5 Things You Didn’t Know About “Moby-Dick”

At noon on Monday, July 31, Mystic Seaport will again begin its marathon 24-hour reading of the classic novel Moby-Dick to commemorate author Herman Melville’s birthday on August 1.

The 32nd annual Moby-Dick Marathon is the longest-running marathon-read in the country! The reading takes place onboard the whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the last wooden whaleship left in the world. This two-day event celebrates Melville’s 198th birthday.

We thought it would be fun to dig into the archives and uncover some of the lesser known facts about Melville and one of the Great American Novels.

1. Moby-Dick was published in the U.S. in 1851, with a first printing of 2,915. Melville earned $1,259.45 from the book. A first-edition copy of the book today is valued at more than $60,000.

2. Actors who have played Captain Ahab: Patrick Stewart, William Hurt, Gregory Peck, John Barrymore, Danny Glover, Orson Welles, and Barry Bostwick. In the Danny Glover film, Ahab hunted a great white dinosaur. In the Barry Bostwick movie, he commanded a submarine.

3. Herman Melville started writing Moby-Dick in 1850 while living at the family’s New York City home. That summer, he moved to Pittsfield, Massachusetts to a home called Arrowhead. Over that winter he worked in his study at Arrowhead, finishing Moby-Dick in the spring of 1851. The property is now owned by the Berkshire Historical Society and operated as a museum. You can follow the Melville Trail across Berkshire County to see the places Melville frequented and was inspired by.

4. A neighbor of Melville’s in the Berkshires was the author Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Scarlet Letter). They met in 1850 and after that meeting, Melville reportedly made extensive changes to his manuscript, even though it was nearly complete. When the book was published later that year, Moby-Dick included this dedication: “In token of my admiration for his genius, this book is inscribed to Nathaniel Hawthorne.”

5. The performer Moby’s real name is Richard Melville Hall. His parents said he was named after Moby-Dick author Herman Melville, who was allegedly a distant relative. The same novel is the inspiration for Moby’s stage name.

At Mystic Seaport, our Moby-Dick Marathon is a communal event that relies upon visitor participation to keep the words flowing and the pages turning through all 24 hours. Participants are invited to read a chapter or two (or more!), or just sit back to listen, simply allowing the beauty of the language to flow over you. Over the course of the marathon, other surprises await, including an actor portraying Herman Melville, the theatrical staging of certain chapters by the Mystic Seaport TaleMakers theatre troupe, and a live music performance. Advance registration is required to stay overnight due to limited capacity on the Charles W. Morgan. Participation in the “Moby-Dick” Marathon is free with museum admission or membership. Please call 860.572.5331 to register.