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A Whale's Tale

Oct 2, 2015 1:00 PM | 1 comment

Don’t you love a heartwarming animal story? You know, the ones where dogs and cats put aside their instinctual differences to find their way home or children risk it all to rescue baby pandas? Those are excellent stories.

This is not one of those stories. 

I found a photo of a large whale on a flatbed truck in a folder appropriately named “Animals.” The 1953 photo’s caption told of a seven year old, 75 foot, 70 ton fin whale named Mrs. Haroy. Naturally, I had some questions.

"Where's Jonah?" Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. Print. 

With a bit of research, I found some answers. But, boy howdy, they aren’t pretty. Here we go.

In 1951, a group of Danish fishermen were sailing off the coast of the Norwegian island of Haroy when they spotted a fantastically huge fin whale. They then shot harpoons into said fantastically huge whale and lugged it to shore. She was quickly embalmed and given the name of Mrs. Haroy. 

Over the next year her owner, a Mr. Lief Soegaard, exhibited her in over 60 cities across Europe. Reports say that she was seen by over 6,000,000 during that year.

If you feel like it, you can actually watch a video of Mrs. Haroy’s last hours on EUScreen, Europe’s version of the Digital Public Library of America. It isn’t pretty. With that said, there is a horribly hilarious and slightly disturbing image of young children gawking at the marine behemoth, one going so far as to climb inside the mouth (it comes at 0:51). 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. 

In early 1953, Mrs. Haroy was returned to her ocean home, though this time above the water, not in it. She arrived in Brooklyn on March 30th, 1953. Mr. Soegaard’s intention was to wow Americans with a whale extravaganza just as he'd done in Europe. Coney Island was to be her home base while in New York City. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 30 Mar 1953. Print. 

When she arrived, Brooklynites reacted variably. As reported in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle: “Some sneered at publicity statements that it was the largest leviathan ever caught in North Atlantic waters, saying they had seen larger. Others bemoaned the slaughtering of whales" (1 April 1953).

Another agitated onlooker was quoted saying, “Pretty soon we won’t see any more whales in the Artic. In the Antarctic they’ll soon be gone, too” (1 April 1953). This guy might have been on to something. 

Mrs. Haroy hung around Coney Island for months (as if she had a choice). And then, tragedy struck! 

I know, I know. You’re thinking, “The whale was already harpooned and her body was desecrated by tiny feet. What more could happen?!

I’ll tell you what. She caught fire.

Yes, early in 1954 the structure that protected Mrs. Haroy from the sun caught fire, badly burning the whale. I assume she was quite flammable considering the chemicals inside her incredibly large veins. 

She had already begun to smell, but within days of the fire she began to really smell. 

Keep in mind, Mrs. Hoary was still sitting at 3222 Stillwell Avenue, right smack dab in the middle of Coney Island's tourist hub. 

Desk Atlas of the Borough of Brooklyn. New York: E. Belcher & Hyde 1929. Print. 

She remained on her half-burned funeral pyre for weeks. Local business owners claimed the whale was driving away customers. Residents, naturally, were equally unpleased. 

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 20 July 1954.

On July 21st, 1954, the Eagle reported that the threat of fines and imprisonment had finally convinced Mr. Soegaard to remove the whale that “wafted unladylike odors through Coney Island for some weeks” (21 July 1954).

You totally want her to go to a museum or a place where she can promote conservation or something, right? 

Sorry. As reported in the Eagle: “In court the owner promised they would begin dissecting the whale today, and that, within a week, it would be deposited below three feet of dirt in a Staten Island dump. ‘You had better stick to minnows.’ Justice Thompson told the whale owner” (21 July 1954).  

Brooklyn Daily Eagle 21 July 1954.

Her heart, which was exhibited alongside her during her days as an entertainer, was 1,100 pounds. I assume it went to the dump as well. 

And so ends the tale of Mrs. Haroy. 

...I know, right? 


5/31/2016 3:27:05 PM #

A much enjoyed story!

While I doubt many had seen a whale greater than Mrs. Haroy, it must have been a sight to see.