The Whaling City will whale it up for the Morgan
In the broad brush of New London history, 1959 might seem like just yesterday. That was when the Jibboom Club, a fraternity of men from New London County who made a living from the sea, finally disbanded.
Many had once served on whaling ships, leaving New London to travel the world. Officers of the club had to have spent two years at sea.
In its heyday, the club, founded in 1891, had a headquarters on Bank Street and each winter staged a parade through town, making a stop at City Hall, where the mayor passed out cigars.
I'm not sure if Mayor Finizio will be on cigar duty this time, but the Jibboom Club will soon be restored for a symbolic reprise parade, to help welcome Mystic Seaport's whaler Charles W. Morgan to New London.
The original Jibboom parades included a whale replica on a float, which they would harpoon in the middle of the street.
A Jibboom parade is just one of many events the Whaling City is planning to mark the occasion of a whaling ship returning to its waterfront, preparing for a voyage. Most events are planned for the last two weekends of May.
Helping to organize the whaling welcome for the Morgan is New London Landmarks, which will sponsor historic walking tours, the New London County Historical Society, which will have an exhibit at the Shaw Mansion on New London whaling, the New London Maritime Society, which will have a chowder festival at its Custom House, and the Flock Theatre, which will stage a production of Eugene O'Neill's "Ile," a one-act play about a whaling ship trapped in the Arctic ice.
The Lyman Allyn Museum, the city's museum endowed by whaling wealth, will still be welcoming visitors to an exhibit named for the salute given to departing whaling crews: Greasy Luck.
The thorough Lyman Allyn exhibit includes two big handsome oil paintings, commissioned in the 1920s by one of New London's whaling banks, that show whaling expeditions underway.
The big ship depicted prominently in front of an iceberg in one painting has New London written on its transom, in letters similar to the homeport designation of New Bedford on the stern of the Morgan.
The Lyman Allyn museum also includes many other familiar New London whaling references, like the studies for the Depression-era Works Progress Administration murals in the downtown post office.
Another oil painting depicts the remains of a whaling ship left to rot in Winthrop Cove, a fate the Morgan escaped.
The exhibit also includes a program from the dedication of the monument to New London whalemen, a kettle topped by whaling spears, which was erected in the 1930s, on the lawn of the Shaw Mansion.
Historian Sally Ryan, who will lead the walking tours of New London's whaling history, said you don't have to go far from Bank Street to tell and learn a lot.
The Muddy Waters coffee shop used to be a bank started by the Lawrence family, which gave its name and whaling money to the institution now known as Lawrence + Memorial Hospital. Curiously, L+M still has a lot of money parked offshore.
The stone building on Bank Street that used to be home to Roberts Music was once a ship chandlery. The Hygienic Art building on Bank Street was once a grocery store, with rooms for rent upstairs for visiting sailors.
"We were really an active seaport," said Ryan. "You can't get away from whaling in the city of New London. You trip over it."
And what better way to celebrate the city's whaling history than with the last of the great fleet of New England's whaling ships tied up at City Pier, waiting to begin yet another voyage.
This is the opinion of David Collins.