Visit the Herman Melville Memorial Room where the world’s largest collection of Melville Family Treasures, Whaling Artifacts and Scrimshaw are always on display.
Ron Howard’s new film “In the Heart of the Sea” will open in theaters on December 11th. For those of us who live in Pittsfield, there is a special significance to this event.
Based on the story of the wreck of the whale ship Essex as recounted by her first mate Owen Chase, the film also addresses the effect this tale had on Herman Melville and the writing of the great American novel, Moby Dick. Melville lived in Pittsfield from 1850 to 1863. It was here that he penned his novel, published in 1851, while gazing from the window of his study at Arrowhead toward the humped silhouette of Mt. Greylock in the distance.
Moving forward over 100 years, in 1953, under the patronage of Harvard University professor Dr. Henry Murray, the Herman Melville Memorial Room opened in the Old Athenaeum “to provide a convenient center for Melville studies in Pittsfield, thereby perpetuating the memory of a world famous local author.” Donated materials included books, portraits, personal possessions, art prints, letters and photographs. When the current library was designed, an elegant space was included to permanently house the treasures that comprise this collection. Over the past 62 years, the collection has continued to grow. Today it is considered to be one of the top three centers for Melville studies in the world and is visited by tourists and Melville scholars year-round.
Among many other items, within the Melville Room visitors may view the portrait of Melville painted in 1847, the library table that sat in his Arrowhead study as he worked at the manuscript of Moby Dick, and even some of his feather pens, blotters and ink stands. Also on view is a display of artifacts related to whaling and a portion of the Athenaeum’s renowned Milham Scrimshaw Collection. Many books are available for further exploration of the various themes that drive the film “In the Heart of the Sea”.
Additionally, since 1975, Arrowhead, Melville’s Pittsfield residence, has been the home of the Berkshire County Historical Society. Locals and tourists alike can wander the grounds of the farm, tour the house, and attend special events.
In conjunction with the opening of “In the Heart of the Sea” the Athenaeum has created an introductory display in the Blake Reading Room of the library and encourages anyone wishing to explore the reality behind the film to visit the Herman Melville Memorial Room, located on the main floor in the Local History area of the library. The room is available for viewing whenever the library is open.
Also, to coincide with the opening of the movie, the Berkshire County Historical Society will re-open Arrowhead for a limited time. Tours of the house will be offered on the hour, 10-3, December 11, 12, 13 and 18, 19, and 20. The book by Nathaniel Philbrick will be available in the BCHS shop! (Please note: otherwise, Arrowhead is closed for tours.)