The visit of the Charles W. Morgan attracted attention around the Island, but it was especially exciting for Island schoolchildren who have been studying the history of whaling and working on a variety of related projects throughout the school year.
That work culminated on Monday and Tuesday this week when children from the six Island elementary schools visited the Charles W. Morgan before she set sail for New Bedford.
The students participated in a host of activities. On shore, Mystic Seaport educators spoke with the children about whaling. A shipwright, a cooper, and other tradesmen took turns showing the kids their skills, such as how to weld iron and repair casks and barrels. Students collaborated with the educators to make rope and to practice tying knots. In addition, they watched a short video about whaling and an abridged theatrical adaptation of Moby-Dick.
Students also had the opportunity to go on board the whaling ship and explore its nooks and crannies. In the blubber room below decks, the children gathered to hear a Mystic Seaport educator speak about what happens after a whale is captured.
For many students, stepping onto the Charles W. Morgan was the highlight of the field trip — apart from it being “a little bit stinky,” as West Tisbury second grader Catherine Langley described.
“It’s cool to go on it because it’s like, oh, my god, that thing sailed in the 1800s — like literally sailed,” said Catherine. “And now I’m getting to go on it!”
The kids’ appreciation for the historical moment they were taking part in abounded.
“It’s awesome,” said West Tisbury second grader Jack Carbon. “It’s once in a lifetime. It’s not like you can go any time, it’s like this is the last time.”
Prior to boarding the ship, the kids had a chance to throw a harpoon into the water, which many described as another highlight of their visit. The students lined up on the dock to hold the wooden harpoon shaft — which was taller than them in some cases — and hurl it into the harbor. As each child released the harpoon, classmates shouted in unison: “Dart the iron!”
In preparation for their visits to the Morgan, students from all the schools prepared whale-related items to display at the wharf. West Tisbury second graders made large stuffed whales and used vegetables from their school garden to make pickles to imitate the food that the Morgan’s crew would have eaten. Third graders at the Tisbury School molded sperm whale teeth out of clay and scrimshawed them with designs inspired by artifacts from the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Oak Bluffs second graders made graphs and cutouts of different whales to show how their sizes compare. They also investigated the geometry of ship sails. Edgartown seventh graders made watercolors of sperm and humpback whales featuring explanations of the whales’ unique anatomical features such as baleen, ambergris and spermaceti. The Morgan visit was particularly special for the West Tisbury School, which has two students with deep connections to whaling and Moby-Dick. One second grader, Xing Senna, is a descendant of Herman Melville and her classmate, Noah Manning, is related to Amos Smalley, the whaler who is thought to have inspired parts of Melville’s story. Mr. Smalley, who lived in Aquinnah, is the only person on record to have harpooned a white sperm whale.
Leading up to their visit to the Morgan, the West Tisbury School worked closely with the Martha’s Vineyard Museum in their studies. As a special part of the year’s curriculum, June Manning, Noah’s grandmother and a board member at the museum, did a presentation on her family’s lineage.
Michele Mayhew and Kristy Fletcher, the two second grade teachers at the West Tisbury School, worked to develop this year’s whale curriculum based on what would resonate with the children in their classes. Though Ms. Fletcher has used a similar curriculum in previous years, with the arrival of the Morgan as well as Noah and Xing’s connections to whaling, this year was particularly special.
“I hope that this project and the way we went about it was very meaningful for them to understand their Island’s history and the history of this whole area,” Ms. Mayhew said.
Though the Morgan will not be docked at the Tisbury Wharf for the students to climb aboard and explore, studies of whales and whaling will remain integral to the education of the Island’s children in the years to come.