The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial

“These courageous men have been known by names other than fishermen. They were father, husband, brother, son. They were known as the finest kind. Their lives and their loss have touched our community in profound ways. We remain strengthened by their character, inspired by their courage and proud to call them Gloucestermen.” — from the memorial plaque at the Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial

Gloucester is a small city that sits near the tip of Cape Ann, in Massachusetts. The city is growing increasingly gentrified, but there’s no doubt it maintains its roots in the fishing industry. And when you think of fishing, how can you not think of the Gloucester fisherman? Generations of men and recently women from the community have made their living from fishing. Many went to sea never to return. The Gloucester Fisherman’s Memorial was built in 1925 to forever memorialize them. A few years short of the 400th anniversary of the founding of Gloucester, and the 100th birthday of the memorial itself, I felt compelled to revisit.

More than 5300 men who left Gloucester Harbor full of hope are known to have been lost at sea. Swept up in Nor’easters, collisions at sea and all sorts of tragedies, whole ships full of fishermen were lost in the unforgiving North Atlantic. Technology makes it safer to go to sea today than its ever been before, but there are still dangers lurking in the unknown. Names are still added to the memorial plaques, but instead of hundreds of names in a given year like 1879, there might be a couple. The most familiar names in recent years were those lost during the “perfect storm” of 1991.

You don’t get into commercial fishing to be famous, you go to make a living, hoping to return to those you love when your work is done. The memorial itself is modeled after a man named Captain Clayton Morrissey, who died of an apparent heart attack while at sea, years after the memorial had been erected. There’s tragedy in this too, but doesn’t it feel appropriate, that he should pass away at sea? In a way, it makes his image on the statue ring more true.

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