The Day Moby Dick Came to Texas.
December 2, 2013
“So they took up Jonah and threw him into the sea; and the sea ceased it’s raging. Then the men feared the Lord exceedingly, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows. And the Lord appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah; and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights…Jonah prayed to the Lord, saying…. ‘But I, with the voice of thanksgiving, will sacrifice to thee; what I have vowed, I will pay. Deliverance belongs to the Lord!’”
The Sunday school teacher read these words from the Holy Bible to his class, then, said. “So now, we have seen, my brothers and sisters exactly what it was like for Jonah to go inside the mouth of the beast!”
What was so unusual about this event was perhaps that the Sunday school teacher had decided to convene his class in the mouth of a beached whale. It was what we would call now, a teaching moment.
* * *
Moby Dick had come to Port Arthur, Texas, it would seem—with a little help. In 1910, a gray, very much alive old sperm whale bull traveled with much protest through the new ship channel to Port Arthur.
He had most probably left his natural habitat of the tropics to investigate the North Atlantic Ocean. The sight of whales in Texas coastal waters was a rare sight, indeed. It is believed that his desire to feast upon cuttlefish had caused him to become mired in the twelve-foot deep seaweed infested-pool near jetties of the Sabine. He did not intend to leave the earth without a fight, and slapped his fluke violently to try to free himself.
One Captain Plummer, helmsman of a tugboat, the Florida, witnessed the commotion and thought it to be a capsized ship, from a distance. As he piloted the tugboat closer, he realized what he was seeing. Was his intent to help the poor creature, or something else entirely? With the aid of the crew of a nearby sailboat, Captain Plummer was able to lasso the fluke of the whale.
After a series of mishaps, Captain Plummer was then able to free the sea monster from the muddy bank, into waters of more depth. The whale was furious and continued to raise a ruckus. Because of this, it took eight hours to tow the whale five miles into port. As Moby expelled his breath from his blowhole, the curious began to gather. At this point, Captain Plummer decided to sell fifty-cent tickets to view the whale. He netted two hundred dollars that first day.
As news of the whale traveled, more than 200,000 people gathered to view the whale via 150 trains with passengers packed to the gills, often with standing room only. When the whale breathed his last breath, it was decided to hoist his body onto the land, for more viewing. Moby Dick was sixty-three feet long and weighed sixty tons. His head was thirty-seven feet in circumference. His vital organs were removed by butchers, to slow decomposition, so that more people could view him. Port Arthur had soon booked all of its hotel rooms and exhausted its supply of food for curious visitors. The merchants of the town made over a million dollars on the event, which was a tidy sum in 1910. Another million was made by the Texas and Louisiana railroads.
When the stench of Moby Dick became too much, a Memphis, Tennessee amusement park operator bought him and crudely stuffed his hide with hay for permanent display. Alas. When not too much time had passed, Moby Dick’s display tent caught fire and what remained of him—hide, hay and bones were accidently cremated.
* * *
The whale which had been hoisted onto the beach landed there in just such a position that its mouth gaped wide open. Examining the inside of the mouth of the beast was another bit of fine entertainment for the curious. One such curious bystander must have been a Sunday school teacher who came upon the brilliant idea—I shall teach my Sunday school class in the mouth of the whale!
The Sunday school teacher quoted again, words from the Holy Bible, “And the Lord spoke to the fish and it vomited out Jonah upon the dry land.”
With that, the Sunday school class who had been sitting in the mouth of the beached whale for their lesson, gathered up their folding chairs and left the shelter of the huge mouth of the dead creature.
“We had a stinking good time!” A lady exclaimed after she was questioned by her friend about the activities of her Sunday school class on that March, 1910 day, and, on any other day she was questioned about it, forever more.
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