Ode to the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby Dick Marathon
Celebrating Melville and all those who cherish the story of Captain Ahab and the white whale
Although the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby Dick marathon has since been imitated in places around the world, the original has been the largest and most popular reading anywhere since its first edition in 1997. The non-stop, cover to cover reading of the book in New Bedford lasting for a day and a half, has particular resonance as the scenes in the whaling city are the only part of the book that take place on land. Indeed certain parts of the book describe places that one can yet visit, including the cobblestone streets upon which the sailors trod, the wharves from which the Pequod launched, and the Old Fisherman's bethel where Father Mapple's ominous sermon was ignored. The Whaling Museum itself, can at least partially be included on this list. Having been founded in 1903, the museum is not mentioned by name in the book, however, the old Bedford Commercial Bank/Bank of Commerce across the street from the Fisherman's chapel has been home to the museum since 1907, where, post-expansion the building still serves as an exhibit gallery. Prominent in Melville's time, the bank's vault would have been where Captain Bildad kept the money to pay out the returning crew of the Pequod from the whaling voyage's successful return, had their fate not been otherwise.
I have long been a reader in the Moby Dick Marathon, and fervent supporter of the New Bedford Whaling Museum (one of my favorite museums anywhere in the world). My participation in the marathon also includes singing, instrument playing, dancing and acting as a cast member in the knee play of "Chapter 40 Midnight, Forecastle" produced by Culture Park, Directed by Patty Thomas, and performed by the "Jollies" (as we affectionately call our annual marathon troupe) in the museum's theater.
I am also quite proud to be the unofficial record holder of the most number of readings in one year. This record was set in January of 2019 when I:
1) performed as the Azorean and Tahitian sailor in the Chapter 40 performance
2) read at my scheduled slot in the marathon
3) read in the Portuguese mini-marathon (a reading of an abridged version of the book in Portuguese that runs at the museum concurrently with the main marathon)
4) read a chapter in Portuguese translation at the main marathon
5) was asked to read a chapter in German translation at the main marathon. (I declined however, as no member of the public should be subjected to anyone's horrible Niedersachsen-American-Portuguese accent.)
My obsessive love for the marathon is well-known by staff and directors at the museum, resulting in an invitation by the organizers of the 2022 edition to record myself talking for one minute about what the marathon means to me. My reflection was to be a part of an opening tribute video, played right before the first reader started the main event by reciting the most well-known line in American English literature. Giddy at the chance to share my passion for the marathon, I wrote and recorded myself reading some silly, though heartfelt, verses, an ode to the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby Dick Marathon.
The organizers of the tribute video, however, rejected my poem.
In their thumbs down email, museum staff provided me with some feedback if I wanted to make my contribution acceptable for inclusion: "[We] recommend that you provide a regular, non-poetic answer to the question of 'What does the marathon mean to you?' - Think of words like 'excited, home, community, etc.'”
With the video's organizers offering me their filter of Chekov's advice on writing by imploring me to tell (not to show) how I feel, the opening tribute was no doubt a compelling success. Quite attached to my poem, however, and more than a little disappointed, I wished them good luck putting together their tribute and politely withdrew from participation.
One can then imagine my happiness, and excitement, even, when the editors of the New Bedford Light found a home for my tribute to the Moby Dick Marathon and published the poem for the community, etc. in the days, leading up to the 2022 edition.
The New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby Dick Marathon is truly one of the world's greatest celebrations of lit-geek fandom and an encompassing, astounding way to experience the contents of a book.
Looking forward to seeing you all again in New Bedford in January of whatever year!
An Ode to the New Bedford Whaling Museum's Moby Dick Marathon
For carolers in December, there’s nothing like a Christmas song, and for dancing in June, there’s no greater boon than the Cabo Verde Kola San Jon,
If rainbows and gold are your wish to find, you’ll search out a Leprechaun, and who at New England Thanksgiving doesn’t crave a pie of pecan?
‘Ship love in threes in Greek tragedies? go read Agamemnon, While those gazing at skies for alien lives seek unexplained phenomenon.
But for folks like me, what’s primary is the earliest part of January at the Whaling Museum in the Whaling City,
There is but one paragon, our annual rite and sine qua non, (all other pastimes mere hangers-on.)
From Ishmael on cobblestones to the Rachel in the sea, From extract to epilogue (and beloved Chapter 40 knee),
We come from around the world, and wear flannel, woolens and Prada, We speak English, e portugûes! and eat chowdah and massa sovada!
We stay awake through day and night, from dark ’til dawn becomes the light, Following a madman with one boot driving the world’s greatest ocean pursuit.
Ahab and Starbuck the rest of them know, but we prefer Stub and Tashtego, “Lee word” and “har poon er” they aver without fear, we know better “loo ward” and “harpoony-ear,”
But you need not a glossary nor onomasticon, to get rightly drunk on Melville’s lexicon, at our frost winter revivals, the non-stop reading of our bibles from noddle end to the tail … I spy the spout of the whale!
Climb the pulpit and put your glasses on, It’s time for the New Bedford Whaling Museum’s Moby-Dick Marathon!