"Erected May 2, 1832, by the New Bedford Port Society, the Seamen’s Bethel is a landmark honoring the New Bedford whalers and fisherman who perished at sea. Thirty-one cenotaphs hang in remembrance of these individuals, encased in black frames (possessing semblance to traditional gravestones), and adorned with hand-carved text. Cenotaph means ‘empty grave.’ It is a tomb, plaque, or monument dedicated to a person whose body or remains are buried in an alternate location. Twenty-three of these cenotaphs are dated prior to 1900, and each provides a brief summary of the hardship associated with the person’s death. In some cases entire crews were lost at sea, and a few more current cenotaphs remember these affiliates.
In 1851, the Seamen’s Bethel was given everlasting fame when it was referenced in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. Melville describes a scene set in the Bethel, depicting a sermon given from an imagined pulpit that didn’t exist during Melville’s time. However, after the 1956 Moby Dick film was released, a pulpit mirroring the film version (as the prow of a ship) was added to the Bethel in 1961 to promote tourism. Melville himself visited the chapel in 1840. The pew where he sat is now inscribed with a dedication to him.
The Whaleman's Chapel mentioned in Moby Dick is actually the Seamen's Bethel.
An excerpt from Moby Dick states, “In this same New Bedford there stands a Whaleman’s Chapel, and few are the moody fishermen, shortly bound for the Indian Ocean or Pacific, who fail to make a Sunday visit to the spot.” It was tradition for a whaler to visit the chapel before any departure to the sea, and this is what Melville was referring to."