Whaling Tonight

May 10, 2010

The PBS American Experience special, “Into the Deep: America,  Whaling, and the World,” has special relevance for Falmouth, which had a lively whaling and shipbuilding industry from the 1820s through the 1860s.

The two-hour special, which premieres at 9 PM tonight on WGBH television, Channel 2 in Falmouth, ties in well with Falmouth’s ongoing “year of the whale,” in which residents have been encouraged to read Herman Melville’s classic novel, Moby-Dick, and attend a multitude of talks, readings, and specials events held by the Falmouth Public Library, the Falmouth Historical Society, Highfield Hall, and other organizations. (If you miss tonight’s broadcast, you can catch it during numerous re-runs, watch it online, or buy the DVD for only $24.99 and watch it wherever you want.

“Into the Deep” is a fascinating and detailed account of America’s whaling industry, which began off the coast of New England: Nantucket, New Bedford, and Cape Cod as long as 400 years ago. The show looks at whaling from many different viewpoints: the economic impacts, the lives of the whalers who pursued whales locally and in distant seas, the culture of the whaling industry, the related industries that grew up around whaling: ship building, sail making, coopering, and blacksmithing, rope making, to name a few; and the products made with whale oil and other parts of the whal: lamp oil, industrial lubricants, candles, corsets, and perfumes.

There are graphic scenes of whale hunts , the dismemberment of dead whales, and the on-ship rendering of their blubber in large vats. They were hunted until near extinction until their scarcity and the discovery of petroleum brought an end to the whaling industry.

Falmouth residents involved in “What’s Falmouth Reading” will be happy to know that the program also traces the last voyage of the whaling ship Essex, whose fate inspired a young Herman Melville to write his own creative version of the events that took place in Moby-Dick.

Some of the show is hard to watch, but it contains a wealth of information about whaling and puts it into historic, economic, cultural, and environmental perspective.

And it is a good lead-in for two local events. On Saturday, May 22, at 4 PM, the Revels Repertory Company will present “A Celebration of the Sea,” which explores the lives of sailors and their families through music, dance. storytelling, and audience participation. This free event takes place at Falmouth Academy and is sponsored by the Falmouth Historical Society and the Woods Hole Historical Collection and Museum.

On Tuesday, June 1, “Greasy Luck: Tales of Falmouth’s Whaling Industry” opens at the Falmouth Museums on the Green. People used to wish the whalers going out to sea “greasy luck!” referring to the nature of whale oil. The exhibit will tell the stories of Falmouth’s whalemen, their families at home, and the local whaling industry.

Gallery hour will be Tuesday to Friday from 10 AM to 4 PM and Saturdays from 10 AM to 1 PM, through October 9. For more information, call 508-548-4857.

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