Heavenly Phenomena

From the Vineyard Gazette editions of March, 1958:

Pfc. Peter M. Williamson, son of Mr. and Mrs. David Williamson of Oak Bluffs, has become one of the nation’s first soldiers to take part in field exercises testing the Army’s new “pentomic” battle concept. The pentomic battle plan features streamlined units with great mobility and firepower, able to meet the needs of atomic and missile age warfare. The soldier is serving as a machine gunner in C Company of the 4th Infantry Division’s 1st Battle group. The 4th Division, famed for its fighting record in World Wars I and II, was reorganized as a pentomic outfit early last year.

Reports of heavenly phenomena are becoming so commonplace these days that it may be necessary to think up another word besides phenomena to describe them all. Nobody can deny that the unusual sight Mr. and Mrs. Winthrop Norton of Edgartown saw qualified as phenomenon in the true sense of the word: there glowing in the northeast sky was a green equilateral triangle surrounded by red lights. Mr. Norton reported the sight with some misgiving, explaining that although he is not accustomed to seeing apparitions he would not mention it at all if his wife had not also seen the same thing. He got out his telescope for a closer look, and that was when the geometrical shape was revealed. When no news broadcast mentioned the phenomenon the next morning, Mr. Norton began to wonder if he and Mrs. Norton had both been prey to an optical illusion. But he doesn’t think so. It seems certain the three-pointed star was man-made, but who is responsible? Russians? Americans?

An inquiry has been sent for the recipe of old-time hardtack, also known as pilot bread. This was the ship’s bread which, headed up in casks, used to be taken by whaleships and other vessels on long voyages. For ordinary consumption, it was often soaked overnight to ameliorate its jaw-breaking character. There was a hardtack bakery in Edgartown during the golden age of whaling, and we imagine that the making of it was pretty simple, and that the old timers would be amazed if they could know that ship’s bread was being sought after for anything other than its durability. According to old tales, you couldn’t really feel acquainted with ship’s bread unless you had sailed on a voyage with it, and possibly not unless you had eaten ship’s bread which had already completed a four-year voyage to the Pacific and was ready for another. This would indicate that with every package of genuine hardtack manufactured today, a genuine ship should be furnished to round out the experience.

Word comes that the Maritime Museum at Mystic has opened Figurehead Hall, which is the largest exhibition gallery at the reconstructed seaport, now transformed for the display of figureheads from sailing ships of long ago. When George Claghorn of Chilmark built the whaleship Rebecca, the vessel’s bow was adorned with a finely carved image of Rebecca Russell, eldest daughter of Joseph Russell of New Bedford. But several owners of the vessel were members of the Society of Friends, and they insisted the figurehead be removed in the interest of simplicity and sobriety. Some gay blades of New Bedford, including Rebecca’s brother, gave the figure a mocking burial in the sand alongshore.

Similar Quaker scruples were responsible for the removal of a carving of Rousseau from the bow of the whaler of that name, though there was the added incentive derived from the fact that the original Rousseau was an infidel.

Most Vineyard whaleships had carved billetheads rather than figureheads, but the first Gay Head, built at Mattapoisett, carried the full-length figurehead of an Indian warrior holding a spear. This, obviously, was all wrong; the Indian should have held a harpoon. The second Gay Head was distinguished by a carved eagle at her bow.

One of the fanciest whaleships commanded by a Vineyarder, Capt. Joseph Holley, was the Polar Star, which was provided with a carved and gilded billet and at her stern two beautiful houris robed in white with golden wings, bearing a star encircled with a wreath.

The first herring to be marketed this year were sold yesterday, three boxes, shipped to Sam Cahoon by Capt. Norman Benson and Franklin Benson of Lambert’s Cove. There were also some perch in the shipment. Occasional herring had been taken as much as a month ago, but no quantity of them until now. No indication of the price could be given yesterday, but it was certain that the perch command a very high price, and as these were the first alewives to arrive at Woods Hole, the shipment was probably well worthwhile.

The Catherine and Mary, owned by Capt. Isaac Norton of Edgartown and Jens Isaksen of New Bedford, was in process of being sold this week. Capt. Norton said that the Catherine and Mary had proved too small for the business of sea scalloping and will be converted to a dragger by her new owners. Speaking of the sale on Monday, Captain Ike said he had been “on a busman’s holiday” that day, bay scalloping. Although the season is getting along, he said, “You can still make a dollar at it.”

Compiled by Cynthia Meisner