I have a thing about whales. They’re so big, and interesting, and mysterious. For a long time, the only things we knew about them were what we could see them doing at the surface of their world. And they do a lot of interesting things at the surface – breathing, jumping, tail-slapping – but it’s by no means all of their lives. They’re also cool because they’re like us – they’re mammals, they have babies, they feed them milk – and yet they’re so different from us. And they were hunted near to extinction because they’re so very useful. Whale oil is great stuff, and baleen was quite useful, too. (In umbrellas and corsets and such things.)
So two weeks ago, when I was in Maui for a story, I stopped in at the Old Lahaina Courthouse to see their display on whaling. Maui was an important stop for whalers. They left New England on years-long voyages to catch whales and stopped in at this tropical paradise to load up on supplies (potatoes, goats) and catch up on the fun (booze, ladies) they’d been deprived of at sea. There’s even a sea chanty called “Rolling Down to Old Maui.”
The display at the courthouse was a bit slim, but here are some cool items:
Those long things are called spades; they were used for cutting up whales. They’re resting in a pot used for melting down the blubber. Whale oil was used for things like lubricating sewing machines:
and lighting lighthouses:
This one used to be in the lighthouse on Hana, at the southwestern tip of Maui.
So, I wouldn’t recommend a special trip to Maui to see the Old Lahaina Courthouse, but I’d certainly stop in if you’re in the area, say, at one of the whalewatching tours that leave from the harbor across the street. That’s a somewhat nicer way to chase whales. The courthouse is right behind this awesome banyan tree, which takes up an entire block.
That’s the trunk in the background – it was planted in 1873. The aerial roots all came in later, reaching down from the branches to the ground. I sat under it for a while writing postcards, and a group of Japanese tourists gathered around me. I wonder where they are now?
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