OLD DARTMOUTH HISTORICAL SKETCH
Being the presentation of the Whaleman Statue on the grounds of the Free Public Library to the City of New Bedford, on June 20, 1913.
THE PRESENTATION OF THE WHALEMAN STATUE TO THE CITY OF NEW BEDFORD AND THE EXERCISES AT THE DEDICATION
by William W. Crapo
[E. Anthony & Sons, Inc., Printers, 1913]
In the New Bedford Standard of May 16th, 1903, referring to a poem by John Spollon, appeared the following editorial:
Considered merely as poetry, we could not say with any great degree of candor that the contribution to Fiber and Fabric, entitled “The Whaleman,” which was reproduced in this paper the other day, would take a high rank. But the sentiment must be very appealing to any son of New Bedford who remembers the old whaling days, and the mariners and merchants who made the whaling industry a magnificent success. We do not recall that it has ever before been suggested that the whaleman should be commemorated by a statue, yet the suggestion is one that is well worth hearing and heeding. Those of our readers who have visited Springfield, and who have seen the impressive statue by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, known generally as “The Puritan,” but which is a memorial to Deacon Samuel Chapin, an early settler of the town, have seen the idea of Fibre and Fabric’s poet carried out as applied to the conditions of that city. As the Puritan was typical of Springfield, so the whaleman would be typical of this city. What a noble thing it would be if a Saint-Gaudens statue of The Whaleman could be placed on City Hall square, where hundreds of people passing every day could be reminded of the rugged sailors who made New Bedford possible! Whether the verse is good poetry or not, no matter. The idea is as good as it can be, when the aged and gray mariner is represented as saying:
“Yet I heartily wish his old shape could be seen,
In marble or bronze, mounted here on the green,
As a Founder the town should remember
Till Sentiment’s last glowing ember
To ashes has faded away.
Let his monument stand, with his harpoon in hand,
Sturdy son of the sea who dragged wealth to the land
In defiance of hardship and danger;
For in this town he’ll soon be a stranger.”
This subject, in the hands of a master, should readily adapt itself to a bold and masterly artistic treatment, though we shudder to think what it might be if attempted by mediocrity. Committed to genius, The Whaleman might easily be one of the great statues of America,—and New Bedford would be the only city where it could appropriately stand.
The first information communicated to the public that this suggestion was likely to be realized was presented in the following letter of Hon. William W. Crapo, addressed to the Mayor of New Bedford, who is chairman of the Trustees of the Free Public Library:
New Bedford, Feb. 8th, 1912.
Hon. Charles S. Ashley, Mayor, New Bedford, Mass.:
My Dear Sir:—I desire, subject to your approval, to make arrangements for a memorial in honor of the whalemen whose skill, hardihood, and daring brought fame and fortune to New Bedford and made its name known in every seaport on the globe; and to be privileged to present it to the City of New Bedford as a tribute to the citizenship which I have so long enjoyed.
For this purpose I have asked Mr. Bela L. Pratt, of Boston, to design a model of a bronze figure of a boatsteerer throwing a harpoon from the bow of a whaleboat. The sketch model has been prepared and shows the character of the work proposed. My wish is that this memorial be placed on the ground by the Public Library, and the model has been designed with that location in view.
If it meets with your approval I suggest that you refer the consideration of this offer on my part to the Trustees of the Free Public Library. If the matter meets with the approval of the Trustees I will venture to proceed with the work, which when completed I shall desire to present for the acceptance of the City Council of New Bedford.
WILLIAM W. CRAPO.
To this Mayor Ashley replied as follows:
New Bedford, Feb. 21, 1912.
Hon. William W. Crapo, New Bedford, Mass.:
Dear Sir:—Agreeable to the suggestion which your communication to me contains as to reference to the Trustees of the Free Public Library of the proposal which you make to present to the city a bronze memorial in honor of “The Whalemen,” I will engage to do so at the meeting Friday evening of this week.
I can assure you that the proposition meets my hearty approval and must commend itself to every person as a thoughtful, generous act deserving public appreciation in the fullest measure.
I have every belief that the Board of Trustees will be greatly pleased to designate the grounds of the Library building as a location where the figure shall be erected, and will select a place in every way fitting, and I will ask them in this respect to forthwith communicate with you.
With great appreciation, I am yours most respectfully,
CHARLES S. ASHLEY, Mayor.
Action was taken by the Trustees of the Library as shown in the following letter:
New Bedford, Mass., March 29, 1912.
Hon. William W. Crapo, New Bedford, Mass.:
My Dear Sir:—The Board of Trustees of the New Bedford Free Public Library at their last meeting directed me, as clerk of the Board, to express to you their grateful appreciation of the kindly spirit manifested in your offer to present to the City of New Bedford, to be placed in some suitable location in the grounds surrounding the Library building, the beautiful memorial to those hardy mariners who have in the past done so much to add luster to the honor and fame of this great nation, the American Whaleman, designed by Mr. Bela L. Pratt of Boston.
“Voted: That the generous offer of Mr. Crapo be accepted and that the clerk be directed to communicate the same to him with the thanks of the Board.”
Yours very truly,
A. McL. GOODSPEED, Clerk.
The Whaleman Statue
The appreciation of this gift by the citizens of New Bedford was expressed by the following editorials:
From The Evening Standard, New Bedford:
To be able to announce, as this newspaper has the rare privilege of announcing today, the approaching realization of a long-cherished dream that this city might be adorned with a fitting memorial to the New Bedford whalemen, is such a pleasure as is not often experienced. Adding William W. Crapo’s public-spirited generosity to Bela L. Pratt’s genius for sculpture, the total is a creation of statuary such as very few cities in the United States are fortunate enough to possess. New Bedford has so few examples of fine artistry that this munificent contribution is of surpassing importance and so of exceptional welcome. As the giver says in his letter, the men whose memory it commemorates brought fame and fortune to New Bedford; and nothing can be more appropriate than that this memorial should perpetuate their fame, while adding by the perfection of its artistic excellence to the city’s renown.
Two reproductions from photographs of the sculptor’s sketch, with Mr. Crapo’s letter to the Mayor, and with a few words of unadorned explanation, given elsewhere, tell the whole story. Nothing can better speak for the gift than the gift itself, and anything added here in the way of praise is the addition of superfluity, notwithstanding the temptation presses too hard to be resisted.
Mr. Crapo’s thought of this memorial began to take shape in his mind many months ago. From the first, his desire was to see commemorated that epoch of the whaling industry which he had known in his boyhood—an industry of strong, venturesome, ambitious men, of young men looking to the future, men who meant to be leaders and who turned out to be leaders. From that thought he evolved the conception of the boatsteerer, now fashioned from the clay by Mr. Pratt, and by and by to be set up in bronze and granite where all the people can see. Possibly our older folk need no reminder that this is the figure of the young man who realized that his killing the whale was on his way to becoming, as they used to say, “captain of a ship.” So many barrels of oil, so many dollars of profit at the end of the three years’ cruise,—of course. But beyond the immense bulk of floating flesh unconsciously waiting his attack he saw himself a mate, a master, an owner of ships, a leading citizen of his native city, wife and children, prosperity, and an honored name. This is the man of the statue—The Whaleman “who brought fame and fortune to New Bedford and made its name known in every seaport in the globe.” Here he is, a man in the full glory and promise of a young manhood and who made that promise good. Long years afterward, he walked these streets, a gray-haired old man, he sailed the seas and he killed whales in fancy at the Chronometer club, he was a director in the bank, he sat at the head of his pew on the main aisle, he served his term in the legislature—but in the thought of the giver and in the brain of the artist he is always the eternal youth, inspiring and leading all those other youths who, coming after, will feel the impulse of his beckoning to achievement. Something like this, Mr. Crapo must have said to the sculptor, and discerning his splendid opportunity the sculptor has translated the vision into the image of the youthful boatsteerer, intent upon his whale, and yet still intent upon his own glowing dreams.
Of the sculptor himself, little more than a word is needed, and much would be impertinence. Probably with respect to fitness for this especial commission his equal cannot be found among American sculptors, while of the two or three who may be ranked among his rivals in talent, not one is his superior. He has, along with breadth and delicacy of imagination, the power of vigorous execution, as is easily discoverable in the statue of The Whaleman. That he deems himself fortunate in his subject is his own modest way of putting it, but another can say with no reservation and with no taint of exaggeration that his subject is fortunate in him.
In The Whaleman poising his harpoon where the currents of business and pleasure flow and swirl, for many a generation to come the people of New Bedford will see with grateful acknowledgment honor to the daring men of a wonderful industry, genius speaking inspiration through bronze and stone, and loyal affection for the generous giver’s home through a long and useful life.
From the Morning Mercury, New Bedford:
The announcement by William W. Crapo of his purpose to erect a memorial to the whalemen, is received with the greatest satisfaction. It has been the dream of all the lovers of the immortal days when New Bedford, first in the brave industry of whaling, carried the flag to all the seas of earth, that we might rear a fitting monument to the daring race of men who brought opulence and fame to the city through their perilous enterprise.
The hope was always associated with the fear that the thing might not be fittingly or worthily done. But for this apprehension it is likely it might have been attempted before this day. It is gratifying to know that it is to be done by an artist with the sympathy and intelligence of Mr. Pratt, without restriction as to cost, and there is no less gratification that the name of Mr. Crapo, possibly our most distinguished and highly cherished citizen, is to be linked with the splendid achievement.
Once it was decided to erect such a memorial, there could be no doubt in any mind regarding the subject of the design. “It is the harpooner that makes the voyage.” It is the harpooner who performs the task with the responsibility and the task with the thrill. “Nowhere in all America,” said Melville, writing of the olden day, “will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? How planted upon this once scraggy scoria of a country? Go and gaze upon the iron emblematical harpoons round yonder lofty mansion and your question will be answered. Yes; all these brave houses and flowery gardens came from the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. One and all they were harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea. Can Herr Alexander perform a feat like that?”
The harpooner is at the forefront of the whole desperate business. When the green hand first takes his place in a boat to go upon a whale, he is commanded to keep his eyes astern, so terrifying is the spectacle of the contest—a contest in which the harpooner is the dominant figure. If it is necessary for the harpooner to qualify further as to his importance, let us quote from Melville once again:
“According to the invariable usage of the fishery, the whaleboat pushes off from the ship, with the headsman or whale-killer as temporary steersman, and the harpooner or whale-fastener pulling the foremost oar, the one known as the harpooner-oar. Now it needs a strong, nervous arm to strike the first iron into the fish, for often, in what is called a long dart, the heavy implement has to be flung to the distance of twenty or thirty feet. But however prolonged and exhausting the chase, the harpooner is expected to pull his oar meanwhile to the uttermost; indeed, he is expected to set an example of superhuman activity to the rest, not only by incredible rowing, but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations; and what it is to keep shouting at the top of one’s compass, while all the other muscles are strained and half started—what this is none know but those who have tried it. For one, I cannot bawl very heartily and work very recklessly at one and the same time. In this straining, bawling state, then, with his back to the fish, all at once the exhausted harpooner hears the exciting cry—’Stand up, and give it to him!’ He now has to drop and secure his oar, turn around on his center halfway, seize his harpoon from the crotch, and with what little strength may remain, he essays to pitch it somehow into the whale. No wonder taking the whole fleet of whalemen in a body, that out of fifty fair chances for a dart, not five are successful; no wonder that so many hapless harpooners are madly cursed and disrated; no wonder that some of them actually burst their blood vessels in the boat; no wonder that some sperm whalemen are absent four years with four barrels; no wonder that to many ship owners, whaling is but a losing concern; for it is the harpooner that makes the voyage, and if you take the breath out of his body how can you expect to find it there when most wanted.”
Having decided that it is the harpooner who fills the picture, the artist must next pick his type. If he is a lover of the whaling classic there is recalled to his mind the dreadful Queequeg, who “eats nothing but steaks and likes ’em rare,” or Daggoo, or Tashtego, the three salt-sea warriors with the portentous appetites which barons of salt junk could not satisfy. But these are not typical of the glorious host of whalemen who made the fame of New Bedford, valorous, hardy, God-fearing men.
The whalers of yesteryear, whom the sculptor honors and perpetuates, is the Native born—”A health to the Native born, Stand up!”—young men athirst for gain and glory in the fishery, “stalwart fellows who have felled forests and now seek to drop the axe and snatch the whale lance.” The time was when the boys of New Bedford were fired by the deeds of the fathers and aspired to be captains and heroes. This is the figure of youth who stands at the prow of the boat—looking forward.
The Mercury has often expressed its admiration for the slogan of the whaleman, as brought out by Captain Ahab. Calling aft the crew, the captain demands:
“What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?”
“Sing out for him,” responds the clubbed chorus.
“And what do ye next, men?”
“Lower away and after him!”
“And what tune is it ye pull to, men?”
“A dead whale or a stove boat!”
In the one hundredth anniversary edition of the Mercury, the Mercury said of the phrase “A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat,” that “it should be emblazoned on the monument we are one day to build to the whaleman. It should be inscribed in the schoolroom and on the wall of the bed chamber of the youth of New Bedford.”
We are rejoiced that our suggestion has been adopted and that the phrase will appear upon the sculpture. This slogan was the impulse which led the whaleman to do such deeds that all history cannot point to an enterprise prosecuted with greater courage, hardihood, and intelligence. It is a glowing, slashing, spirit-stirring phrase, and we are glad it is to be perpetually before the youth of this city.
No gift, we believe, could be more highly cherished than the memorial which Mr. Crapo has bestowed. We express, we know, a universal sentiment of appreciation, with the hope that the First Citizen of New Bedford, a position Mr. Crapo holds by common agreement, will live long in the place he loves so well, and honors no less.
Unveiling of The Whaleman Statue
“The Whaleman,” William W. Crapo’s gift to the city, was unveiled June 20, 1913, in the presence of thousands of interested spectators.
In keeping with the sentiment that inspired the gift of the statue, Captain George 0. Baker, New Bedford’s oldest living whaling master, performed the office of loosening the ropes that held the covering of the statue, and revealing the figure.
Mr. Crapo spoke briefly in presenting the statue; and Mayor Ashley made the address of acceptance in behalf of the city. Other speakers at the exercises were Edmund Wood, Rev. C. S. Thurber, P. C. Headly Jr., and Otis S. Cook.
The exercises incidental to the unveiling began at 11 o’clock, in the presence of a crowd which covered the lawn around the bronze figure and overflowed across William and Pleasant Streets. Traffic was prevented through these thoroughfares and electric cars were diverted through Sixth to Union Street, that the immediate district might be kept as quiet as possible, and the spectators might be given an opportunity to hear the addresses of Mr. Crapo and of the others who participated in the program.
To Mr. Crapo was accorded a position of honor upon the speakers’ platform which had been erected at the northeast corner of the Library building near the statue, while sitting there with him were the Mayor, who accepted the statue on behalf of the city and who presided over the exercises, the speakers, and invited guests. The party included Captain Ezra B. Lapham and Captain Thomas H. Jenkins, Mayor Ashley, John I. Bryant, Jireh Swift, Clifton W. Bartlett, Librarian George H. Tripp, Phineas C. Headley Jr., Edmund Wood, Rev. Charles S. Thurber, Alexander McL. Goodspeed, Dr. Frank M. Kennedy, Frank A. Milliken, Otis S. Cook, George R. Phillips, Charles P. Maxfield of Fairhaven, and Charles W. Howland of Dartmouth. Invitations had been extended to the mayors of surrounding cities and to the selectmen of neighboring towns, but several of them, because of other business, were unable to be in attendance.
The space immediately around the statue had been roped off in order to give Captain Baker ample room for the unveiling, while chairs were brought from the Library and placed in front of the platform for the invited guests. Among these were members of Mr. Crape’s immediate family, this party including Mrs. Sarah B. C. Ross, of Boston, a sister of Mr. Crapo; Mr. and Mrs. Stanford Crapo and family of Detroit; Henry H. Crapo, and Mrs. Charles W. Whittier and family of Milton.
Included also in the group near the statue were Bela L. Pratt, the sculptor, and friends of Mr. Crapo.
The platform which was used by the speakers had been built over the steps, and the woodwork was obscured by a covering of bunting, while large American flags on staffs marked the four corners of the stand.
In order to regulate traffic, a police detail of 12 men, under command of Lieutenant Underwood was present.
A few moments previous to the scheduled time for the exercises Mr. Crapo, the Mayor, and the others of the platform party met in the office of Librarian Tripp and promptly at 11 o’clock came through the Library and took their positions upon the stand, the statue hidden from view by its covering being directly to their left.
After a selection by Gray’s Band, the Mayor stepped to the front of the platform, accompanied by Captain Baker, and in introducing him paid a brief tribute to the former mariner—in the Mayor’s words, “a splendid example of the men who brought honor and fame to the hardy and fearless calling of the whalemen.”
The actual unveiling took but a moment, and as the covering fell away, revealing to the people for the first time the completed work, the Mayor introduced to those gathered about the statue, the donor, William W. Crapo.
The Mayor expressed his gratification at the honor accorded him.
Remarks by the Mayor:
“One citizen there is among us, whose life embracing an honorable span of years, has witnessed each history making epoch in our expanding municipal development.
“He has borne an important and commanding part in the business of other years and is a foremost figure in the enterprises of the present day.
“To no other New Bedford man has been allotted so large a place in the activities of a community attaining marvelous prosperity in two pursuits so radically differing in nature.’
“The devotion which he brings to the numerous duties which bear upon him, never allures him from the keenest interest in all that concerns our daily doings, and his reverent appreciation of our history and achievements has been manifested on every occasion.
“At this time he confers upon us a dignified and impressive example of the traits and qualities which control him, our distinguished fellow townsman, and I regard it as my most gratifying privilege to present him to you—William W. Crapo.”
Remarks by Mr. Crapo:
The statue of The Whaleman which is presented to the city recalls the earlier history of this locality. For a hundred years the whale fishery was the absorbing and well nigh exclusive industry of New Bedford, furnishing employment to its artisans on shore and to its sailors on the ocean. Its ships sailed from this port bound on long voyages to far distant seas and they returned with rich cargoes. They were manned with self-reliant, hardy, stout-hearted men. Many of them who had entered the forecastle, through well deserved promotions reached the quarter deck. They were trained to obey and they were fitted to command. Undaunted they encountered the terrific storms of the tropics and the ice fields of polar regions. Fearlessly they pursued, and with a daring not surpassed in mortal warfare they captured the huge leviathans of the deep and made them contribute to the wants of mankind.
These men brought back something more than barrels of oil and pounds of bone. They enriched our citizenship. In visiting foreign ports in every quarter of the globe for the purpose of shipments or recruits or repairs, in braving the perils of the ocean, in meeting the frenzied attacks of wounded and angry whales, in dealing with barbarous natives of South Sea Islands, in thrilling adventures and hair-breadth escapes, they gained strength of character, a broader vision, and a clearer judgment. Retiring from a strenuous and hazardous service at a comparatively early age they sought on land the comforts of home. Here they were not idle. They engaged in various pursuits and they added greatly to the social life of the town. They were citizens whose opinions were respected by their neighbors, for they had been reared in a school which made them neither narrow-minded nor timid. Some of them took part in the management of our municipal affairs. The first mayor of New Bedford when a young man was a whaleman. He had stood at the masthead, in the boat as harpooner, he had “struck his whale,” as the phrase went, and he earned the position and title of ship captain. For five years he ably filled the office of chief executive of the city.
It was the adventurous spirit and the rugged hardihood of our whalemen, the integrity and excellence in construction and equipment of our ships, and the sagacious foresight and fair dealing of our whaling merchants, that made New Bedford the foremost whaling port of the world. The industry still lingers here, a remnant of its former greatness. Instead of fleets of whalers cruising in every ocean, a few vessels returning from their voyages land their catch on our wharves. Modern devices have lessened the risk attending the pursuit and capture, and the romance that once gathered around the harpoon has largely vanished.
This statue, placed in our civic center, a spot endeared to us by cherished memories, is erected in remembrance of the energy and fortitude, the toil and enterprise of the men who laid the foundation of the prosperity of this community. It is a tribute to men who faced dangers, who grappled with difficulties, and who achieved success. Let us hope that in keeping alive the story of the past it may serve to inspire the men of the future with confidence and courage to meet the perplexities and duties which await them.
At the conclusion of Mr. Crapo’s remarks the Mayor, on behalf of the city of New Bedford, formally accepted the statue, and as the city’s chief executive expressed the appreciation and the gratitude of the municipality.
Remarks by the Mayor:
“I accept in behalf of the people this grand monument in the firm conviction that those of the days to come will have for it the regard and appreciation which now possess us.
“It is symbolical of deeds of fearless endeavor and typifies the sterling worth of resolute manhood in an important work of life, happily combining the toil of industry with the romance of adventure.
“I believe it to be no part of exaggeration in forecast or over-statement in prophecy to proclaim as a certainty that this pile will find an enduring respect in the hearts of the people in whose control it is from this hour to remain.
“For them and in their name, I thank you.”
With the statue formally offered in its complete shape, and formally accepted by the city, the remainder of the program was devoted to several short addresses, in which men prominently identified with different phases of the city’s interests, added their words of tribute. Edmund Wood, president of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, was the first of the speakers.
Remarks by Edmund Wood:
The event of this day with its appropriate exercises writes a new and interesting page in our city’s history. But this event today also recalls and commemorates the history of this community fifty and one hundred years ago. We are proud of our past and its glorious record of heroic achievement, but too seldom do we show our appreciation of what we owe to those who left us this inheritance.
The Old Dartmouth Historical Society, which I represent here today, was founded in order to foster a reverence for the past, to preserve the records of those early days, and to keep the virtues of our forebears from falling into forgetfulness. The generous thought that inspired the gift which culminates today had its source in that same spirit of gratitude to those who created this goodly heritage.
No more appropriate subject for a Memorial Statue could be found to typify and epitomize the founding of our prosperity. New Bedford’s chief—its only industry, was the whale fishery, and it was a wonderful developer of the sturdy character of our people. In the mariner it called for bravery, hardihood, and endurance. In the successful merchant it demanded speculative boldness, patient confidence, and ability to endure with an equal mind the most extreme variations of fortune. It broadened the horizon of our local life and liberalized its thought. We knew that the earth was round, that there were other peoples, other religions, other civilizations.
The spirit of exploration which even now breaks forth in successive Arctic and Antarctic expeditions, was satisfied by this constant pursuit of the whales into unknown and uncharted seas.
The spirit of adventure appealed strongly to the youth and the extensive fleet which sailed from this port in the most successful days of the industry was recruited with no difficulty. Schiller’s lines express the enthusiasm of the time:
Youth with thousand masted vessel
Ploughs the sea in morning light.”
The stories of the chase and hunting adventure have always had a charm and fascination. Some of the earliest attempts at English literature and the still earlier songs of the minstrels recounted the perils of the hunt and the excitement of the killing. This must be inbred in our very nature, for the refinements of a more complex civilization have not eradicated it. The popular magazines of today have frequent tales of the wild boar hunt, of shooting gigantic elephants and fierce lions, and tracking man-eating tigers in the jungle. But our fathers and mothers in the township of old Dartmouth were not surfeited with magazines. In their place they reveled in the frequent recital of the more intimate personal experiences of a father or a brother on the other side of the earth. Shipwrecks among the Fiji or Society Islands, blood-thirsty fights with Madagascar pirates in the Indian Ocean, or the losing of a whole boat’s crew by the lashing flukes of a hundred-barrel whale in his fearful dying agony.
No wonder the boys went to sea when twelve or fourteen years old, or became stowaways on a whaler when parental permission was refused.
But already these familiar tales are becoming traditions and modern whaling with its bomb guns and other new appliances has lost many of the dangers that gave it its chief charm.
In those early days the young whaleman of New Bedford experienced a thrill of excitement far keener than that of the modern hunter for great game with his magazine rifle.
I have always been thankful, and I am doubly thankful today that as a New Bedford boy I had a chance to go on a part of a whaling voyage and to see for myself the chase, the capture, and the trying out, before the sad decadence of this our earliest industry. It makes one feel that he is a truer son of New Bedford and a more appreciative heir to all this rich inheritance of industrial romance. I can to some extent share the keen enjoyment of our surviving whalemen, on this occasion when we commemorate the heroism of those early days by this worthy monument of enduring bronze.
I can recall now those long days of cruising in the North Atlantic in 36 degrees—46 degrees with four vigilant lookouts at the mastheads and the mate also on the foretopsail yard. I can today almost feel the thrill of that moment when suddenly there came from aloft the welcome cry of “There she blows.” The immediate bustle on deck, the lifting of the heavy tubs of towline into the boats, the rigging and unsheathing of the harpoons, the lowering of the boats, the barefooted sailors following down the sides of the ships, the long fierce pull with the oars, and then as the boats neared the whale, the sudden leap of the boatsteerer to the bow. He poises his harpoon, and as the boat slides almost on to the very back of the whale, he darts it deep into the huge carcass. “Stern all,” and the boat draws back from the awful danger, but not before the boatsteerer with desperate energy grabs his second harpoon and plunges it alongside of its fellow.
With a fearful swish the whale is off. The line tightens through the length of the boat and spins round the loggerhead with lightning speed. After several minutes the officer in the stern snubs the line and gives the whale the weight of the boat. Forward it darts with amazing velocity. Down on the floor of the boat sink the green hands of the crew who are seeing their first whale, and hug the thwarts for safety—so terrified that even the curse of the mate is unheeded.
But the whale is slackening his speed. He spouts blood and is severely wounded.
Slowly the boat is pulled up to the whale. The mate now changes ends with the boatsteerer. He seizes the long and deadly-looking lance, and as the prow touches the side of the whale, he churns it for one dangerous instant into his very vitals.
Now comes the flurry—the death agony—and woe to the boat that is found within range of those mighty flukes, as they lash the white water fifty feet into the air.
The dead whale is proudly towed to the welcoming ship, and fastened alongside by the fluke chains which are led up through the hawser hole. The famished crew are fed, and as a special reward gingerbread is added to the regular bill of fare of lobscouse. But to the man who first sighted the whale is given a five dollar gold piece.
Now the scene of activity is shifted to the deck of the vessel. The cutting stage is rigged out over the water and the whale, and the heavy falls are led from the main top to the windlass. The officers on the stage cut with the sharp spades, and as the huge blanket pieces are hoisted toward the main top, the blubber is peeled spirally from the carcass. The fires are lighted under the try-works forward and burn fiercely, fed by the oily scrap. On through the night the work continues. It is a weird scene with the flames belching with fierce tongues high above the short chimneys,—the red glare reflected on the close-reefed sail aloft, and above all the noise and bustle sounds the droning, dragging chantey of the crew as they toil unceasingly at the windlass.
All this vivid scene is suggested by this beautiful figure of the typical whaleman at the supreme moment of his life. After weeks of tedious cruising and keeping constant watch, the whale has been sighted, the boat has reached him, and everything,—the success of the voyage even, depends now upon his splendid nerve and vigorous manhood.
He deserves this commanding public statue. He has waited long for this recognition. It has come, and the tribute is worthy and adequate. Not only we who are living today, but generations yet to come, who study our city’s romantic history, will hold in grateful honor, the name and memory of the generous giver, and praise his wise and just appreciation of what this community owes to the New Bedford Whaleman.
In introducing Rev. Charles S. Thurber, chaplain of the Port Society, Mayor Ashley paid a glowing tribute to the work for mankind which that organization has done, and is doing, in this city. “This association, one of the oldest in the city,” he declared, “has done more for the uplift of mankind in New Bedford than any other association or society.”
Remarks by Rev. C. S. Thurber:
It affords me much pleasure to be privileged, on this brilliant occasion, to give a very brief history of the New Bedford Port Society, and a sketch of the splendid work which they have accomplished since their organization took effect in 1828, or 85 years ago.
The object of this society was to protect the rights and interests of seamen, and to furnish them with such moral, intellectual, and religious instructions as the Board of Managers should deem practicable. Article four of their constitution reads as follows: The business of the society shall be conducted by a president, two vice presidents, a treasurer, recording secretary, and eleven directors; who shall constitute a Board of Managers. The first election of officers of which we have any record took effect at the annual meeting held June 7th, 1831. Their names in part were as follows: President, Thomas Rodman Jr.; vice presidents, Sylvester Holmes, John Howland Jr.; recording secretary, Jonathan Tuttle; corresponding secretary, John H. W. Page; treasurer, Jared Parkhurst.
At this stage of our history it was highly important that some moral, intellectual, and spiritual reform should be brought to pass in the interests of New Bedford seamen; in consideration of the fact that at this time there were 150 ships sailing from this port, whose crews aggregated 7,500 men, and many of these men “like sheep scattered abroad, having no shepherd.” They were considered as a distinct caste, or order of being, whose follies, since they could not be corrected, had to be endured. As one of the earlier chaplains presented the situation by saying: “The moment the sailor sets his foot on shore, all the means for the gratification of his fatal instincts are poured upon him in every form of allurement. He is immediately insane by intoxicating drink; and in this condition is surrendered over to the tender mercies of men and women, whose only subsistence is derived from plundering him of his earnings; and who, themselves, are destroying both soul and body by ministering to his vices.” To improve these conditions the managers of the Port Society established the Seamen’s Bethel, which was dedicated and opened in May, 1832, under the pastoral care of the Rev. Enoch Mudge, who, from that time became, and continued to be, the unwearied, kind, judicious, and Christian friend of seamen. To him they were pearls that came from the ocean; jewels fit to adorn the Saviour’s crown, and “what hath God wrought,” through his ministry of love at the Bethel, for it is frequently noted that the Bethel was filled to overflowing with the men for whom it was founded. This ever vigilant chaplain also found, that in sickness the sailor often suffered from neglect and want. Therefore, several benevolent gentlemen united with him in representing to some of the ladies of this place the necessity of having arrangements made for the comfort of the sick. Their sympathies responded to the call, and after deliberation, in 1833, one or two meetings were called, a constitution was presented, adopted, and signed by about forty ladies who were organized under the name of the Ladies’ Branch of the New Bedford Port Society. The first object of the Ladies’ Society was to prepare suitable garments for the sick, bedding, mattresses, pillows and grave clothes; jellies, fruit, and other little comforts. At this time many of the boarding houses were so wanting in neatness and every comfort, so noisy and disagreeable, that the task of this committee was no light one, and sometimes it was impossible to make the patients comfortable except by a removal. There was no hospital, no receiving house for them, and much vigilance was necessary to secure proper care and attention. From this time on, the subject of a boarding-house for seamen which should be in all respects a “home” for the sailor on his return to port continued to engage the attention of the Board until September 17th, 1850, when through the Board’s untiring efforts and the kindness of Mrs. Sarah R. Arnold, in connection with her husband, the Hon. James Arnold, the former mansion of her late father, William Rotch Jr., was donated as a “sailor’s home,” together with land eligibly situated, on which to place it, and funds to remove it and fit it for occupancy, adding even the care of fitting it upon its new foundation. The donation was made still more valuable by the condition annexed, that at least $3,000 should be added from other sources to furnish the “home,” and to enable the society to open it under favorable auspices. On January 17th, 1851, the committee reported that the sum of about $3,800 had been subscribed, of which $3,000 had been paid into the treasury. Mr. Arnold then delivered the deed of the “home” and lot, duly executed by him and his good wife. The whole expenses of repairing the house, making some required additions, putting up some fences, and furnishing it throughout, was about $2,200. Of this sum nearly $1,400 was paid from the funds of the society, and almost $800 was contributed by the Ladies’ Branch.
From this statement it can be seen how deep was the interest felt by the ladies in this movement, and yet we are occasionally asked why we should do so much for our seamen? Let me repeat what you have doubtless heard before. New Bedford is now, and always has been, at the head of the whale fishery throughout the world. Your magnificent public buildings, your private dwellings, typical of the “palaces of kings,” are all the product of that form of industry, by means of which this wealth has been acquired. New Bedford owes almost every dollar of its wealth to the tireless energy of its sailors. Its hardy men have scoured every ocean where a whale could be found; and our beautiful city is the product of their labors. It is said that Lowell, Fall River, and Lawrence were built by spindles, but New Bedford was built by harpoons. These men have spent the greater part of their lives amid hours of loneliness and seasons of homesickness. They having left their dear ones in the distant land of their birth, at sea they were comparatively alone; no mother, no wife or sister near to whom they could tell the story of their sufferings. Some of these men came back to you crippled, scarred, and infirm for life, and many of them in need of your tender mercies. The New Bedford Port Society has never forgotten or neglected to provide, as best it could, for our industrious and loyal seamen. Nor have the people of our beloved city, during the 85 years that our society has existed, ever withheld from us their benevolent spirit in our time of need. We have labored and they have helped us, we have asked and they have freely given, in the interests of these men; and from their hearts, if living, or from their silent tombs, whether they rest in country church-yard, or, beneath the shadow of the deep blue sea, the spirits of the invisible heroes arise and hover as a cloud of witnesses about us on this important day, as we dedicate to their sacred memory this lasting monument. Speaking with a more universal language than ours: This, “ye have done in remembrance of me.” To none do these words, applied to the living and the dead of our heroes, appeal more strongly than to our venerable citizen, Hon. W. W. Crapo, the generous donor of this memorial stone; this token of his love for his city, and the men who made it. This work for the people will show clearer and clearer, as the years pass on; by this he is building a monument more lasting than granite or metal.
But, let us all, by good deeds, kindly words, and by showing human sympathy for all mankind, also build a monument that will live until memory is gone and time shall be no more. Then when the “earth and the sea shall give up their dead” on that last great “Day of Judgment,” the thousands whom you have comforted will say “We were a-hungered, and thou gavest us the bread of mercy; we were thirsty for friendship and thou gavest us companionship; we were strangers and thou gavest us a home; we were sick from hardship and exposure, and thou didst visit us; we were in the prison house of moral and spiritual despair and thou camest unto us;” and the King will surely say, “Inasmuch as thou hast done this unto the least of these my brethren, thou hast done it unto Me.”
Representing the Board of Trade, which was formed years ago in the office of a pioneer whaling firm, was the president of today, P. C. Headley Jr., and he paid tribute to the Yankee ships from New Bedford which carried the Stars and Stripes to every corner of the world.
Remarks by Mr. Headley:
Mr. Chairman, Honored Guests, and Fellow Citizens:
Perhaps it was nothing more than natural that the Board of Trade, as a representative civic body, should be asked to participate today in the dedication of this memorial to the whaling industry, given by one of New Bedford’s best known citizens. However, the significance and appropriateness of that request were not so apparent at first. I recall the story of the Irishman and Scot who were vying with each other in connecting their countries with great events:
“Ah, weel,” said Sandy, “they toor doon an auld castle in Scotland and foond many wires under it, which shows that the telegraph was knoon there hoondreds o’ years ago.”
“Well,” said Pat, “they toor down an ould castle in Oireland, and begorra there was no wires found undher it, which shows that they knew all about wireless tel’graphy in Oireland hundreds av years ago.”
My hearers, I assure you there is a much closer relationship between the Board of Trade and the whaling business in New Bedford and that its claims are more relevant than those of either the Scot or the Irishman; for, not only was this board created in the office of one of the pioneer whaling firms here, but it began solely for that interest, and was organized in the spring of 1884 by the honored George F. Bartlett, our own Mr. Phillips, and John F. Tucker. A little later Mr. Frederick Swift joined the ranks and the board was launched and he was made its first president. All these gentlemen represented leading shipping firms. The board was established for the specific purpose of abolishing the policy of secrecy in the prices received for whalebone and oil, as it was customary for competitors to conceal the prices of their sales. This secrecy worked to the disadvantage of the business as a whole and the Board of Trade opened its doors as a sort of exchange for this industry and tried to wipe out star chamber methods. An open book of prices was kept in the Board of Trade rooms and each dealer entered the price of his latest sale of oil or bone. Soon disaffection arose among some who clung to secrecy and who went on the principle of the man who said he “made a fortune minding his own business.” Then the Board of Trade changed its direction for wider service and invited all merchants and individuals to join in the development of the common interest and helpfulness throughout the entire business life of the city. So the Board of Trade is peculiarly interested in this memorial to the great industry which brought this city into prominence and carried the name and fame of New Bedford from ocean to ocean; in fact, wherever the sea-roving man has turned his ship’s prow; and, gentlemen, perhaps I may be pardoned in mentioning the additional pride I take today in representing this board, because that same I. H. Bartlett, in whose office the Board of Trade originated, was my grandfather.
We are also proud of our city’s progress and reputation in the great industry of cotton manufacturing, but still we fondly cling to the viking lore and the dauntless courage of those former days, the days of the “Ancient Mariner,” when that adventurous and enterprising spirit sent forth our ships over the face of the earth to gather from the far away climes the treasures of the deep in the face of every peril. We do not begin to appreciate the magnitude of their undertakings. Charts of the Arctic seas were most unreliable then and far from correct today, and the compass is so affected by polar magnetism that it cannot be depended upon, and navigation in those waters was largely intuitive and the rest common sense or uncommon sense. Beset with wintry blasts and frigid temperature and ever threatening fields of ice, they cruised about in unknown and unknowable waters. Thus bereft of accurate calculations, the American whaleman braved every conceivable peril, enduring long exile from home, in the face of almost certain death. No wonder these intrepid sailors earned the reputation of being the most skillful and daring navigators in the world. Moreover, they probably carried the American flag into more inaccessible places than were ever reached by the flag of any other nation. Only last fall, in the harbor of Fayal, the Stars and Stripes were seen flying from nearly a dozen whaling vessels, a sight impossible to duplicate in any other department of our American shipping, about the only evidence we have of a merchant marine.
That same spirit which carried our city to the front rank in this bold quest has also made her the first in fine goods and the second largest cotton manufacturing city in the United States, third in the state and fourth in New England, and fifth on the Atlantic coast in immigration. Nor has she been far behind in glass and silver ware, copper, twist drills, eyelets, and her cordage works from which the rope on yonder harpoon was made. She has many other large lines of business, including lumber and coal, as well as oil refineries known all over the world. New Bedford is of international fame in two great industries, besides a peer of many in other trades. But she began her famous career on the world’s waterways. Therefore, as president of the Board of Trade, which was the offspring of the whaling industry, I bring to you, sir, the donor of this gift, the gratitude of the past and the present, and pledge our co-operation in immortalizing the ancient landmarks of fame and honor and in ever seeking this city’s advancement for “God and Fatherland.”
The last speaker of the forenoon was Otis Seabury Cook, one of the trustees of the Library.
Mr. Chairman, Mr. Crapo, Ladies and Gentlemen:
The New Bedford Library Trustees are customarily a docile and unobtrusive body. The average citizen rarely hears of them. At their board meetings they respectfully listen to the advice of the Librarian, and are wont to assent promptly to his suggestions. Thus they perform their duties in a manner generally commended by Mr. Tripp in his annual reports.
Today, however, being assured of hearty sympathy, the trustees take advantage of an opportunity to appear for themselves in public.
To participate in these proceedings is a real privilege. The occasion marks an epoch in municipal events. It is an example and may become a precedent. The good spirit and generosity that have prompted the donor in giving the people this remarkable statue deserve magnanimous emulation.
Here is an impressive reminder of earlier activities. It cannot fail to inspire. Rugged and fine, wrought with bold and delicate skill, and cast in lasting bronze, there is portrayed a character of venturesome self-reliance and determination. It seems to be an almost animate presentation of the idea, as the classic motto has it, that there must be “A dead whale or a stove boat.”
The conception is accurate. It is correct historically. While the man’s figure itself is properly slightly heroic, the demonstrating model, Richard L. McLachlan, has been a New Bedford boatsteerer and first mate of whalers, and the pose is that of experience. The boat was produced from one that has had actual service, and may be found in the rooms of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society. It was measured and photographed and drawings of it were made under the artist’s directions in the interest of exactness. The same museum furnished also the original of the harpoon. From our own Library was obtained much assistance.
In this Library is the world’s greatest collection of papers, books, and pictures relating to the industry and the romance of whaling.
Bela Lyon Pratt has used these means and sources of information with earnest enthusiasm. His accomplishment is a distinction for the community.
This man, born in Norwich, Connecticut, in 1867, in early youth gave evidence of superior talent, and now ranks as an acknowledged leader among American sculptors, a worthy successor of Saint-Gaudens.
Since 1892, when Pratt returned from the Ecole Nationale des Beaux Arts in Paris, where he was awarded three medals and two prizes for excellence, he has been an instructor in modeling at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He is an associate member of the National Academy of Design, a member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and of many societies of scholars and men of genius.
He designed two colossal groups for the water gate of the Peristyle at the Columbian Exposition; and of his various other notable successes there might be mentioned six large spandrel figures for the main entrance to the Library of Congress; the bronze statue of the “Andersonville Prisoner Boy,” erected at Andersonville, Georgia, for the State of Connecticut; groups at the front of the Boston Public Library; the recently dedicated statue of Edward Everett Hale in the Public Garden at Boston; and numerous well known works of art through all of which the luster of his name has been enhanced.
May his present achievement stand for generations to regard as a credit to himself, an honor to the liberal patriotism of William W. Crapo, and a fitting monument to the abiding fame of the City of New Bedford.
A selection by the hand brought the formal exercises to a close.
From the Morning Mercury, New Bedford:
There was unveiled yesterday, on Library Square, the memorial to the race of whalemen who brought fame and fortune to the city and who contributed the example of bravery and energy which created a spirit among the men of New Bedford that has led to the prosperity of this neighborhood.
The scene and incidents on the square yesterday will be long remembered in this community. The oldest of the whaling captains who is left, Captain George O. Baker, sturdy as most at seventy-six, but with whitened hair and some of the afflictions that the burden of years must bring, lifted the covering from the bronze figure of Youth at the prow of the whaleboat with the harpoon poised, ready to hurl.
It must have seemed to the aged captain like a glance backward when he stood with a glorious future before him, “In the very May morn of his Youth, ripe for exploits and mighty enterprises.”
The life of this captain who drew aside the covering, was typical of those whom the statue commemorates. He had gone to sea at the age of thirteen, had become a captain, and on his first voyage as commander his ship was captured by the Shenandoah and burned. The Confederate captain, Waddell, promised him a high place in the Confederate navy if he would forswear his allegiance to the Union, which he of course refused. Then he was landed at Ascension and led the army of the savage king, with a sword tied about his wrist with a ropeyarn, “fighting for a king against the common people, notwithstanding I have always been a Democrat,” as the captain puts it. For this service the king offered to adopt him, but the captain put aside the crown and resumed whaling. So the story runs. We only touch upon the captain’s career here to show the experiences that came to the whalemen whom the statue personifies.
An attempt was made to get the captains together. The little group that gathered reminds us how few are left. So it was time that those who remember the whaleman and his deeds should pay the tribute the memory deserves, and it is a source of gratification that the First Citizen of New Bedford, William W. Crapo, was prompted to do this admirable thing in the manner that must fill every citizen with satisfaction.
In selecting Bela Pratt for the task, Mr. Crapo picked the best man available and the result shows that the sculptor found inspiration in the subject and possessed the genius to execute it in a fashion which will make it among the noteworthy achievements of the sculptors of this period.
The harpooner is the figure that deserves to be perpetuated in a composition commemorating the whaleman. It is the harpooner who makes the voyage. His task is the difficult one. When the boat lowers to go upon a whale, custom requires the harpooner to pull the foremost oar. He is not only expected to pull his oar to the uttermost, but he is expected to set an example of superhuman activity to the rest, not only by incredible rowing but by repeated loud and intrepid exclamations.
Mr. Pratt chose for his harpooner such a young man as were found aboard whalers in the palmy days, young fellows of stalwart frames, fellows who had felled forests, and dropped the axe to snatch the whale lance—fellows all athirst for gain and glory in the fishery. The New Bedford whaling master in the olden days wore, when ashore, broadcloth and fine linen, big seals for watch fobs and silk hats. He was pointed out by the boys as a captain, no less a lord than the captain of a Mississippi steamboat. The whaling merchants lived in lofty mansions, in brave houses with flowery gardens, “one and all harpooned and dragged up hither from the bottom of the sea.”
The sculptor, then, was to fashion a youth, brave, hot and bold looking to become the captain of a whaleship, with all the power and glory that the position meant in that day. That is the youth who is at the prow of the whaleboat in the statue. His face is as handsome as a Praxiteles. It is a strong face, revealing that the imminent instant has arrived. The figure is superb and the pose is grand and free in a way that manifests the genius of the sculptor. We feel that here is a resourceful man, “one who,” as Mr. Bullen has said, “could whittle with a jack-knife a quadrant, tear off the rim of a compass focal for an arc, break up a five-cent mirror for a speculum, and with such crude device, fight his way back to home and life.”
The whaleman is hard to satisfy when it comes to the details of his trade and the task of the sculptor has not been easy. The bronze whaleman faced a critical crowd yesterday. The old sailors grudgingly admitted, as a general thing, that the position of the harpooner, if he was throwing his lance into a bowhead, was all right. They didn’t think the dimensions of the boat were accurate. The harpooner should have more room “forrard.” The curve of the bow of the whaleboat was not exact. The ribbon on the boat is too wide. The line was not properly rigged in running through the bow direct to the harpoon. “If the harpooner is striking a bowhead he must be in the Arctic, and he ought to have a shirt on,” commented one who said he was a whaler, but who may have been a sea cook, or a son of one. “Maybe he’s harpooning a sperm whale in the Atlantic,” said a bystander. “He wouldn’t go out in a boat without his shirt if he was after sparm,” was the reply. “He’d burn his back.”
The difficulty with most of the critics is that they are unaware that there is such a thing as artistic license. The prow of the boat is purposely foreshortened because in looking up from the position the statue occupies, the figure would not be visible if this was not done. Mr. Pratt made an effort to find what a whaleman habitually wore. He was told they insisted upon straw hats for the summer season, any old hat at any other time. Old prints showed a harpooner, in one instance wearing a plug hat. The sculptor found nothing in the slop chests of the outfitters that could be effectively reproduced in bronze. So he chose the bareheaded figure, naked from the waist up, and the choice unquestionably assists the suggestion the statue was designed to make. There is authority in Melville, if any was needed, “As for Fedallah,” we read, “who was seen pulling the harpooner oar, he had thrown aside his black jacket and displayed his naked chest with the whole part of his body above the gunwale, clearly cut against the alternating depressions of the watery horizon.”
These criticisms recall that when Robert Swain Gifford, William Bradford, and Van Beest painted the picture, “The Chase,” they mounted it on a card with a six-inch margin and invited the whaling masters to write criticisms upon it. The entire margin was covered and there was no agreement among them. The sculptor need not be concerned. It is like a sailor to grumble. In his heart every son of them is filled with top-gallant joy and delight at the inspiring consummation of the work, a feeling in which the citizens of New Bedford join.
From The Evening Standard, New Bedford:
Elsewhere in this newspaper will be found a full account of the unveiling of The Whaleman statue on the grounds of the Free Public Library, with the eloquent and modest address of the giver, and the appreciative words of the speakers who appeared for the city and for the various organizations which were appropriately represented on this occasion. When the gift was announced, some months since, this newspaper endeavored to express its own pleasure and the community gratitude that at last a long-cherished hope was to be given visible form. This afternoon we can say no more than to revive a few of the words which came when the conception of The Whaleman, as is now displayed in the center of the city, was new. So today is repeated:
Mr. Crapo’s brief address, we venture the suggestion, needs one emendation. Nowhere in it does he refer to himself. The personal pronoun singular is signally distinguished by non-appearance. That he put himself out of sight in his tribute to The Whaleman was modestly graceful. But this community ought never to forget the giver of this emblem of achievement and this inspiration to endeavor.
From The Evening Standard, New Bedford:
Whenever the Observer looks out of his window he generally sees someone looking at The Whaleman statue. At this season of the year, when vacationists and tourists visit this town in larger numbers than many of our people realize, there are many of these people who come round to look at the bronze mariner, and a large share of them, it may be said parenthetically, go into the Public Library. The Observer likes to see them do that, for the Library’s interior is one of the most attractive in the country. Almost everyone who visits it says so, and it is gratifying to have so many visitors from abroad coincide with the conviction, even if it is partly founded on home pride, of residents of New Bedford who have some qualification for judging. Perhaps someday the librarian and his assistants will repeat to the people of this city a few of the many very gratifying compliments of this magnificent Library of theirs.
But to go back to the statue. It is a great favorite with the amateur photographer. Travelers with elaborate outfits spend a long time in studying lights and shades and angles and backgrounds and distances before they focus and expose. Others pull out vest pocket cameras and snap recklessly from all points of view, lest haply they might get one good picture. The other day a substantial looking gentleman lined up his wife and three children in front of the statue, and carried off a proud souvenir. At any rate, let us hope his shutter worked and that he didn’t forget to turn the film. Some visitors look at the statue for a longtime and from every side. Others are satisfied—apparently well satisfied—with one glance. There are times when the pantomime is obvious and amusing—as, for example, when a husband and wife come together and when one wants to study the work and the other doesn’t, and whose every pose would make an excellent model for the bored. The boys usually want to look inside of the boat; and that is, on the whole, an evidence of their alert interest. It is far better than having no interest at all. Occasionally there comes along a group whose conversation the Observer would like to overhear. The other day two boys, eight or ten years old, home boys, barefooted with trousers rolled up, with their hands behind them, stood at a respectful distance for a long time, and talked. They were serious about it, too. That much could be seen from the window even if not a word could be heard. One would be safe in wagering that the kids were not debating the technique. Another was the trio composed of two Italian men, evidently laborers, and an Italian woman with a red handkerchief over her head. Their inspection of the statue was also minute, and their talk was also serious. The Observer is disposed to believe that their comment would have been worth hearing. So, perhaps, are the comments of men who point and wave their arms. But mostly these latter are knockers—and they are rapidly getting to be in the minority.
Written by John Spollon and first published in Fibre and Fabric, May 14, 1903.
One evening in May I was watching the play
Of the wild restless waves rolling in from the bay
At the breezy south end of the city,
And listening, meanwhile, to the ditty
Of a mariner aged and gray:
“From where towered the masts of barques, schooners, and smacks,
I turn to see rising those factory smokestacks;
And, I tell you, I think it a pity
That the Whaleman so hardy and gritty
Is rapidly passing away.
“Look! Two arms of the sea half enclose the place.
It resembles to me the despairing embrace
Of a mistress cast off and forsaken.
Who clings with affection unshaken
To a lover grown cold and estranged.
I remember the time when her favors were sought;
But they had to be purchased, and dearly were bought
By the bold rough-and-ready sea-ranger,
No wonder he turned to a stranger:
Picked up a new love and is changed.
“Like the osprey he fared with his wings to the breeze;
Every danger he dared where his prey he could seize,
And no other land was the poorer
(Than this statement nothing is surer)
For the riches he brought to this shore.
When the earth yielded oil it but altered his toil.
And he built the first factory on New Bedford soil.
While his city grows bigger and bigger,
In cotton he cuts a new figure,
For his work as a whaleman is o’er.
“Yet I heartily wish his old shape could be seen,
In marble or bronze, mounted here on the green,
As a Founder the town should remember
Till Sentiment’s last glowing ember
To ashes has faded away.
Let his monument stand, with his harpoon in hand.
Sturdy son of the sea who dragged wealth to the land,
In defiance of hardship and danger;
For in this town he’ll soon be a stranger,”
Said the mariner aged and gray.
John Spollon, a mill worker, was born of Irish parents in Camden, New Jersey, about 1858. His career on the sea began when he was sixteen and continued for nineteen years, during which period he twice rounded Cape Horn and the Cape of Good Hope and four times crossed the Atlantic.
When Bela L. Pratt was asked by William W. Crapo to model a statue of a whaleman, to be erected in this city as a gift to its people, Mr. Pratt’s first problem was to procure a suitable model.
“I must have a real boatsteerer,” was Mr. Pratt’s declaration; “a man who has himself been long familiar with the harpoon.”
Accordingly search was instituted to find an American whaleman of the Captain Ahab type. Augustus G. Moulton of J. & W. R. Wing Company was asked if they could produce one, and responded by offering as a model a native of the Cape de Verde Islands. The whaleman of the statue, however, was to typify the early Yankee courage that sent New Bedford’s sailors across all the oceans of the world, spearing cetaceans for oil,—so the outfitters were asked to find a boatsteerer of the old type,—the type made famous in Moby Dick and other stories of the sea.
Then it was that Richard Lewis McLachlan of this city, a veteran of the sea, and who for ten years was a boatsteerer, was proposed. Mr. McLachlan was, accordingly taken to the rooms of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, where he posed in the bow of a whaleboat with poised harpoon for photographs for Mr. Pratt. The pictures pleased, and the boatsteerer was summoned to Boston.
Mr. McLachlan first went to sea in 1873 as a cabin boy in the merchant service, voyaging from Portland, Oregon, to Queenstown, Ireland, round the Horn. Then again he went voyaging from New York to the West Indies; on many other voyages he sailed to the western ocean, continuing in the merchant service until about 1880.
It was about the year 1885 that the boatsteerer went whaling along the Pacific coast to the Arctic sea. His first trip was on the bark Rainbow, Captain Barney Cogan, and on the very first trip the savage ice of the north rushed upon the Rainbow and shattered her great sides. “Stove in the ice off Cape Thaddeus,” said he, in telling the story, “we were picked up by the bark Fleetwing.”
He afterwards shipped on the bark Hunter, engaged in Arctic whaling, and finished the season on that vessel. During the Southern California boom, he was engaged as a longshoreman for the Broadway Steamship Company. Then he returned to whaling again in the Behring Sea. In the employ of the Pacific Steam Whaling Company, he spent many winters in the Arctic. In later years, he shipped, after serving for ten years as boatsteerer, as fourth mate on a vessel belonging to J. & W. R. Wing Company to Japan; then as second mate on the Alice Knowles, Captain Earle, to the Indian Ocean.
His last voyage was on the schooner Valkyria, which he left at Fayal in October, 1911. The Valkyria was in the whaling business, and Mr. McLachlan was her chief mate.
“The bottom is out of whaling,” declared the boatsteerer, with a despondent shake of his head. “It does not pay to go a’ whaling any more.”
In The Evening Standard appeared the following account of the work on the statue as it gradually developed:
Hon. William W. Crapo proposes to give to the city of New Bedford a memorial to the New Bedford whaleman in the form of a statue to be set up, as he suggests in his letter, on the grounds of the Free Public Library. As Mr. Crapo relates, Bela L. Pratt of Boston, one of the chief among living American sculptors, has designed the model for the statue from photographs of which the illustrations given herewith are reproduced. It should be understood that at present the statue is in the stage which the sculptor calls a sketch, and though, in the main, this sketch may be accepted as prefiguring the completed statue, it is subject to more or less change with respect to details. As the sketch now stands in the studio, it is a clay model say two feet or more high, built upon a pedestal. It is still the object of the artist’s manipulations, mostly with the purpose of giving delicacy of completion to the conception, with probably no great alteration of the main idea, and possibly none at all.
As to the conception of The Whaleman, that was Mr. Crapo’s thought. His purpose was to commemorate and typify the New Bedford whaleman, not as a reminiscence, but as a living human being. So, in accordance with Mr. Crapo’s desire, the artist has fashioned the presentment of the boatsteerer in the pose of throwing the harpoon from the whaleboat’s bow. He stands for the whaling industry at its very prime, a young man, daring and ambitious, full of expectation to make the whale fishery a route to realizing all his dreams of life success. That, in brief, is the meaning of this statue.
The statue, the boat in which it stands, and the conventionalized waves will be of bronze. The figure will be a little larger than life size, its anticipated position as related to the observer making that treatment most effective. The pedestal and the background will be of granite, of a color and texture to match, as nearly as may be, the granite of the Library building. On the face of the background, that is, the side toward the statue, will be carved a suggestion of sea and sky, with sea birds floating on the wing, and at the lower right hand corner, this quotation from Moby Dick: “A dead whale or a stove boat.” The other side will bear an inscription phrased very like the words used in the first paragraph of Mr. Crapo’s letter to the mayor: “In honor of the whalemen whose skill, hardihood, and daring brought fame and fortune to New Bedford and made its name known in every seaport on the globe.” The top of the granite background will be somewhere from twelve to fifteen feet above the sidewalk level, making the entire structure of dignified and impressive proportions. Two locations have been proposed—one on the northeast corner of the Library grounds, and the other directly in front of the steps. That, however, is a matter to be settled later.
It is not probable that the statue can be placed in position before next year. While the sculptor will advance the work with a reasonable celerity, most of the processes cannot be hurried. So that a year and a half may easily elapse before the memorial will be set up in this city.
SITE FOR “THE WHALEMAN”
“The Whaleman,” Bela L. Pratt’s monument, the gift of William W. Crapo to the city, will he placed in the grass plot at the northeast corner of the Library lot, the site which Mr. Pratt considers the best for the monument.
A special meeting of the Board of Trustees of the Free Public Library was held Thursday evening to consider the location for the monument, and the members present were in accord with the decision of Mr. Pratt.
Jireh Swift Jr. was elected chairman of the meeting, in the absence of the mayor, and the members present were Messrs. Milliken, Goodspeed, Kennedy, and Cook. Henry H. Crapo attended the meeting, also Nat C. Smith, architect of the building.
Dr. Kennedy stated that he preferred the north corner, and Mr. Milliken asked if Mr. Crapo had any preference.
Mr. Crapo stated that his father had no personal preference, preferring to leave the matter of the site to Mr. Pratt’s judgment. He said that since Mr. Pratt’s recent visit to view the possible locations, he had asked him to express his opinion, and he read the following letter that he had received to present to the trustees:
Jan. 18, 1913.
Board of Trustees, New Bedford Public Library,
New Bedford, Mass.:
Dear Sirs:—After my consultation with you and our experiments with the dummy arranged for the testing of the site of the proposed monument given by Hon. W. W. Crapo to commemorate the whalemen of New Bedford, I am more firmly than ever convinced that the proper site for said monument is that which I originally selected, namely, on the north corner of the plot in front of the Public Library building. There might be some slight change necessary in the arrangement of the paths, but on the whole I consider the site satisfactory and trust that it may be adopted by you.
Most sincerely yours,
BELA L. PRATT.
Mr. Crapo said further that his first impression was that the south corner plot would be the best, but he had been convinced that the north corner was better than the south. As to the central location, he said that if the background was cut down in order to locate the monument directly in front of the building it would have to be entirely obliterated, and the figure would have to be set against the steps.
He said that Mr. Pratt’s idea of location on the north lot is to lift it about 18 inches, and to have the boat headed northeast so that the harpoon is directed out towards the corner of Pleasant and William Streets.
The site suggested met with the approval of all the trustees present, and it was voted to adopt the sculptor’s recommendation. The trustees agreed to leave matters of detail as to exact location, foundation, and drainage connection for the boat with Nat C. Smith, the architect of the building, who was pleased with the site selected for the monument.
THE WHALEMAN’S MOTTO:
A STIRRING TUNE TO WHICH THE BOAT WAS PULLED
The motto “A dead whale or a stove boat!” to be inscribed on the background of The Whaleman statue, is from a stirring passage in Herman Melville’s story of whaling life, Moby Dick, or the White Whale. Captain Ahab, master of the Pequod, having one wooden leg, was walking on the deck. The recital goes on as follows:
“It drew near the close of day. Suddenly he came to a halt by the bulwarks and inserting his bone leg into the auger-hole there, and with one hand grasping a shroud, he ordered Starbuck to send everybody aft.
“‘Sir!’ said the mate, astonished at an order seldom or never given on shipboard except in some extraordinary case.
“‘Send everybody aft,’ repeated Ahab. ‘Mast-heads, there! Come down!’
“When the entire ship’s company were assembled, and with curious and not wholly unapprehensive faces, were eyeing him, for he looked not unlike the weather horizon when a storm is coming up, Ahab, after rapidly glancing over the bulwarks, and then darting his eyes among his crew, started from his standpoint; and as though not a soul were nigh him resumed his heavy turns upon the deck. With bent head and half-slouched hat he continued to pace, unmindful of the wondering whispering among the men; till Stubb cautiously whispered to Flask, that Ahab must have summoned them there for the purpose of witnessing a pedestrian feat. But this did not last long. Vehemently pausing he cried:—
“‘What do ye do when ye see a whale, men?’
“‘Sing out for him!’ was the impulsive rejoinder from a score of clubbed voices.
“‘Good!’ cried Ahab, with a wild approval in his tones, observing the hearty animation into which his unexpected question had so magnetically thrown them.
“‘And what do ye next, men?’
“‘Lower away, and after him!’
“‘And what tune is it ye pull to, men?’
“‘A Dead Whale or a Stove Boat!'”
AROUND THE STATUE
That the statue of “The Whaleman” given to New Bedford by William W. Crapo and unveiled Friday has fired anew the interest of the people here in the romance and the adventure of the old whaling days has been pretty apparent during the past two days, and within that period thousands of people have paused in their journey through the center to admire the figure, and thousands have been the stories handed down, and perhaps well-nigh forgotten, which have been rehearsed again in front of the statue.
Mr. Crapo said during the course of his remarks at the exercises Friday that he hoped the stories of the old whaling days would never die in this community, and it seems as if no one who ever heard a whaling story or ever read a whaling story here but what the statue recalls it to him. Old citizens who knew whaling masters and sailors in their day have stood in front of the statue during the last few days, and in talkative frame of mind have chatted away with perfect strangers, recounting the tales that they had heard themselves from the lips of the ”blubber hunters.” And then there is the next generation, some of whose fathers or uncles or grandfathers went to sea and the stories have come down to them. And then, last of all, perhaps, are the youngsters to whom the adventure appeals with tremendous force, who stand in groups with mouth hanging wide open, literally swallowing every word that is said, and turning in wonderment from story teller to the heroic figure of “The Whaleman.”
Assuredly one has needed to stand near “The Whaleman” but a few moments at any hour of the day or evening since the statue was revealed to learn that there has already been a lively awakening of interest in the old whaling days, and to learn that the stories of those romantic days will not die so long as the statue stands there.
And some of the yarns are wonderful yarns that are spun in the shadow of this upstanding boatsteerer. In many instances names have been forgotten by those who tell the tales, or perhaps simply a last name is given, but the nub of the story is always there, the incident which has been handed down which typifies the skill and the daring and the courage.
One man stepped up yesterday morning, looked at the statue awhile and then became critical—the work had awakened in him some thought at least.
“Look at the chest muscles and the arms of that man,” he remarked, “I don’t believe there ever was a sailor went out of here with a development like that, allowing, of course, for the heroic size of the man standing here in bronze.”
He was half talking to himself, but around the statue all conversation becomes public property and a bystander was quick to answer. He is a rigger, or at least was a rigger years ago and he knew whalemen. “That may be so true, to your way of thinking,” was his retort, “but I would hate to see you in the grip of some of the arms that have hurled irons from New Bedford boats, just the same.”
And then this brought up a discussion of the feats of strength that have come to the present generation in stories of the sea. One man told of a mate who in sheer desperation when his newly shipped boatsteerer missed on three successive attempts on different days to make a strike, hustled to the bow of the boat, and grabbing the man around the waist hurled him bodily overboard, and then putting about picked him up and carried him back to the ship, scared, but far from drowned, and taught a lesson the moral of which—never try to throw a bluff—he doubtless never forgot so long as he lived.
And then ensued a discussion as to how far a boatsteerer ever hurled an iron; of how often they struck and of how often they missed; of how many hours they remained out in the boats, how fast a whale ever towed them, and how long they’d stick to a 100-barrel “fish” before they would cut a line and give up the fight. All night battles, according to the stories, were common occurrences, as were also stove boats, which formed an interesting question for discussion.
One man told of a boat’s crew in which his uncle pulled an oar, of which five out of the six men could not swim a stroke, and never learned during the whole voyage. This boat, of course, got stove, for it was either kill the whale or stick until you found yourself overboard. This boat’s crew went up to lance the whale and the whale’s flukes, descending, splintered the boat. The captain was forward and twisted the lance. He was one of the five who could not swim, or at least never was known to. But he saw another boat one hundred yards from him, and according to “uncle’s” story, re-told today in front of Bela Pratt’s statue, the “old man” simply walked through the water, with his prodigious strength propelling him so fast that when the rescuing boat dragged him aboard he wasn’t wet above his waist.
And then there were stories of boys, “My grandfather” or my “grandfather’s brother” who ran away to sea and finally trod the quarter deck as master of his own ship, stories of foreign islands and strange peoples—and perhaps it is little wonder that “kids” listened for a time, studied the face of the statue a little, and then hustled for the library to get Moby Dick and the yarn of the white whale.
There were an endless array of questions, asked by everybody of anybody who happened to be near enough to listen, or skilled enough in whaling lore to answer. People wanted to know what the ropes were, how heavy the iron was, why there was a “hole” in the bow for the rope to run through, why the man with the harpoon was called the boatsteerer, and a thousand and one other queries that were indicative of the interest which has been revived in the old-time industry. And people whose interest is aroused usually persist until they learn.
And then, too, to prove that there was a regular “gam” in progress, there was an argument yesterday afternoon between two old whalemen as to the respective prowess of one of them. Whaleman Number One sailed out on the Reindeer as boatsteerer years ago, and he and his friend in the argument agreed that the statue was an admirable bit of work. “Makes me think of the time I put an iron in a right whale, the first I struck on the Eeindeer. We were right on top of her when I let go, a straight up and down strike, and down went the whale. We ran out two tubs of line, stayed by all night, and in the morning hitched a tackle on and tried to get her up. Ropes broke and we lost her.” Thereupon the argument ensued as to whether one rope or both snapped, and as Whaleman Number One was of the opinion that the log was down in the rooms of the Old Dartmouth Historical Society, down the street they went to look up the records.
From The Evening Standard, New Bedford:
That the statue of “The Whaleman” should be unfavorably criticized was inevitable. The criticism, however, usually concerns itself with the technical accuracy of the design, not with its general effect, its artistic excellence, or the pleasure it affords the beholder. Some minds could never approve a picture of a battle, be it painted ever so beautifully, if the commanding general had one too many buttons on his coat. Seafaring men are notoriously fussy about details of this sort. A spirited marine, with a ship speeding along, under full sail, would be damned in their eyes if the shrouds were not so accurately drawn as to serve as a working plan to a rigger. “These people,” said one observer, “didn’t want a picture of a ship—they wanted a map.” And all because the whaleman in the case of this statue in front of the Library, observes it under the fatal handicap of an expert knowledge of the business the bronze figure is set to symbolize. The man who never went whaling and never balanced a harpoon is not burdened with any such knowledge, and to him the creation of Mr. Pratt is satisfying.
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It has been objected that the whaleman holds his harpoon the wrong way. What it might be asked is the right way? It is inconceivable that there should be just one way of holding a harpoon, just as it is that there should be only one way of holding a pen. It must be remembered that before modeling the whaleman the sculptor had for a model a man who had been to sea and who is rated as one of the best boatsteerers hereabouts. He held the weapon HIS way, even if it was not the way of some other harpooner. Should some sculptor design a statue of a ball player at bat, and model it from so distinguished a batter as Mr. Cobb of Georgia, critics would doubtless come forward to complain that the pose was all wrong because Mr. Wagner of Pittsburg did not bat that way. In the case of a batter, the thing to do is to get a hit; in the case of the whaleman it is to get the whale; and somehow or other, looking at this figure of Mr. Pratt’s, with shoulders, arms and chest of a Hercules, we have no doubt that the imaginary whale just ahead of him is as good as caught.
* * * * *
“Another thing,” said an old whaleman who had been telling what a bad, bad statue it is, “who ever saw a whaleman without a shirt? I’ve been whaling for thirty years and have made twenty voyages, and I never saw a boatsteerer with his shirt off.” “Where did you go whaling?” he was asked. “Mostly in the Arctic,” was the reply.