Pre Marathon Dinner at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

The 22nd Moby Dick Marathon at New Bedford Whaling Museum

Arriving at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Arriving at the New Bedford Whaling Museum for the 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

The Moby Dick Marathon at New Bedford Whaling Museum in New Bedford, Massachusetts is a (near) continuous read of the novel over 24 hours Saturday to Sunday of the first weekend of the year by a range of Melville enthusiasts, and is in it’s 22nd year.  For the last couple of years I have followed the event via social media and the live webcast, and this year I was lucky enough to be selected to read.  You are notified less than a month before the event, and so I had a late December flurry of booking flights, hotels, busses etc.  I stayed in New Bedford for a week giving myself a couple of days to go around the museum itself.

Over the years the event has grown and there are a range of events and activities around the actual reading of the book.  Several of these (Stump the Scholars, Chat with the Scholars, Extracts) involve a group of people labelled Melville Scholars who are the committee of the Melville Society Cultural Project (Bob K. Wallace, Timothy Marr, Wyn Kelley, Mary K. Bercaw Edward, Jennifer Baker and Christopher Sten).  I had met Bob and Wyn at the International Melville Conference in London in June 2017 where I presented some of my Moby Dick inspired art including my work “Cetology” (which the Cultural Project  subsequently purchased for their collection).

Pre Marathon Dinner at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Pre Marathon Dinner at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

At the Friday night Pre-Marathon Dinner, Movie and Discussion I was fortunate enough to sit on a table with some of the Melville Scholars and the film maker and his family.  Although jet lag was kicking in I had some great conversations over dinner and my whale inevitably made an appearance.  An unexpected treat was that some of the books that formed my Cetology series had been put out in a display cabinet and were mentioned by Bob Wallace in his speech before the film (I was made to do the stand up and wave thing).  I was particularly keen to go to this event as the film being shown was David Shaerf’s Call Us Ishmael.  A documentary about peoples’ relationship with the book.  I had seen some of the film previewed at the Melville Conference and had found it funny and moving.  The full film did not disappoint.  Coming from a country where few people have read Moby Dick and fewer are enthusiasts, it really spoke to me about its effect on people, particularly visual artists.

I had booked a taxi* from the hotel and offered places to two other participants I met at the hotel (Allie reading at 8.55pm Saturday and Greg reading at 3.10am Sunday).  This turned out to be a great move on my part as the promised return taxi didn’t turn up and Greg ubered us back!

Arriving in good time to the museum on Saturday Morning I registered as a reader and got my blue wrist band and badge. I had chatted with the Melville Scholars who were staying at the same hotel as me, and they expected me to have come up with a tricky question for Stump the Scholars where, divided into two teams, they compete answering questions from the audience.  I had suggested that I might be thinking about particularly English bits of the book (the Burton Constable Whale and the Enderbys), but in the end I asked them a more light hearted and speculative question.

Stump the Scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

Stump the Scholars at the New Bedford Whaling Museum 22nd Moby Dick Marathon

At the same that Stump the Scholars this was going on there was a children’s mini marathon, where children of all ages read an abridged version of the book.  A family staying at my hotel had a couple of children who were reading in this.

After Stump the Scholars we progressed to the huge gallery containing the half scale model of the whaleship Lagoda where the Melville Scholars read Extracts before the Marathon Proper kicked off with Loomings.  And yes, as soon as I heard those opening lines “Call me Ishmael” I may have shed a tear or two!

At the appropriate time the reading decamped across the road to the Seamen’s Bethel for Father Mapple’s Sermon etc and hymn singing. I watched this via the live web cam in the Museum’s theatre (space in the Bethel is limited and I hadn’t entered in the lottery to get a seat).

I attended both of the Chat with the Scholar Sessions (on Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning).  As someone who has never formally studied Moby Dick I found these sessions fascinating, and thought provoking including questions regarding Melville/Moby Dick and Narcissism, the Moby Dick Opera, significance of orphans, Islam and sailors pidgin English. I took notes!

Tia Maria's opposite the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Tia Maria’s opposite the New Bedford Whaling Museum

Two events on Saturday Afternoon I missed were the Portuguese language mini Marathon and the Artist Demonstration by Jacob Mark who designed the poster for this year’s Marathon.  I did visit the pop up Cousin Hosea’s Chowder House and the Decanter Taproom where beer, chowder and Portuguese kale soup were on offer from local restaurants and breweries.  The lovely kale soup was from Tia Maria’s opposite the museum. This was the only other place I managed to visit apart from the museum the week I was in New Bedford (blizzard, snow, icy) sidewalks) where I enjoyed the Portuguese sausage, home fries and rodelas (and lattes).

Oh yes, and at approximately 6.25 on Saturday evening I got to read 5 minutes of Moby Dick.  A little after that we moved to the Museum Theatre again to watch Culture*Park’s performance of Midnight on the Fo’c’sle (chapter 40).  A great way to break things up a bit and tackle this multi-voice chapter.  I didn’t stay up all night (and never intended to).  I got a lift* back to my hotel with Allie who read at 8.55pm.  And me and my jet lag had an early night.

I didn’t make a particularly early start to Sunday and so missed the 8am malassadas, provided by Inner Bay Café, but very gratefully got a lift from Wyn Kelley*. After the second Chat with the Scholars we gathered in the Harbour View room with fabulous views of the Acushnet river and New Bedford Harbour for the final chapters.  As I took a seat the book was being read in German (a feature of the reading is that readings in several different languages were interspersed thought the marathon). And then we rushed towards the climax with Mike Dyer reading the epilogue (Yes, I blubbed), and then Bob Rocha giving out the thanks to all those who had supported the event and reading the honour roll of those hardy souls who had stayed up for the entire evening.  And then all the goodbyes to the people I’d met and chatted too over the weekend.  Wyn had offered to give me a lift back to the hotel before heading back to Boston so I had lunch with Bob Wallace and Wyn (at Tia Maria’s) before she dropped me off.  I was amazingly tired and was glad to be able to rest for the remainder of the day (and watch the Sunday wild card weekend NFL games).

It was an incredible experience, my third Moby Dick Marathon (having read in two in the UK) but a very special one.  Everyone I met involved with the event and at the museum before and after seemed to share my passion for the book and the whaling heritage on display at the museum and I left with new friends and a wealth of new inspiration.

*In case you are wondering why, having stayed in a very nearby hotel I spent the weekend getting lifts and taxis.  On the Thursday a blizzard dumped a load of snow and this was followed by very cold temperatures.  The sidewalks were very icy and whilst walking back the to the hotel on Friday I slipped on the ice and hurt my knee so didn’t want to risk any other injury and minimise usage of the bruised joint.