Tri-town takes part in Moby-Dick Marathon

Jan 8, 2019

Every year the New Bedford Whaling Museum tackles a monumental literary task: reading through the entirety of Moby-Dick in one sitting. With a runtime of 25 hours, fans of Herman Melville’s whaling epic read snippets from the novel and volunteered for the museum to make it happen on Jan. 6.

Beginning at noon on Jan. 6 and ending at 1 p.m. the following day, over 200 readers from around the globe took turns reading at the Moby-Dick Marathon. The readings continued nonstop, even past midnight into Sunday.

This year’s event also featured some tri-town faces, including Richard Damaso of Mattapoisett, Tabor Academy’s Frank Townsend and Chris McEnroe served as readers. Susan Grosart and Ann Kirschmann of Marion and Barbara Poznysz of Mattapoisett volunteered at the event’s 23rd iteration.

A deep appreciation for the book unites the readers and volunteers.

“I always loved whales and Moby-Dick. But, I first read it in tenth grade. You have no idea what life is like in tenth grade. And so every time I read it I find something new,” Poznysz said

Kirschmann, who taught history at University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, acknowledged that the book is a difficult read.

“If you’re looking for a narrative, it’s going to be difficult,” she said.

However, she also used the event as a chance to dive into some of its layers.

“Whenever I had a little down time in my volunteering, I read a little bit. I didn’t read along with the readers, truth be told, because I couldn’t hear them” while greeting people by the door, Kirschmann admitted. “But it made me appreciate even more the depth of the book. There’s so much knowledge — it’s encyclopedic, and I find myself appreciating it more and more every time I read it.”

Although Frank Townsend teaches classics rather than literature, he was able to still find ways to connect with the work professionally and personally.

“I'm a language teacher, and Melville's use of language is delightful. Also, I'm a rower, a wooden boat aficionado, a history buff - so it's right in my wheelhouse,” Townsend explained.

Although he actively seeks out experiences that allow him to learn outside the classroom, he admitted to being a bit daunted by the task of reading out loud.

Townsend notes that Melville “uses Latin, New England sailor's dialect, invented words — so many different things to work out. Reading it out loud in front of people, especially people knowledgeable in the subject, is very intimidating.” 

What makes the reading even harder, is the fact that it’s difficult to prepare.

“You can't really prepare,” Townsend explained, “since you only know roughly which section you will be reading from, but not exactly which pages.”

Still, his efforts included reading along, and listening to other people read the work.

“I read a few chapters, but I also listened to a wonderful reading, by William Hootkins, who played Porkins — if there are any Star Wars fans out there,” Townsend said. “He read so expressively, and made the story come alive like a watching a film.”

Townsend also enjoyed exploring other parts of the event and museum when he wasn’t reading.

“The open and crowded museum was so much fun,” he said and also mentioned savoring the chowder in the lobby, though he admitted that “I wasn't up for the full 24 hours. Maybe some day.”

A dedicated team of museum volunteers commit to the whole day, and some of them volunteering up until midnight, taking “the midnight watch,” and even coming in at 4 a.m. to start the morning watch.

Kirshmann has been volunteering for four years at the museum, delivering one of 13 programs that the museum provides to school children. Though some might shy away from greeting museum guests until midnight, she enjoys it, and is quick to credit other volunteers who stay even later than she does.

“It’s quieter, and I get to talk to people as they’re getting tired and heading back to the hotel after spending sometimes the whole day there,” Kirschmann said, adding that “I might add another watch shift next year, just to see what it’s like earlier in the day.”

Poznysz has been a docent for 15 years and involved in Moby-Dick event for 14. One of her favorite changes this year was having the readers read from chairs rather than podiums.

“This year we had it so that the readers can sit in chairs. It made it more homey and cozy, and people said that they were not as intimidated,” Poznysz said.

She was also quick to credit others for making the event happen.

“I can’t say enough about the custodial staff. They keep everything clean and functioning,” Poznysz said.

Both Kirschmann and Poznysz said that after volunteering together weekly, monthly volunteer council meetings and even volunteer Christmas parties, the group really does become as much social as it is about the museum itself.

“It’s a bunch of people who really love the museum. We would do anything they asked us to do,”  Poznysz

Given that some of the volunteers are willing to come in at 4 a.m., those are hardly empty words. These people love the New Bedford Whaling museum, and love sharing it with the world.