Novel was based on a true Nantucket whaling ship rammed by a whale
On this day in 1851, the Great American Novel "Moby-Dick" is published. Herman Melville's classic tale of Ahab's obsession with the white whale of the novel's title is based on the sinking of the Essex, a Nantucket whaling ship rammed and sunk by a whale in the Pacific in 1820, and Melville's own experiences on the whaling vessel Acushnet out of New Bedford in 1841.
Much like his protagonist Ishmael, Melville arrived in New Bedford on a December evening, signed his seaman's papers the next day and attended a church service at the Seaman's Bethel given by the Rev. Enoch Mudge, the model for Father Mapple in "Moby-Dick."
Unlike Melville, Ishmael travels first to Nantucket before departing on his whaling journey aboard the doomed whaling ship Pequod.
"Nantucket! Take out your map and look at it," Melville wrote. "See what a real corner of the world it occupies; how it stands there, away off shore, more lonely than the Eddystone lighthouse. Look at it - a mere hillock, and elbow of sand; all beach, without a background."
The Great city of New Bedford
Unlike the tattered town of today, New Bedford was one of the richest cities in America in the mid 19th century:
"Still New Bedford is a queer place. Had it not been for us whalemen, that tract of land would this day perhaps have been in as howling condition as the coast of Labrador... The town itself is perhaps the dearest place to live in, in all New England... nowhere in all America will you find more patrician-like houses; parks and gardens more opulent, than in New Bedford. Whence came they? how planted upon this once scraggy scoria of a country?"
The beginning: Call me Ismael
I have failed in my attempts to read "Moby Dick" three times, and today in my seventies I finally appreciate it's greatness. The first page resonates to millions;
"Call me Ishmael. Some years ago - never mind how long precisely - having little or no money in my purse, and nothing particular to interest me on shore, I thought I would sail about a little and see the watery part of the world. It is a way I have of driving off the spleen, and regulating the circulation.
Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people's hats off - then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.
This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me."
Local opposition elsewhere, state bought island for $25,000
On this day in 1905, five lepers arrived on Penikese Island in Buzzard's Bay, the site of the first and only leprosarium in Massachusetts. The year before, following local opposition to two previously selected sites on the mainland, the state of Massachusetts purchased the island for $25,000 to use as a leprosy hospital to isolate and treat all Massachusetts residents with the disease.
Over the next 16 years, 36 victims of leprosy, one victim shown on right, or Hansen's disease, lived on the isolated island, along with a handful of caregivers.
Dr. Frank Parker and his wife, Marion, went to great lengths to make the patients comfortable, providing good food, fresh air, exercise, entertainment, and nursing, but it was nearly impossible to overcome the stigma and social ostracism associated with leprosy. Still, the island produced stories of great courage, kindness, and fortitude.
The colony closed when the federal government opened a leprosy hospital in Louisiana. Today, the island is home to a private school for troubled youth.
On this day in 2003, in a landmark legal decision, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled by a 4-3 vote that same-sex couples had the right to marry under the state constitution. The ruling was initiated by a lawsuit filed in April 2001 by Gloria Bailey and Linda Davies of Orleans (shown in photo at right), one of seven gay couples who sued the state after legislative inaction on the matter.
The SJC decision took effect 180 days later, on May 17, 2004, after efforts in the Legislature to amend the state constitution to ban gay marriage fell short.
In the United States, although same-sex marriages are not recognized federally, same-sex couples can currently marry in thirty-two states plus the District of Columbia as of 2014, and receive state level benefits. (photo credit, washingtonpost.com)
Read about "Everything Else Which Happened Today" including in 1755 the worst quake in Mass Bay area strikes here.