New Bedford, Massachusetts, has a captivating hyperlink to the whaling lore, notably by way of the long-lasting novel “Moby Dick.” One must-visit spot to delve into this maritime historical past is the Whaling Museum, an actual gem for historical past buffs.
However there’s one other hidden treasure on the town: the Seamen’s Bethel.
This place gives a singular glimpse into the previous. Under, I’ll provide the lowdown on what makes it particular and throw in some helpful suggestions to your go to.
What’s the Seamen’s Bethel?
The Seamen’s Bethel is a historic and iconic maritime church situated in New Bedford, Massachusetts.
Nonetheless energetic at this time, it as soon as served as a middle for worship and assist for sailors within the nineteenth century, offering a spot for them to hope, search solace, and discover group earlier than embarking on usually perilous whaling expeditions. It’s additionally well-known for its affiliation with Herman Melville’s novel “Moby-Dick.”
Seamen’s Bethel historical past
Again within the 1820s, New Bedford was on the rise as the brand new whaling capital, following within the footsteps of Nantucket. This led to a major inflow of sailors into the city, and together with them got here among the sailors’ habits.
These whale males had been searching for playing dens, brothels, saloons, and dance halls – institutions that the city’s extra upstanding residents considered as detrimental to the group’s decorum and order.
Furthermore, based on the NPS, Quaker whaling retailers had been fearful that these sailors tended to squander the wages they’d earned from multi-year voyages in just some days on such indulgences, leaving them financially destitute.
Recognizing the necessity to present these males with one thing to anchor them to a extra secure life-style, the New Bedford Port Society for the Ethical Enchancment of Seamen was established.
The society started providing church providers to the whale males earlier than they got down to sea. Initially, these providers had been held on the City Corridor or by the waterfront, however these areas proved lower than ultimate.
So in 1832, they devoted the Seamen’s Bethel as a nondenominational church, and it continues to serve in that capability at this time.
Among the many males who attended one in all these providers earlier than embarking on a seafaring journey was none apart from Herman Melville, the famend writer of “Moby Dick.” The truth is, the pew he occupied throughout these providers in December of 1840 remains to be marked to this present day.
The Seamen’s Bethel even earned a point out in Melville’s novel itself, including a contact of literary attract to its storied historical past:
On this similar New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly certain for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday go to to the spot.
In Melville’s novel, a strong sermon is delivered from a pulpit formed just like the bow of a ship.
Nor was the pulpit itself with out a hint of the identical sea-taste that had achieved the ladder and the image. Its panelled entrance was within the likeness of a ship’s bluff bows, and the Holy Bible rested on the projecting piece of scroll work, long-established after a ship’s fiddle-headed beak.
Whereas it’s probably that Melville noticed a extra typical English-style pulpit throughout his go to, the vivid picture of this maritime-inspired pulpit from his creativeness finally discovered its means into the Fifties movie adaptation of “Moby Dick.”
This cinematic portrayal piqued the curiosity of tourists to New Bedford, who arrived searching for this distinctive nautical pulpit, solely to seek out that it didn’t exist in actuality. (Though they used the outside of the constructing for the film the inside pictures of the pulpit weren’t completed on location.)
To gauge public curiosity, the Seamen’s Bethel took a inventive strategy by establishing a short lived bow-shaped pulpit, and it turned out that folks liked it.
Though the preliminary plan was to create a extra everlasting and official model afterward, they determined to stay with the unique one, which remains to be on show at this time.
Easy methods to go to the Seamen’s Bethel
In keeping with the Nationwide Park Service, the Seamen’s Bethel sometimes follows the seasonal schedule frequent to many locations on this area, working from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. Nevertheless, throughout our go to in November, we had been lucky to seek out it open and accessible.
The excellent news is that there’s no admission charge to go to, but it surely’s all the time appreciated if you may make a donation when you’re there to assist this historic gem.
The Seamen’s Bethel
I made a decision to pay a go to on a cold and crisp November afternoon, and it turned out to be the proper timing. We had your entire place to ourselves, which added an additional layer of allure to the expertise.
After a quick introduction by the pleasant employees, we ventured to the primary ground. There, we had been kindly requested to signal the logbook, and if the spirit moved us, we may additionally make a donation to assist the place.
Right here you’ll discover rows of seating within the “Salt Field” the place you possibly can take a second to take pleasure in a brief movie. (It’s price noting that this movie gave the impression to be the identical one they had been displaying on the Nationwide Park Customer Middle just some buildings down.)
This room is the place they as soon as had the varsity, letter alternate, library, and studying room, though lots of the sailors weren’t literate. Be aware of the pulpit which is the unique one as soon as within the chapel.
On the primary ground, you may also come upon intriguing artifacts and a few fascinating paintings, together with authentic Moby Dick impressed drawings used within the New York Instances.
Transferring on, we ascended to the chapel, which is in contrast to any chapel you’ve probably encountered.
The very first thing that grabs your consideration is the bow-shaped pulpit, a curious addition to a spot of worship, which is exactly what makes it so fascinating. At first, it might sound misplaced, however the extra you stare upon it, the extra it begins to make sense.
Whilst you can’t enter the pulpit, you possibly can step up shut and admire the view from close to the within of the pulpit. This vantage level lets you envision a congregation stuffed with anxious and keen whalers, making ready for his or her daring departures and conjuring a vivid sense of the previous.
All alongside the partitions, you’ll spot the cenotaphs, primarily gravemarkers for these misplaced at sea and one other aspect present in Moby Dick.
These cenotaphs had been positioned within the chapel by relations as a technique to commemorate their family members who met their finish at sea. The cenotaph of Capt. William Swain, situated subsequent to the northwest window, vividly highlights that Captain Ahab’s tragic destiny was not only a literary invention however an actual danger confronted by whalemen.
As you discover, you’ll encounter a mess of names belonging to those that met their finish at sea attributable to a variety of circumstances, from tragic drownings to the relentless grip of consumption. Some cenotaphs provide detailed accounts of the incidents, shedding mild on these perished from shipwrecks and the daring pursuit of whales.
This touching custom endures, with the addition of latest sea-related fatalities to this present day.
Whereas exploring, I couldn’t resist taking a seat on the Herman Melville pew. The precise verification of his presence there stays a thriller, but it surely felt like a enjoyable piece of historical past to embrace. Since I had lately began studying “Moby Dick,” I introduced my copy with me and managed to squeeze in a fast chapter whereas within the chapel.
It seems that they really do an annual studying of Moby Dick on the town and throughout the chapel and pulpit chapters they learn from within the chapel.
After perusing the totally different cenotaphs and immersing ourselves within the distinctive ambiance, we determined it was time to move out.
The Seamen’s Bethel is much out of your typical chapel expertise. It’s a spot deeply rooted in maritime historical past, significantly on the earth of whalers throughout the first half of the nineteenth century. What provides to its attract is the particular connection it shares with “Moby Dick,” making it much more fascinating.
The visuals of the pulpit alone are in contrast to something you’d sometimes encounter inside a chapel. As you stand there, you possibly can’t assist however conjure up ideas of the whalers who as soon as gathered right here, making ready for journeys that might preserve them at sea for a number of years at a stretch.
It’s additionally a spot of remembrance the place you could find plaques and memorials devoted to the courageous sailors who by no means returned from their perilous voyages, serving as a poignant reminder of the dangers they undertook in pursuit of their livelihoods.
The Seamen’s Bethel encapsulates not solely the seafaring historical past of the area but in addition the indomitable spirit and sacrifices of those that devoted their lives to the relentless pursuit of whales within the unforgiving depths of the ocean.
Daniel Gillaspia is the Founding father of UponArriving.com and the bank card app, WalletFlo. He’s a former lawyer turned journey knowledgeable masking locations together with TSA, airline, and resort insurance policies. Since 2014, his content material has been featured in publications equivalent to Nationwide Geographic, Smithsonian Journal, and CNBC.