In November 2016 I visited Herman Melville’s home, Arrowhead, which is nestled in the Berkshire Mountains of Massachusetts. Melville lived there from 1850-1863. It’s where he wrote Moby Dick, which was published in 1851. This novel, which is now considered one of the greatest American novels, was initially considered a dud. In 1863 the struggling writer moved his family to Manhattan and took a job as a customs inspector.
The day after Christmas I rather spontaneously decided to go to Manhattan. I wasn’t sure what I was going to do, and on the train decided I’d head to The Strand Bookstore in search of a copy of E.M. Forster’s Maurice for the upcoming Book Cougars’ read-along. I recently struck out at three stores here in Connecticut and am hoping to find the book in the wild rather than order it online.
My foot is, thankfully, on the mend, so I happily walked from Grand Central to The Strand, which is about a mile and a half down Park Avenue. One of the great things about walking around Manhattan is that you can almost always bump into something historical.
I noticed the “Herman Melville Square” street sign on a prior walk, but didn’t have time then to investigate. This time I did. So I took a left onto 26th street and quickly spotted this plaque on the right hand side of the street:
The plaque reads:
The American Author
Resided from 1863-1891 at this site
104 East 26th Street
Where he wrote
Among other works
I’ve circled the plaque in the photo above. I wish the truck wasn’t in the way, but you take your photo ops as you can in the Big Apple. The thing is, this is not the house Melville lived in, but simply the site where his house once stood.
A look down 26th Street from Park Ave with an arrow pointing to the plaque.
This New York Times article from 1982 tells how the site of Melville’s home was located and offers facts and ideas about his life while living here, complete with some academics’ romantic condescension about Melville having to take a job, his income, and that he wore a uniform. I suppose some would prefer to imagine him saying, “I’d rather not.”
Although this isn’t the house where Melville actually lived, it is pretty cool to know that you’re walking the same blocks that he once walked.
By the way, the 22nd Moby Dick Marathon at the New Bedford Whaling Museum is January 5-7, 2018. I got snowed out last year and won’t be able to attend this year, but if you’re interested check it out. They’ll be live streaming it.
And the good folks at Arrowhead have also created an annual Moby Dick marathon reading event. They had their first one in August and plant to do it again in 2018. Details not yet announced.
And, alas, The Strand did not have a copy of Maurice, but I have another used store to visit in the coming weeks. Fingers crossed.