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Thursday, August 25, 2016

Historical Spotlight: Nantucket Whaling Museum

To visit Nantucket is really to visit the history of this little island off the coast of Massachusetts (I mean, you could go and not take in the history, but that’s not why we are all here!). One of the things I adamantly wanted to do when we went to Nantucket was to visit the Nantucket Whaling Museum (my husband, not so much). Seeing as so much of Nantucket’s history is wrapped up in the whaling industry of the 1800’s I wanted to see it for myself before we went on the fun part of our adventure (distillery tours, etc).

Just a short walk from where the ferry boats arrive, the Nantucket Whaling Museum is situated in a beautiful part of the historic town – you definitely feel like you walked into a 19th century area with all the 21st century amenities. The building itself was built in 1846 and was originally a candle factory which was involved in the whaling industry as the utilized spermaceti (a highly coveted at the time wax like substance that was only found in the head of sperm whales) in the candle making. After the whaling industry died off it was used as a warehouse and offices, and has now become the beautiful home of the Nantucket Whaling Museum.

For the price of a $6 ticket (adult) you can get access to the Nantucket Whaling Museum as well as the following other historical sites on the island: the Oldest House, the Old Mill, Greater Light, Old Gaol, and Fire Hose Cart House (a $10 adult ticket also includes a walking tour). We unfortunately did not make it to any of the other historical sites or on the walking tour because my ankle had raging tendonitis that week and just the limited walking we did that day left me with a softball sized inflammation on it. So we only did the museum, but that alone was worth the $6 price tag.

The other historical sites included in the ticket price
Photo Credit: Nantucket Historical Association Instagram
The first thing we did was watch a portion of the Nantucket film that is shown there – to get a feel for the island and to rest my ankle. It is a 50 minute film, so we didn’t watch the whole thing, but we certainly got a feel for where we were and if you have a few minutes to pop in to watch even just a part of in you won’t be disappointed. After that, we walked around the main gallery room which housed a full sized sperm whale skeleton. This whale had washed up on shore already dead on Nantucket in the 1990s and it is now beautifully displayed in the museum. It is amazing to stand beneath it and really get an idea of just how large that animal is. On the walls and around the gallery are displays of items of the whaling trade and information about them.

Next we headed upstairs to another gallery area that serves as a rotating exhibition space. While we were there, and this was the year that In the Heart of the Sea was due to come out in film, the display was called Stove by a Whale and revolved around the sinking of the whaleship Essex and the fates of those men aboard it (this exhibition is still there through November 2016, so you have time to see it if you get out there). This was a really cool and interactive exhibit. At the start you pull a sailor card from the box and you follow his plight throughout the exhibit. There is a timeline on the floor with stops that tell you what was happening in the life of that voyage and at certain major events there is a box that you can slide your card into and it will reveal if your sailor made it through that event. There is also a scale replica of one of the whaleboats that these men would have drifted in for days and when you sit in it you get a very real idea of just how small the world would have been for these men and how daunting the sea. My sailor stayed behind on a deserted island and was eventually rescued, my husband’s sailor died at sea.
Top: (L & M) Stove by a Whale Exhibit; (R) The Sperm Whale Skeleton
Bottom: (L) The Roof Walk; (R) Entrance to the Whaling Museum
Photo Credit: Me
Our next stop was the roof top walk. This is a beautiful space to just relax and take in the view of Nantucket’s harbor, but can also be utilized for events (it would be a beautiful location for a small reception or meeting). We took the stairs down from there and you can view one of the glass lenses that used to be in one of the lighthouses on the island, which was pretty cool.

Just one example of a type of scrimshaw
Photo Credit: Nantucket Historical Association Instagram
There are several other permanent exhibit galleries such as scrimshaw art (carvings in and on whale teeth and ivory), portraits of ship’s captains, decorative arts, and a gallery related to the history of candle making. All pretty cool, but we didn’t spend a lot of time here as I had come for the Stove by a Whale exhibit and we had other things to see and do that day. You can read more about their permanent exhibits as well as their rotating exhibitions here. Oh, and there is a pretty awesome gift shop there as well – I bought some cute tea towels for my kitchen that have a sperm whale and a ship on them, but I could have bought a bunch more things.

If you are going to be in Nantucket, I encourage you to spend an hour or two at the Nantucket Whaling Museum, it is a very well done museum that showcases that island’s history – and it is rather inexpensive too.

You can follow the Nantucket Whaling Museum on Instagram (technically the Nantucket Historical Association) and check out their Youtube channel for some interesting videos of the museum and local history.

Have you been to Nantucket?  What did you do on the island?  Have you visited the Whaling Museum?


Copyright © 2016 by The Maiden’s Court

1 comment:

  1. I didnt know anything about scrimshaw. These examples are so splendid.


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