Principal Tracey Benson directs the students from the school's roof.
PITTSFIELD, Mass — Pittsfield High School had a "whale" of a time Friday when students became a 100-foot white whale.
To kick off Cultural Pittsfield's "Call Me Melville" summer celebration, some 700 students filled the outline of the whale behind the school Friday morning.
The celebration is of the city’s most famed author, Herman Melville, and will last from now until October. The festival will offer dozens of ways to experience the 19th-century author's work through visual arts, music, films, lectures, theater and more.
The celebration's name draws itself from the opening line of the 135-chapter epic "Moby-Dick," as the protagonist says, “Call me Ishmael.” The line has been called one of the most recognizable in Western literature, topping the list of 100 best novel opening lines, according to American Book Review.
Melville, who lived in Pittsfield for more than a dozen years, said it was the view of a snow-covered Mount Greylock as seen from his window at Arrowhead that inspired the legendary white whale. Call Me Melville, though, will not focus merely on the author’s most famous opus, but will draw from and celebrate the his entire work and life.
The “tale of the whale” will of course be a prominent feature, with happenings such as Friday's "flash mob," a new “talking bench” that will play selections from the novel read by local residents and an ongoing community read-along sponsored by the Berkshire Athenaeum. One chapter a day will be featured, beginning Saturday and concluding Oct. 8.
Arrowhead, his historic home on Holmes Road, will host a festive luau (in honor of Melville’s time spent in Polynesia), three original theater pieces, a poetry shanty, talks and readings about Melville and his writings, scrimshaw and tattoos, and much more. A self-guided Melville Trail will offer a chance to see such natural local spots as October Mountain, Balance Rock, Greylock and Pontoosuc Lake, all of which inspired and were immortalized in his works. On Aug. 18, Hancock Shaker Village re-create the famed foot race between Melville and friend Nathaniel Hawthorne around the Round Stone Barn.
The outline of the whale was drawn by Michael Melle.
Cultural Director Megan Whilden says that while there is already so much going on, there is still room for plenty more in the 135-day celebration, and those who may have an idea or event to add are encouraged to come forth.
“I’d still really like to see some things going on around Bartleby the Scrivener,” a personal favorite, said Whilden.
Even iBerkshires correspondent Joe Durwin is getting into it, with some research on Melville’s friendship with early Pittsfield historian Joseph E.A. Smith to be featured on his blog, and a recorded appearance on the soon-to-be unveiled talking bench downtown reading his favorite passage:
"There is, one knows not what sweet mystery about this sea, whose gently awful stirrings seem to speak of some hidden soul beneath; like those fabled undulations of the Ephesian sod over the buried Evangelist St. John. And meet it is, that over these sea-pastures, wide-rolling watery prairies and Potter's Fields of all four continents, the waves should rise and fall, and ebb and flow unceasingly; for here, millions of mixed shades and shadows, drowned dreams, somnambulisms, reveries; all that we call lives and souls, lie dreaming, dreaming, still; tossing like slumberers in their beds; the ever-rolling waves but made so by their restlessness."
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