MOBY-DICK 101

MOBY-DICK 101

Sunday, October 14, 2001

WHAT: The 150th anniversary of "Moby-Dick," Herman Melville's gripping whaling saga about the conflict between good and evil, which was published Nov. 14, 1851.

WHERE: New Bedford, Mass., where Melville in 1841 (aboard the Acushnet) and "Moby-Dick" narrator Ishmael (aboard the ill-fated Pequod) set off to "go a-whaling." Once the "Whaling Capital of the World," New Bedford is now home port to the country's most profitable commercial fishing fleet, manned in large part by descendants of 19th-century whaling crews.

GETTING THERE: New Bedford is about 50 miles south of Boston; plan on a nine-hour drive from the Beltway. Providence (35 miles to the northwest) is served by US Airways and Southwest (round-trip flights from $124 out of BWI) and by Amtrak (round-trip fares starting at $154).

EVENTS: "Moby-Dick" 150th anniversary events will continue through the fall and winter, including a maritime exhibit and a holiday Melville Tea. On Nov. 14, a limited-edition postal cachet will be issued at the Whaling Museum (see below).

BY LAND: Befitting the physical, generally unpleasant work of whaling, New Bedford's 13-block National Historic Park is not some cute Cape Cod village. The premier attraction, the Whaling Museum (18 Johnny Cake Hill, 508-997-0046, www.whalingmuseum.org; $6), features a 1,275-foot painted panorama of a whaling sojourn and a one-half scale model of an 1850s whaling ship that you can board.

Across the cobblestoned street is the Whaleman's Chapel (15 Johnny Cake Hill; donations only), where Father Mapple preached about Jonah and the whale while Ishmael absorbed a more corporeal lesson from the marble cenotaphs memorializing the whaling men who were dismembered, impaled and otherwise "lost at sea."

For an eye-popping example of the opulence that whaling could bring the ships' owners, visit the Greek Revival Rotch-Jones-Duff House (396 County St., 508-997-1401; $4).

BY SEA: Built as a commercial fishing vessel in 1894, the schooner Ernestina (89 N. Water St., 508-992-4900, www.ernestina.org; day sails start at $25) gives visitors the best idea of what a "world-wandering" whaling voyage was like. For those compelled to see "the watery part of the world" for themselves, the contemporary launch Acushnet (508-984-4979; $8) offers a 90-minute harbor tour. Or take the Alert ferry to Cuttyhunk island (508-992-1432, www.cuttyhunk.com; $19 round trip), eight miles offshore.

WHERE TO STAY: Alas, none of the inns mentioned in the novel ever existed, but a host of whaling captains' mansions have been converted to B&Bs. Choices include the Melville House (100 Madison St., 508-990-1566; $135), once owned by the author's sister; the Orchard Street Manor (139 Orchard St., 508-984-3475; $105-$145); and the Bedford Hill Inn (413 County St., 508-991-7400; $75-$150). The tourism office (see below) can you hook you up with other offerings.

WHERE TO EAT: There's no shortage of good seafood in town. Options include Freestone's City Grill (41 William St.), which serves up stuffed quahog in an old bank building; Candleworks (72 N. Water St.), in the old Rodman spermacetti candle factory; and Davy's Locker (1480 E. Rodney French Blvd.), a moderately priced seafood joint that overlooks Buzzard's Bay. Melville devotes an entire chapter to chowder, so be sure to sneak in a bowl among your feast of scallops, scrod and fried clams.

As a postscript, it bears noting that there are no Starbucks in New Bedford, despite the fact that the chain was named after the first mate of the Pequod.

INFORMATION: New Bedford Office of Tourism & Marketing, 800-508-5353, www.ci.new-bedford.ma.us.

-- Marshall S. Berdan


© 2001 The Washington Post Company