Something Blubbery This Way Comes

There’s a pipe-smoking ghost aboard the whaleship Morgan! Or maybe not. Either way, the high-tech hunt to catch this spook is a wicked blast.

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  1. One of the more distinctive ways to die in the 19th century was to get knocked into the sea by a dangling sheet of blubber. Blubber——or whale fat, which was melted down to oil and was pretty much the whole point of whaling—was stripped off its owner by floating the corpse alongside the ship and peeling it like an orange. As the blubber and skin were pulled from the body, they were hoisted high over the deck and cut into massive 12-foot-long chunks that were lowered through the hatch of the blubber room, to be cut down some more. Though the decks were slick with oil and the fat swung wildly when seas were rough, blubber-related deaths were an uncommon occurrence.

    Which makes ghosts of blubber-processing crewmen pretty rare. Nonetheless, people have been saying they've seen one in the blubber room of the Charles W. Morgan. The Morgan, the last wooden whaling ship in existence, is berthed at Mystic Seaport, a maritime museum in the form of a make-believe whaling port——Williamsburg by the sea——in Mystic, Connecticut. For months, tales of a blubber-room spook have been rivaling Ken Lay for dead-guy press coverage. Fox News aired a story about him, as did CNN and the CBS Evening News. Tonight, a crew from Good Morning, America and a reporter-photographer team from The Boston Globe are showing up.

    The draw—–along with the alleged ghost, of course——is the loaded-for-bear presence of the group of energetic ghostbusters who started the whole thing. The Morgan mystery comes to us cour...

Originally published in Outside, November 2006