Investigating the Dildos of 19th-Century Nantucket

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Photo: NBC/NBCUniversal, Inc.

Ah, 19th-century Nantucket: home of the whaling industry, and WASPs. The foggy land whose chilly shores and white-capped waters feature prominently in one Great American Novel about a white whale.

But what if Moby-Dick wasn’t the only iconic dick in Nantucket’s storied past? What if, my children, there was another, different sort of dick that was just as important a thread in Nantucket’s rich historical tapestry? 

Well, gather round as I tell of the dildo of yore, otherwise known as the “he’s at home.”

Ben Shattuck at Lit Hub took a deep dive into Nantucket’s dildo history. The history would suggest that these were gifts from seafaring husbands, who were rarely at home and didn’t want their wives to stray or suffer a sad, dickless existence — “some insurance of fidelity for a husband who was rarely present” or a way to “console women whose husbands were away for great periods of time. A way of making love when your lover wasn’t actually with you,” explains the writer. But was the practice common? Were whaling wives regularly just going at it with their big, stony husband-stand-ins? This remains unclear.

His story begins with 80-year-old Connie Congdon, who found one in her chimney many decades ago. A description:

It was heavier than it looked. The head had been painted wild-berry red. The shaft was off-white and touched with light brown stains. Through the center was a hole no thicker than a straw, as if it had been skewered for drying. Saw marks streaked the cross section of the flat base, and it had been circumcised with whittling scrapes.

As Shattuck investigated further, he got conflicting answers: Some said the “he’s at home” was just a myth, just local legend, folklore, hogwash. Others said they were such common domestic items museums didn’t see the value in preserving them, and now there are none. Others still said they had never even heard of them, but could supply some “erotic scrimshaws” instead.  

But I'll subscribe to this theory, suggested by the author: The "he's at home" did exist, and was probably just as popular as the Rabbit, but nobody wants to deal with the historical evidence that the lonely, left-behind wife actually kept herself satisfied while her husband was off a-whaling.