Long Island’s whaling museums are heading into previously uncharted territory this month, launching interactive exhibits that include a fresh perspective on the overlooked women, African-Americans and American Indians who worked in the early 19th century industry in Sag Harbor, Cold Spring Harbor and Southampton.
“We’re focusing on some of the women of whaling and how they became head of households in Cold Spring Harbor,” says Cindy Grimm, assistant director of The Whaling Museum & Education Center. An exhibit titled “Heroines at the Helm” is being readied for a fall opening in the spirit of the recent 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage.
Whaling was “a multicultural endeavor,” says Tom Edmonds, executive director of the Southampton Historical Museum, where a new exhibition, “Hunting the Whale,” runs through Aug. 4.
“Over 50 percent of the sailors on whaling exhibitions were African- or Native American. We wanted to have a more inclusive look at what life was like” in Long Island’s early whaling days, Edmonds says.
And change has also come to the venerable Sag Harbor Whaling Museum, which reopens on May 1. “Our standing exhibits that explore the history of both the village and whaling fleet are newly designed,” curator Richard Doctorow says.
Here are three ways to get on board with the whaling era.
1. HUNTING THE WHALE: THE RISE AND FALL OF A SOUTHAMPTON INDUSTRY
WHEN | WHERE 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday through Aug. 4, Southampton Historical Museum, Rogers Mansion, 17 Meeting House Lane, Southampton
INFO 631-283-2494, southamptonhistory.org
ADMISSION $4 (free younger than 18)
The history of African-American whalers is just beginning to be rediscovered, and one of the most prominent on Long Island, Pyrrhus Concer of Southampton, is featured in this exhibit. Visitors can see an 1890 photo of Concer, a freed African-American slave who traveled the globe as a whaling sailor, and a piece of Concer’s home, which was demolished four years ago.
The exhibit, which is appropriate for children, also features “banners talking about the stories of women involved in whaling,” Edmonds says. Tools, maps and illustrations highlight the role of local indigenous people, slaves and servants, as well as the 18 whaling captains who lived on Southampton’s Main Street when the whaling era ended, Edmonds says. The Captain Albert Rogers Mansion, a 20-room Greek Revival house, was built in 1843 during the peak of the whaling industry.
2. THE WHALING MUSEUM & EDUCATION CENTER
WHEN | WHERE 301 Main St., Cold Spring Harbor
INFO 631-367-3418, cshwhalingmuseum.org
ADMISSION $6 ($5 ages 4-18)
There’s still time to see “Breaking Boundaries,” which spotlights 19th century technological advances such as the Temple iron harpoon, which revolutionized the industry. The exhibit, which runs until Sept. 3, includes art spots where kids can experiment with their own technological innovations.
Other current exhibits include the “If I Were a Whaler” section where kids can swab a deck and hoist a sail.
“Heroines at the Helm,” which opens Labor Day weekend, will focus on women of the whaling era and will include artwork by suffragists. “We’re beginning to unearth the role played in Long Island whaling by women,” Grimm says.
3. THE SAG HARBOR WHALING & HISTORICAL MUSEUM
WHEN | WHERE 200 Main St., Sag Harbor
INFO 631-725-0770, sagharborwhalingmuseum.org
ADMISSION $6 ($2 younger than 12)
The museum, which reopens May 1, has been refreshed outside with a recent repainting, and inside with revamped exhibits, Doctorow says. The stately mansion with Corinthian columns is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It was built in 1845 by Benjamin Huntting II, a whale-oil millionaire and ship owner.
In addition to newly designed standing exhibits, which explore Sag Harbor’s history and its whaling fleet, a new exhibit, “The World Was Wood,” contains surprises. “It will feature all the amazing things you would not have thought could be made of wood, such as washing machines and bicycles,” Doctorow says.