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San Francisco

Moby-Dick Marathon

The San Francisco Moby-Dick Marathon is a reading aloud of Moby-Dick, chapter by chapter, free and open to all. Sign up to read a chapter below — or simply show up and listen! You can attend for a few chapters — or for the entire masterpiece! 

Hope to see you there! 



Join Us!!

The San Francisco Moby-Dick Marathon

Following the success of the 2015 San Francisco Moby Dick Marathon, Fog City is thrilled to welcome Melville back to its sheltered port on the Barbary Coast.

On October 13-14, 2018, over 100 readers and performers will bring Moby Dick to life at the at the San Francisco Maritime Museum as we read the Greatest America Novel from "Call me Ishmael" to the close. The reading will begin at noon on Saturday October 13th and continue through the night until roughly noon on Sunday October 14th.

To fuel readers and listeners alike, there will be plentiful coffee, food trucks and other treats. 

Just as Moby Dick is a uniquely American novel, this event will be uniquely San Franciscan — reflecting the richness and diversity of this great city: a beautiful spot on the Bay, great food and drink, interesting people to meet. Even if you’re not interested in Moby-Dick (gasp!), there will be plenty of things going on; something is sure to catch your interest. And hey, Aquatic Park is just a really nice place to spend a few hours.

Attendance is free for all. 








Maritime Museum

900 Beach Street

(Beach at Polk!)

San Francisco, CA 94109



date and time

Start: October 13th, noon

End: October 14th, ~noon

Calendar of events




Sign Up To read!

Are you a performer? Do you enjoy reading aloud to a rapt audience of sailor types and literary hounds? Do you have incredible enthusiasm for cetology?  

Check out the reading schedule here to see what chapters are available to read aloud during the marathon and email ctaylor@maritime.org with your top three choices of chapters to reserve your spot in the line-up.

Our schedule coordinator, Crystal Taylor, will get back to you with a confirmation. 


Moby-Dick is truly our greatest American book, with potent lessons about race and racism, sexual identity, fate and destiny, environmental degradation, power and powerlessness, madness and obsession, faith and doubt, love and friendship, writing and imagination. (Just everything, really.) And Melville has much to teach us about coping with adversity, respecting ideological diversity, and living skillfully in a fickle, slippery world.

- Daniel Herman (full essay here)


Nautically Wild Readings: A Tradition of Moby-Dick Marathons

This event falls squarely into the grand tradition of the marathon readings of Moby Dick that take place annually in Mystic Seaport, New York City, and New Bedford, MA. These readings begin with Call Me Ishmael and carry through the night as Captain Ahab, Starbuck, Queequeg chase the White Whale and race fate. 

One of Melville’s main projects in the book is to show us that, just as every sailor has his own unique notion regarding Moby Dick the whale, every reader has his or her own unique understanding of Moby-Dick the book. As Ishmael says, it “begins to assume different aspects, according to your point of view.”

This is what makes an event like this so wonderful — with so many different people coming together to read (aloud, with voices), those myriad interpretations come alive in the most literal way: the familiar appears to us in a new way; the unfamiliar becomes available for the first time.

So don’t be shy! Join us in making this magnificent text come alive! No one needs to be an expert public speaker (or an expert public anything). The more nervous you are, the better! :)


Melville in San Francisco 

Herman Melville spent eight days in San Francisco, 12 October to 20 October 1860. He was 41 years old, in low spirits and poor health, and was on his way to China, sailing with his younger brother Tom, a ship captain. A few months before leaving, Melville wrote in a letter:

I anticipate as much pleasure as, at the age of forty, one temperately can, in the voyage I am going. I go under very happy auspices so far as ship and captain is concerned. A noble ship and a nobler captain — and he my brother. we have the breadth of both tropics before us, to sail over twice; and shall round the world. Our first port is San Francisco, which we shall probably make in 110 days from Boston. Thence we go to Manila — and thence, I hardly know where. (28 May 1860)

It took 135 days to sail from Boston to San Francisco. (The Panama Canal, of course, wouldn’t exist for another fifty years, so they had to sail all the way around South America and the Straits of Magellan.)  When they finally reached the Bay Area, they were stuck off the coast of Point Reyes for four days. He wrote a letter to his son Malcolm describing a sailor having recently fallen from the mast and died.

When the ship finally docked, Melville’s arrival made the local newspapers:

Coming.— Herman Melville, author of “Typee,” ” Omoo,” and other works, has arrived in San Francisco by the Meteor. (Sacramento Daily Union, 15 October 1860)

Herman Melville. — This well known author arrived here on board the ship Meteor, a few days since, from New York, and, as we learn, intends to return by the next steamer to New York. He is the author of several interesting novels — chiefly descriptive of sea life, and has long; since made his mark in the world of letters. Like Dana, he is on a tour of observation, and has made the trip around Cape Horn to benefit his health. Perhaps some of the literary institutions might prevail on him to favor us with a lecture or two before his departure. (Daily Alta California, 18 October 1860)

Like so many events in Melville’s life, we don’t know for certain what happened while he was here that he changed his mind about continuing across the Pacific and instead decided to return home. One likely explanation comes from Hershel Parker, who suggests a confluence of unhappy news: upon arrival in the city, the brothers received the letters awaiting each of them, in which Herman learned his manuscript of poems had been rejected by its prospective publisher, and Tom’s orders had him no longer sailing to Manila and Calcutta, but delivering cargo to England. Herman, devastated, made hasty plans to return home. And he was evidently in some rush — this time he sailed thirteen days to Panama, went overland by railroad across the isthmus, and then a (relatively speedy) ten days to New York City. (You can read more about Melville’s trip to San Francisco in Parker’s biography, as well as here, in a Historical Note by Howard C. Horsford.)

But before we let the brothers take their leave of San Francisco, there’s one interesting episode we’ll take a moment to discuss here. On the evening of 19 October, the night before he was due to depart, he paid a visit to Jessie Benton Fremont, who hosted a literary salon at her house on Black Point, on the water overlooking the bay and the Marin Headlands.

Ms. Fremont’s husband, John C. Fremont was a crucial figure in the establishment of the state of California: a famous explorer and military figure during the Mexican-American War, he was known as The Pathfinder of the West, or The Great Pathfinder. He later became one of the California’s first two senators, the very first Presidential candidate from the new anti-slavery Republican party, and the namesake of a certain city in the East Bay. (He was also the guy who named the Golden Gate.)

A few years after Melville’s visit, Black Point was taken over by the federal government and reinstated its original name, Point San Jose. We now know it as Fort Mason, located just west of the Maritime National Historical Park and Hyde Street Pier.

As for Melville’s visit to the Fremont house, once again, very little is known. Perhaps he took some time to explore the area around Black Point, or at least spent a moment gazing out at Alcatraz Island, its lighthouse blinking a mere mile off shore. In any case, this happy coincidence makes Fort Mason the perfect location for this event honoring his greatest work.



SF Moby Dick Marathon is a collaborative effort that joins together individuals passionate about the book with some of San Francisco’s literary and maritime institutions. 


The melville society 

The Melville Society is dedicated to the study and appreciation of the nineteenth-century American author Herman Melville, writer of TypeeMoby-Dick, and Billy Budd, such short stories as “Bartleby” and “Benito Cereno,” and several volumes of poetry, including Battle-Pieces and the epic Clarel.

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San Francisco Maritime National Park Association

For more than 65 years, San Francisco Maritime National Park Association has worked to bring maritime history to life for visitors to the San Francisco Bay Area.

San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park Research Center

The Maritime Research Center of San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park is the premier resource for San Francisco and Pacific Coast maritime history and the portal into the Park's collections