Curious about Herman Melville’s Arrowhead house in Pittsfield, MA, where the famed 1851 whale tale, Moby Dick, was written? Don’t worry — this is not some dusty and dry literary tour, but rather a place where you can learn scintillating facts about the author and his family, plus two deep truths about human life… all while enjoying the rolling green hills of the Berkshires of Western Massachusetts!
A Historic Berkshires, MA Attraction
Before we get into these facts and deep truths, let’s have some background. Despite being an educator, I didn’t even realize that Melville lived in Pittsfield until someone mentioned it, right before my trip to the area to see a musical at the Barrington Stage Company. Once I learned that such a famous novel as Moby Dick was penned not far from our hotel, however, I knew I had to see the house for myself… good little English teacher that I am!
Guided Tours of Arrowhead
For this trip, I was traveling with fellow travel blogger, SanTara Cassamajor (pictured below), and neither of us knew what to expect when we pulled up to Arrowhead to begin our tour. Then the guide began her storytelling — replete with giant photos and paintings as visual aids — and we became rapidly entranced.
(Note: Guided tours of Arrowhead are every hour, and make a huge difference in understanding the property. See the property’s visitor info here to make sure the building is open on the day you want to visit.)
Life in Melville’s Arrowhead
The first fact we learned on the tour: Arrowhead was jam-packed with Melville’s immediate and extended family (you don’t realize how small the interior is until you’re in it), but the author snagged the largest room in the house for his writing office. Not only Melville’s study spacious, but it looks direct out onto Mount Greylock, the tallest mountain in Massachusetts.
Mount Greylock as a Whale
Fun fact #2: as you can see from the photo, above, that I snapped out of Melville’s office window, Mount Greylock resembles something that’s related to Moby Dick. That’s correct — it looks like the back of a whale! Can you see it? (Another thing to add to my list of things to do in Pittsfield, MA: Look for whales!) Compare the mountain to the whale icon in the Arrowhead welcome sign, below…
Herman Melville as an Author
Fact #3 from Arrowhead leads into a deep life lesson: Melville’s most commercially successful book was his first. It was called Typee, and was published in 1846, elaborating fictionally upon Melville’s own adventures in Polynesia. (See the Berkshire Museum for more Melville memorabilia and facts.) Enjoying its financial profits and acclaim, Melville began to think he could make it as a working author. Uh oh…
Moby Dick was NOT Successful
Unfortunately, each new book of Melville’s after that first hit was less and less successful. “What?!” you may gasp, “Moby Dick was a flop?” Yes indeed — when it was published, the book was so wild, expansive, and ahead-of-its time that, in the words of our guide, “The public didn’t know what to make of it.”
A Writer Too Ahead of His Time
Making less and less money as an author despite repeated attempts at publishing, Melville ultimately had to give up the dream of writing for a living — and Arrowhead, too. He and his family moved back to New York City, where Melville became a customs inspector.
Yes, that’s right: the author of one of the most renowned books in American history died in 1891 as a custom’s inspector who had “failed” as a successful writer. This fact absolutely blew my mind.
Melville’s Posthumous Recognition
It wasn’t until the 1920s that the world finally caught up with Melville’s genius and began to revive and revere his previously pushed-aside works — Moby Dick especially. Meanwhile, a partially-completed manuscript that was left on the author’s desk at the time of his death became what is now Billy Bud — another masterpiece.
This leads to Deep Thought #1 from the Arrowhead tour: What are we to make of Melville’s delayed, posthumous recognition? Who else has that happened to? Is there anything that can be done to help people get the support they deserve while they are still alive???
Melville’s Connection with Nathaniel Hawthorne
Fact #4 leads to Deep Thought #2: It turns out that famed Salem, MA Scarlet Letter author, Nathaniel Hawthorne, had a massive impact on Herman Melville, ever since the two met during a rainy hike in Western Massachusetts. The novel Moby Dick is in fact dedicated to Hawthorne (he was a great influence on the book’s development), and the author is the reason Melville moved his family to Pittsfield.
Ergo, Deep Thought #2: We never know who will influence us to change the course of our life, and the lives of those around us — and we never know how we will influence others to do the same! Human connections take many forms, and don’t always look as we might expect. When we are open to where the energy flows (even on random rainy hikes), that can lead to amazing things — like the Great American Novel!
Thank You, Melville’s Arrowhead!
We had a fascinating time touring Herman Melville’s Arrowhead home, and recommend it to anyone in the area — along with enjoying the other historic Pittsfield buildings. If you’ve been to Arrowhead, or know any other Melville or Moby Dick facts, do please chime in via the comments section, below. I’m eager to continue this whale of a discussion!
Looking for a place to stay in Pittsfield, MA? Check out my review of the Hotel on North in the center of town!
The author, Lillie Marshall, is a 6-foot-tall National Board Certified Teacher of English, fitness fan, and mother of two who has been a public school educator since 2003. She launched Around the World “L” Travel and Life Blog in 2009, and over 4.2 million readers have now visited this site. Lillie also runs TeachingTraveling.com and DrawingsOf.com. Subscribe to her monthly newsletter, and follow @WorldLillie on social media!