Charles Melville Scammon, by eva
Scammon was the premier whaler on the West Coast, and the man who very nearly made the gray whale extinct. He was also, and paradoxically, the man who wrote "THE" landmark book on marine mammalogy in the 19th century. He entered the egg war's fray only because he'd taken a job with the customs office patrolling the waters of the Bay and beyond. Being a boat cop wasn't exactly his life's vocation but it was steady work for a guy working on a book project who had a family to support.
Scammon is a character whose life is so fascinating and whose talents diverged in so many different directions that he really deserves his own book. Separately, I'd always wondered about the middle name - was there any family connection to Herman Melville, the author of the American masterpiece Moby-Dick, or, The Whale?
Beside the name, there was another significant similarity: Both men, with notable early successes under their belts, had each written a landmark book that would only be appreciated after their deaths. And the process of writing those books had exacted a significant financial and spiritual toll on their individual lives. Failure was not just a major theme in Moby-Dick, it's a major theme in the later lives of both Scammon and Herman Melville.
Shortly before I gave the presentation at The Maritime Museum Library, I contacted the Melville Society in New York as a last-ditch effort to find a connection between the two men. I was pretty sure no one at the Melville Society would get back to me - after all, THEY are Melvillists (Herman Melvillists, at that!) and I am... a cartoonist. At the time I knew that Herman Melvill was originally a Melvill (and not a Melville), and that the shared name may not imply any family connection whatsoever, but I thought it was worth asking.