Anyone fascinated by Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick (or, more recently, Nathan Philbrick’s National Book Award-winning In the Heart of the Sea: The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex) will find plenty to enjoy in this small downtown museum. Occupying a former spermaceti candle factory—where candles were once made from whale oil—the museum now contains several airy exhibition halls filled with artifacts, photos, portraits, and ephemera from Nantucket’s historic whaling days (roughly the late 1700’s to the mid-1800’s). Especially compelling is the reassembled skeleton of a 46-foot sperm whale (which died on a beach near Siasconset in 1998), now suspended from the ceiling of the museum’s entry hall.
Tip: Be sure to check out the harbor from the museum’s observation deck. It’s the same vantage point that many of Nantucket Town’s oldest houses have from their “widow’s walks”—verandas where the wives of sea captains used to pace and watch the horizon for their husbands’ return.