Monday, July 27, 2009

Where There's Ice and Snow and the Whale Fishes Blow

My brother and his family went to the New Bedford Whaling Museum last summer, and often speak of how amazing it was, and how much my nephews loved it. So, recently we decided that we'd better go, too, and find out if it really is amazing... let me tell you, it definitely is.

Because I just took picture after picture, I think I'm going let my photos do the talking:

From whaling pics

From whaling pics

From whaling pics

When you first walk in, these giant skeletons are what you see; some of them, according to my brother, still drip oil once in a while. In that last picture, Luke and Owen are standing close to the skeleton of a mother whale and her fetus. Especially after carrying children, I got shivers looking at their bones, so serenely exhibited in this peaceful place. I was glad that the boys didn't really catch on about the mama-and-baby skeletons.

From whaling pics

The vertebrae of (I think) the northern right whale - half as tall as Owen!

Something we liked very much about this museum: it tells the stories of both prey and predator, in a way that even children can understand. The men on whaling ships did not have it easy, living for often three years on a ship, hanging out in below-decks living quarters that were, at best, dim. In the museum, children are invited to explore a life-size model of a partial ship, where they get to experience the below-decks bunk room:

From whaling pics

Combined with a few sometimes-lit candles, prisms like this one provided all the light in the sailors' living quarters, which is really precious little light. Here is the same prism with my camera flash:

From whaling pics

From whaling pics

From whaling pics

The boys, of course, totally loved the living quarters.

We all loved the view from the open-air deck:

From whaling pics

And then, it was on to a half-size model of a real whaling ship, the New Bedford. Luke and Owen spent lots of their time up in this ship:

From whaling pics

From whaling pics

This next one is a full-size whaling boat, into which the men charged with harpooning the whale out in the ocean would set off to do their job once a whale had been spotted:

From whaling pics

It made me think of one of our favorite songs, by the Limeliters, which describes a whale hunt gone wrong out near Greenland - Twas in eighteen-hundred and sixty-three, of June the thirteenth day/ That our gallant ship her anchor aweighed and for Greenland bore away, brave boys/ For Greenland bore away/

The lookout in the cross-tree stood, with a spy-glass in his hand/ "It's a whale! It's a whale! It's a whalefish!" He cried/ "And she blows at every swell, brave boys/ She blows at every swell!"

Well the boats were lowered with the men on board, and the whalefish well in view/ Very well-prepared were all our gallant ship-mates/ To strike where the whalefish blew, brave boys/ To strike where the whalefish blew/

Well we struck that whale and the line played out - but she made a thunder with her tail/ Well the boat capsized, and we lost five of the crew/ And we never caught that whale, brave boys/ We never caught that whale/

"To lose that whale," our captain said, "well it grieves my heart full soul/ But oh, to lose those five gallant men/ It grieves me ten times more, brave boys/ It grieves me ten times more!"

Greenland is a dreadful place, a land that's never green/ Where there's ice and snow and the whalefishes blow/ And the daylight's seldom seen, brave boys/ The dayight's seldom seen....

I think we all love that song so much because it gives a glimpse into what life was really like for whaling folk, even though it ends badly. Perhaps even because it ends badly - too much of life is sugarcoated, and so maybe the telling of stories without happy endings is necessary. In any case, it is a really good song, and to have it in my head while at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which also was not sugarcoated, felt just right.


8)(8 said...

I found your blog by following a link to your survey.

We went there last summer. My sister had her wedding reception there, and the photo on my blog of my dd and me was taken there. It is quite spectacular. Looks like they had fun!

topsytechie said...

Holy Schmoly my 13 year old would be blown away by this!! He loves the whale skeletons at our state natural history museum, and marine biology is one of his passions. Yet another thing on our to-do list. So glad you guys had a blast there!

Rana said...

This place looks like a lot of fun. I love the bones. my kids would love this too.

Dana @ Our Sunny Side said...

You are making me really miss NE. We have a replica of one of those deck prisms. Very neat.

Great photos!