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Moby Dick? True story. The Nantucket whaler Essex, the basis for Herman Melville's classic, was rammed by a whale off the coast of South America in 1820 and survivors resorted to cannibalism to stay alive. The personal journal of an Essex crewman is part of the collection of Nantucket's Whaling Museum. Housed partly in an 1847 spermaceti candle factory, the museum completed a $13 million restoration and expansion in 2005making it large enough for the curators to suspend a 46-foot sperm whale skeleton from the main gallery's ceiling. Also on display: a large collection of scrimshaw (etched and carved whale ivory) and whaling trade artifacts (13 Broad St.; 508-228-1736; nha.org; closed late Octobermid-April). For more Nantucket history, head to the small post-and-beam African American Meeting House. Dating from 1827, it's the nation's second-oldest surviving meetinghouse built by free blacks for their own use. It has been renovated and is open to the public (29 York St.; 508-228-9833; afroammuseum.org; closed SeptemberJune). Maria Mitchell, the country's first female astronomer and first female professor of astronomy was also the first American woman to discover a comet through a telescopeand she did it on the roof of Nantucket's Pacific National Bank building on October 1, 1847. The telescope she used is in her birthplace, a typical Quaker-style Nantucket home built in 1790 that's now known as the Maria Mitchell House and Museum of Astronomy. The Maria Mitchell Association also operates two observatories. Check mmo.org for the schedule of tours and nighttime viewings (1 Vestal St.; 508-228-9198; closed mid-Octoberearly June).
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