In 1891, an embalmed whale created some of the biggest publicity in years to the village of Waterloo. It is a tale of a whale as well as a whale of a tale.
In 1888, Captain Nickerson “captured” a whale about 15 miles off Cape Cod. It weighed 75 tons and measured 65 feet long. The whale was so large that 12 gentlemen actually sat in its mouth and “enjoyed an oyster supper.” Some 1,500 gallons of fluid were used to “embalm” a 22-foot section of the whale, at a cost of $3,000. The preserved whale was braced internally with wooden ribs so as to have the size and shape of a real whale.
For two years, the embalmed whale—referred to as “His Whaleship”–was exhibited in cities in seven states. “Hundred of thousands of astonished people” paid an admission to see this great whale—a sight of a whale was something that most Americans had not ever seen.
Following its display at the New York State Fair in Syracuse in 1891, it continued west on the Erie Canal to various stops. On November 10th and 11th it was on display at Gleason’s Knitting Mill in Seneca Falls. Adults had to pay 15 cents to get a look, and children paid a dime.
From Seneca Falls the whale was transported to Waterloo and put on exhibition at the Eagle Tavern. Throughout the day, many paid to see “His Whaleship” and enjoyed doing so. There were, however, a few rowdies who made a demonstration against it early in the evening. They took the wagon on which it was placed out into the street. They threatened to put the whale in the canal to see if it could swim. They didn’t actually carry out their threat, however. The whale was taken back to the tavern barn and locked up for the night.
About three o’clock in the morning, nearby people were awakened by a bright light. They soon found out that the whale had been taken from the tavern barn, moved out onto the street, and set afire. The hostler of the hotel, a Frenchman, ran up to the whale owner’s room and cried, “Mr. Parsons, Mr. Parsons, your codfish be all on fire.” The ones who had dragged the whale out of the barn and burned the whale were never caught.
Becker’s account concludes with the following comment. “On the Eastern sea, and beyond the father of western rivers, and in distant southern climes, this unpretending town became known as ‘the place where the whale burned.’”
Article Written by Walter Gable.