Don’t Call Me Ishmael – Part Two : Where a Mountain Inspired a Tale of a Whale : Herman Melville’s Arrowhead

Don’t Call Me Ishmael‘ was the title of a post here a year ago in which I wrote about a visit with a friend to the Mattapoisett Historical Museum to inspect the Ashley Whaling Mural a map of the south coast of New England from the mouth of the Connecticut River to Cape Cod. We also looked at Whaling Journals.

There was just time on Saturday 15 September, after our visit to The Norman Rockwell Museum and Stockbridge, to fit in a tour of Herman Melville’s home Arrowhead, just a mile along the road from our Lenox motel in Pittsfield, MA.

In the summer of 1850, seeking a reprieve from the heat and noise of New York City, Herman Melville brought his young family to Pittsfield, Massachusetts, a place he had visited since childhood.

Flush with the success of his first books and entranced by his meeting of Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville impulsively bought a nearby farm, which he named Arrowhead. That winter, ensconced in his study with its view of Mount Greylock, Herman Melville wrote his masterpiece ‘Moby Dick’.

Melville’s most productive years were those he spent at Arrowhead; works written here include ‘Pierre’, ‘Benito Cereno’ and ‘The Confidence-Man’. Melville and his family returned to the city in 1863, but Arrowhead remained in the Melville family until 1972.”

The Barn Shop and Information Desk

In a barn behind the house there’s a shop and the desk where you can book for a house tour. In another out-building there’s an exhibition “So Far From Home: Whalers and Whaler Art”.

“The exhibit explores how Polynesian artworks influenced the art of visiting whalers like Melville, with a display of images, text, scrimshaw, tattoos, and Polynesian art and artefacts. Collector Jeffrey McCormick loaned a large selection of scrimshaw and other items to make this exhibit possible.”

There are also some fine examples of Whaling Journals and a model of the whaling ship ‘The Wanderer’.

Model of The Wanderer

In the field next to the house and garden there’s a rather strange sculpture. It’s called ‘Ahab and the Whale’ and it’s a startlingly life-like straw sculpture by Michael Melle.

The house tour itself was fairly interesting (no photography allowed) and the best part was visiting the study and seeing the view of Melville’s inspiration Mount Greylock.

Mount Greylock from Arrowhead

In addition to the house tour and exhibitions there’s a self-guided grounds tour described on the free leaflet that you are given when booking your ticket. Complete with quotations from Herman Melville the leaflet details the immediate house surroundings and barn and the Arrowhead Nature Trail across the meadow and through the woods where Melville was inspired to write. Unfortunately, time was tight at this point and I was unable to undertake the Nature Trail. Something else for next time!

By pure coincidence I received a Folio Society newsletter just this week alerting me to the Moby Dick Big Read. Here is what it says on the website :

… an online version of Melville’s magisterial tome: each of its 135 chapters read out aloud, by a mixture of the celebrated and the unknown, to be broadcast online in a sequence of 135 downloads, publicly and freely accessible.”

A year ago I said I wouldn’t be reading ‘Moby Dick’ but this year I intend to start listening to The Moby Dick Big Read.

A book for young whale watchers

As for embarking on a Whale Watch Cruise – well, I still won’t be doing that – but I now have a husband who did! And he saw some!! The whale watchers return :


10 comments on “Don’t Call Me Ishmael – Part Two : Where a Mountain Inspired a Tale of a Whale : Herman Melville’s Arrowhead

  1. dovegreyreader says:

    Snap! I am downloading the Moby Dick podcasts too Barbara and plan a listen through the winter. And lucky Mr Milady seeing some whales. I was hopeful on our recent trip to Orkney but no luck, though the museum in Stromness was full of the island’s whaling industry connections.

    • Barbara Howard says:

      Ha! let’s see how we get on with listening to this … also The Whale Watch company at Hyannis guarantee money back or a free repeat trip if you don’t spot whales so there is a pretty high likelihood that they’ll seen.

  2. Fran says:

    Thanks for alert to the podcasts. Sounds very suitable for winter afternoons.
    I have a copy of In the Heart of the Sea, Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about the true story which inspired Moby Dick. Could be a companion read to the podcasts maybe.
    In the early 80’s I visited Mystic Seaport in Connecticut. One of the first “living museums” it gave me a lasting image of how it had been when whaling ships set out. My thoughts were very much with those left behind to wait for the return….or not. Picket fences around the wooden cottages, lovely in autumn sunshine but they held many memories of anxious times.

    • Barbara Howard says:

      You are welcome, Fran. We have that book here – ‘Mr Milady”s (as Lynne calls him) but I didn’t realise there was a Moby Dick connection. When I visit Marion and Mattapoisett I’m only a few miles from New Bedford so maybe one day I’ll get there. I imagine it’s pretty similar to the Nantuckett Museum where we went once. I do feel I know more about whaling after each trip to New England. The trips took years to complete! Thanks for adding to the post with your memories.

  3. dovegreyreader says:

    I forgot to say that I bought a DVD of the film for £1 in Poundland (obviously!) last week. Thought it would make good winter watching, I have seen it several times before but am looking forward to it all over again.

  4. ms6282 says:

    You’re certainly having /had a great holiday.

    After a holiday in Pembrokeshire a few years ago Moby Dick always makes me think of Fishguard where the Gregory Peck film was shot

    The podcasts certainly seem worth a listen if I can find the time.

  5. Mr. Milady. I like that. Does he know? I tried Moby Dick again — or is it Moby-Dick — I understand there’s some controversy — a few summers ago. Made it about a third of the way and let it fall again. Perhaps I’ll try those podcasts — I’ve read about them as well and it sounds interesting.

    • Barbara says:

      I think it’s Moby Dick, Julie, and well done getting to one third of the way through. I mean to give the podcasts a go – when I’ve finished my current ipod ‘read’ Wilkie Collins’ The Haunted Hotel. And, nah!

  6. […] I still haven’t got round to reading it but maybe I should read this first […]

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