Front elevation, 2006
|Location||New Bedford, Massachusetts|
|Area||New Bedford Historic District|
|NRHP reference No.||66000773|
|Added to NRHP||1966|
The Seamen's Bethel was specifically constructed for the many sailors who called New Bedford their home port (mostly whalers), who considered it a matter of tradition that one visited the chapel before setting sail.
The pulpit was a Melville invention, but a replica of the one described in the book was added to the chapel in 1961 by Robert "bob" Baker, boat builder and naval architect from Westport, MA. Other changes were made when the structure was repaired after a fire in 1866. The names of New Bedford whalers killed, and later all area fishermen, are noted on the walls of the bethel. Also noted is the pew that Melville sat in when he visited in 1840.
In 1851, Herman Melville published his famous tale of the white whale. In it he wrote:
In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman's Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot.-- Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville
From this point on, the Seamen's Bethel came to be widely seen as a symbol of the whalers, and later as a symbol of their history.
Shots of Seamen's Bethel appear in Down to the Sea in Ships (1922 film). In 1956, John Huston shot a scene from the movie adaptation of Moby-Dick (with Gregory Peck and Orson Welles), in front of the real Seamen's Bethel, but interior shots in the movie were not shot on-location. This revitalized tourism to the area.
In 1996 the Seamen's Bethel, along with the New Bedford Whaling Museum (located across the street), the historic district and other icons of New Bedford whaling were collectively made into the New Bedford Whaling National Historical Park.