From whalers hunting enormous sperm whales across the World Ocean to ships dashing on the Nantucket South Shoals, our island comes drenched in some high-drama maritime history. Here are three top-quality museums within easy reach of Greydon House that illuminate this sea-washed heritage!
THE WHALING MUSEUM (13 BROAD STREET)
For much of the 1700s and early 1800s, Nantucket was the whaling hub of the world (as anyone who’s read Moby-Dick knows). The Whaling Museum, run by the Nantucket Historical Association in a former candle factory built in 1846 just a few hundred feet up Broad Street from our hotel, provides a fascinating overview of that bygone industry. The films and exhibits include the great Ric Burns documentary Nantucket (focused on the island’s overall history), a multimedia presentation evoking the saga of the island’s whaling era, and an overview of the whale-sunk Nantucket whaleship the Essex, which inspired Herman Melville’s immortal novel.
You can also marvel at the skeleton of a sperm whale nearly 50 feet long—the remains of a leviathan that washed up on Nantucket on New Year’s Day 1998—and survey Nantucket Harbor (perhaps seeing a few whaleships embarking in the mind’s-eye) from the museum’s rooftop observation deck.
NANTUCKET SHIPWRECK & LIFESAVING MUSEUM (158 POLPIS ROAD)
Run by the Egan Maritime Institute, the Nantucket Shipwreck & Lifesaving Museum tells as enthralling a story as the Whaling Museum. More than 700 ships wrecked off Nantucket due to storms, fog, and shoals, earning local waters a reputation as one of the “Graveyards of the Atlantic” (an intimidating nickname also claimed by North Carolina’s Outer Banks). The museum sheds light on those wrecks as well as the many daring maritime rescues that have gone down along our shores. The collections include many vintage photographs, lifesaving vessels and equipment, and lenses from Nantucket lighthouses among more than 5,000 artifacts.
NANTUCKET LIGHTSHIP BASKET MUSEUM (49 UNION STREET)
This excellent museum sheds light into a unique Nantucket craft tradition: the making of lightship baskets. Lightships were vessels anchored on Nantucket’s notorious South Shoals, where many shipwrecks occurred back in the 19th century, to warn mariners—basically serving as offshore lighthouses. To pass the time on the lonely, wave-battered lightships, crew members took to weaving baskets they then sold for extra money. The Nantucket Lightship Basket Museum includes many vintage lightship baskets as well as contemporary examples made by weavers continuing the craft, and also offers basketry classes for both beginners and advanced students.
Explore Nantucket’s rich maritime-influenced heritage at these outstanding local museums, each of them easily reached from your boutique accommodations at Greydon House!