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CSH’s "Bedlam Street" Historic Bar Crawl

By Chris O’Neill

Cold Spring Harbor rose to prominence in the mid-19th century thanks to its whaling industry – a local industry made possible by local businessmen brothers John and Walter Jones who, over a period of 26 years (1836-1862), oversaw forty-four voyages with nine ships.

Whaling was a profitable but a very risky business. Sailors were often lost in voyages that took up to two years.

Herman Melville, of "Moby Dick" fame, in 1841, shipped out of New Bedford, just across Long Island Sound, on the whaler "Acushnet".

Melville jumped ship after 18 months in the Marquesas Islands and then took part in a mutiny on another whaler, ending up in Tahiti.

It is not surprising then, that when whale men finally reached their home port - they were ready not just for a good meal – and some raucous fun.

Last weekend, the Cold Spring Harbor Whaling Museum commemorated those tumultuous homecomings, when the entire community would turn out upon hearing the cannon shot announcing a whaling ship’s return. The Museum hosted the first annual “Bedlam Street Bash.”

Main Street was then colloquially known then as “Bedlam Street,” since the homecoming sailors, flush with cash, grateful to be alive, and most likely more interested in wild drunken partying than church-going, would “paint the town red.”

At the original Bedlam Street parties, crowds of drunken whalers would wander up and down Main Street. There were shanties, scrimshaw, fresh food and alcoholic drink – and lots of fun.

The Whaling Museum put on a far tamer version last weekend, with little heavy drinking, brawling or public intoxication evident.

It looks like another Cold Spring Harbor tradition has been revived – albeit much more subdued.


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