captain Edward Penniman had become a successful enough whaler to build himself this fancy French Empire-style house on land he bought from his father.
Since 1976 it’s been on the National Register of Historic Places, and is run by the National Park Service as a museum, whale bones included.
The original whale, who “donated” its bones, was shot back in 1868 in the Barents Sea by Captain C. Klitgard, a resident of Hals. The blue whale’s jaw bones were removed, bleached, and given a new life as a local landmark. The jaw still stands in the Hals town square, acting as an unofficial symbol for the town.
In September of 1920, the corpse of an 80-foot-long blue whale drifted into Bragar Bay, on the western Atlantic side of the Isle of Lewis. It had a harpoon in its head, trailed by 50 feet of rope. The harpoon had not detonated, but had merely become lodged into the whale’s body thus sentencing it to a slow death.
Looking at the skeletal remains of the beast, local postmaster Murdo Morrison thought the jawbone might make a nice addition to his gate. With the assistance of two horses and a lot of village men, he hauled the jawbone up to his workshop. keep reading
Consecrated in the town of Stanley in 1892, Christ Church Cathedral is one of the crown jewels of the Falkland Islands. In 1933, an arch made of the giant jaw bones of two blue whales was erected in front of the church to commemorate a century of British rule. keep reading
In the 18th and 19th centuries the whaling industry was thriving in the seaside town of Whitby in North Yorkshire. Dozens of ships braved the Arctic seas off Greenland to hunt these elusive leviathans for their lucrative whale oil. Many of the crews never came back.
Many boats were capsized and many men were killed. Successful crews would tie a whale’s jaw bone atop the ship’s mast as a sign that they had killed the animal and not the other way around. Upon a fleet’s return to port, eager onlookers would watch for the telltale sign of good news. keep reading
Jutting out of the northern tip of Siberia’s remote Yttygran Island, giant whale ribs and vertebrae mark the area known as Whale Bone Alley, where once the great sea beasts were slaughtered and their meat stored by the local tribes. Mainly jawbones, ribs, and vertebrae, Whale Bone Alley is thought to have been created around 600 years ago. keep reading
Whale displays reigned supreme for over 100 years: “Jonah”, the humpback whale, rotted across the U.K in the 1950s as an unpreserved exhibit and memorable olfactory experience. In 1967, traveling showman Jerry Malone bought one of the last whale carcasses hunted in the United States, froze it with liquid nitrogen, and carted it around the country as “Little Irvy” until 1995. +
As the world’s largest research collection dedicated to the planet’s most massive mammals, the Smithsonian’s Marine Mammal Collection has two cavernous warehouses to contain everything from a blue whale skull to a drawer full of narwhal tusks. Part of the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, the collection dates to the 1850s, and includes thousands of specimens related to marine life. keep reading on Atlas Obscura
In an old Basque fishing port on the coast of western Newfoundland lies artist Ben Ploughman’s quirky Museum of Whales and Things. go see
The lethal impact came without warning, piercing the thick hull of the steamer. Water poured through the gaping hole and the Arabia sank to the bottom of the Missouri River within minutes. Everyone on board miraculously swam to safety, except for one forgotten mule, tied to the deck. *
The Arabia was built in 1853 around the Monongahela River in Brownsville, Pennsylvania. Its paddle wheels were 28 feet (8.5 m) across, and its steam boilers consumed approximately thirty cords of wood per day. It averaged five miles (8 km) an hour going upstream. Arabia (steamboat) on wikipedia
“You don’t have to go into the ocean to find a shipwreck,” says Kansas City explorer David Hawley. “They’re buried in your own back yard.”
Hawley and his intrepid team have quite the incredible passion: discovering and excavating steamboats from the 19th century that may have sunk in the Missouri, but now lie beneath fields of farmers’ midwestern corn. “Ours is a tale of treasures lost,” says Hawley. “A journey to locate sunken steamboats mystery cargo that vanished long ago.”
British Tars: Revolt of the Marlborough
Three days at sea after casting off from the coast of Africa, the crew and cargo of Captain Robert Codd’s Marlborough were only just settling into a routine. Over three hundred enslaved people from Bonny (in modern day Nigeria) and the Gold Coast were confined aboard the ship, the ninth such voyage for Captain Codd.
It was October 14, 1752. Codd was a slaver and used to the constancy of death among the enslaved, but he knew that his money would be made by delivering as many healthy slaves as possible. To keep them presentable enough to be sold in the West Indies, Codd ordered that his human cargo be washed. Most of the crew took to the task of washing the enslaved up on the deck.
It was noted that they “behaved, for a considerable Time, in a very Civil manner, and quite unsuspected of any Design of Mischief.”
“The Gold Coast slaves rose upon the Quarter Deck,” John Harris, a young sailor, later wrote, “and alarm’d the whole Ship, knock’d the Centuries [sentries] down at the Barricado, and toss’d them over board.” Given sailors’ notorious lack of swimming skill, the sentries were as good as dead.
Precisely what happened next is unclear.