WALPOLE, N.H. – In January 2016, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association announced the discovery of the wreckage of two sunken whale ships off the Alaskan coast. Oil, Ice, and Bone tells the story of these vessels and how they came to be lost in the greatest whaling disaster in American history.
Arctic whaler Nathaniel Ransom served as third mate of one of the ships abandoned in 1871. In 1860, as a 14-year-old, he followed his five older brothers into the dank forecastle of a whaling vessel. For 15 years, he hunted 70-ton bowheads in Arctic waters for the many uses of bone. Blades of flexible baleen from the leviathan’s enormous jaw raised its value, even as petroleum gradually replaced whale oil as a source of lighting. In 1871, Ransom survived the loss of 32 whaling vessels in the frigid waters off Alaska’s icy cape. He kept a journal – and held onto it as he and his shipmates jettisoned weapons and warm clothing to save their very lives. His eyewitness account of whaling’s brutal slaughter and sudden losses is enriched by presenter Helen Frink’s affection for an ancestor she discovered through his journals a century after his death.
Dr. Helen Frink is a retired Keene professor, author, and historian who is descended from two families of Yankee whalers. This Speaker Series event is free and open to the public on Friday, Nov. 10, 2017, at 7 p.m. at the Walpole Town Hall.