kottke.org posts about nantucket

There once was a dildo from NantucketOct 30 2015

When whalers from Nantucket set out for their journeys around the world, left at home were their wives, sometimes for three or four years at a time. According to scholars and legend, the wives turned to dildos for comfort as stand-ins for their departed husbands. These devices even had a name, the "he's-at-home". As in this passage found in a anonymous diary from that era:

He's at home is on the mantel.

Ben Shattuck travelled to Nantucket to research the history of he's-at-homes and found only a single surviving specimen but discovered that the island has been dealing with loneliness for a long while.

But I was starting to see what loneliness looked like, and the weird quality of how heartache from long ago feels so freshly sad -- perhaps because those separated by distance are now separated by death. Edward, his wife and daughter are now forever separated, so the ink circle is the mark of their unending relationship. Mattie Coffin and her husband are forever apart, and so the he's-at-home is the truest bond they have. The above quoted letters could read like journal entries to the deceased: "You was all the world to me," thought Susan Gifford, "and now you are gone"; "I long to see you. I sit to the window and watch for you as I us'd to, but you do not come." Loneliness petrifies over time, because it's our last state, isn't it? As we're closed off from the world by last breaths. The fossils of our living loneliness, the letters and shirt collars and photographs boxed up for another generation to find, have eternal shelf lives, timeless as obituaries, fresh today as the ancient honey we keep discovering in Egyptian tombs. Connie's comment -- "Life went on here in Nantucket" -- rang with new definition, for her own life, and the life of the dildo owner. Maybe she wasn't talking about sex at all -- maybe she was talking about life going on as it does, or must, for the bereaved.

I know this is a weird segue, but I also need to acknowledge this top-notch exploding cake gag from the article:

Sarah Pope went so far as to send her fiancé a cake to accompany her letter. She preserved the cake in too much alcohol, so that when he opened the package, it exploded. He wrote that he was "nocked higher than a kite" but still ate the cake.

The perfect metaphor for the passionate longing and loneliness felt by couples separated by whaling journeys.

Found: sunken Nantucket whalerFeb 11 2011

In the 1820s, two Nantucket whaling ships captained by George Pollard sank within three years of each other. The sinking of the first, The Essex, inspired Moby-Dick. Remains of the second ship, the Two Brothers, have recently been found off Hawaii, the first time artifacts from a sunken Nantucket whaler have been found.

"Nantucket whaling captains were renowned for being what was called 'fishy men,' meaning that they didn't care what was involved," said Nathaniel Philbrick, a maritime historian and author of "In the Heart of the Sea," the acclaimed account of the Essex's sinking. "They were hard-wired to bring in whales, because whales meant money."

Pollard, however, was different, "a little more contemplative," said Mr. Philbrick, despite earning his first helm -- the Essex -- at the young age of 28.

"He definitely garnered his men's respect," Mr. Philbrick said. "But he was twice unlucky."

And understandably gun-shy. According to an account by Thomas Nickerson, who had been on the Essex -- and nearly starved to death at sea after it sank, but still re-upped for another voyage with Pollard -- the captain froze on the deck of the Two Brothers after the ship began to sink, and he had to be practically dragged into a smaller whale-chasing boat.

"His reasoning powers had flown," Nickerson later wrote.

Dr. Gleason says she was impressed that Pollard even went back on a boat at all, considering, you know, the cannibalism of his first trip.

"You just imagine this man who had the courage to go back out to sea, and to have this happen?" she said. "It's incredible."

(via @juliandibbell)

Sunken forest of NantucketDec 06 2005

Scientists have found evidence of a sunken forest off the coast of Nantucket, Massachusetts. (thx, malatron)

Ah, summerOct 17 2005

Well, summer is definitely over in the eastern United States. The leaves on the trees are going or gone, sweaters and light jackets have started making their appearance, and everyone is sick of tomatoes but drinking apple cider by the gallon. As a goodbye to a great summer, here are a few photos I took over the last few months:

Summer 2005

The above photo was taken near the end of the summer on Nantucket, just before sunset.

Class "conflict" on Nantucket: the old richJun 07 2005

Class "conflict" on Nantucket: the old rich meet the new super-rich. And then there's the rest of the island's population that can't afford to live there anymore.

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