MARBLEHEAD 101: History, legend and lore

Pam Peterson
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Marblehead 101 was a weekly column that ran for many years, chronologically relating much of Marblehead’s history. It is a mixture of important and frivolous information, stories, and even recipes. The chance to “play it again” is a great opportunity to review, revise and update.

Marblehead is a town that is unusually rich in history, legends, and lore. Perhaps because it was occupied first by Native Americans who came to fish, and then later settled by English fishermen. All fishermen are well known as story tellers, with a reputation for making their tales a bit larger than the truth, so perhaps that is an ingredient in some of the great Marblehead stories.

Marblehead has a vivid history, which provides the backdrop for both local and national events. Both history and legend help to shape a true picture of the town. From the earliest times, stories were handed down among friends and family for protection, enjoyment, and pride, continuing through the centuries to the present. History is interwoven with legend, combining to tell the story of Marblehead’s people, places, and events.

Let’s start with one of the oldest “fish tails”, undated but timeless. When fishing schooners went out to fish for cod and halibut, they were often gone for several weeks or months. While away the fishing vessels received no mail or any communication. 

There was a young fisherman who had been fishing for a long stretch of time. He and all the crew were eager to get back home and were glad when their vessel was finally full of fish and the return journey could begin. When the little schooner sailed into Marblehead Harbor everyone was happy to be home. 

The young fisherman was especially pleased because he could go to see his sweetheart, the girl he was betrothed to wed. When the ship docked, he ran quickly to the young lady’s house. He brought some fresh fish from the catch as a special gift. She opened the door and greeted him with great joy. They kissed and spent the evening together, planning for their future.    

Then the fisherman went home and quietly let himself into his parent’s house, planning to have his homecoming with them the next day. In the morning he greeted his mother and father, and they seemed sad. 

His mother embraced him and started to cry. The young man asked what was wrong. They said, “We are so sorry to tell you that your sweetheart died while you were away.”  

“What?” he cried, “it can’t be true! I saw her last night and brought her fish from the catch.” 

The young man and his parents ran to his sweetheart’s cottage. It stood quiet, closed, and dusty inside. 

But there on the kitchen table were the fish, the last gift of the young fisherman to his true love.

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