George Pollard Jr., Unlucky Captain of the Ship That Inspired Moby-Dick

Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab during the shooting of the 1956 film Moby Dick
Gregory Peck as Captain Ahab during the shooting of the 1956 film Moby Dick
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Captain George Pollard Jr. had no choice but to eat his cousin. Crammed aboard a small whaleboat with some of his crew, the captain had been drifting aimlessly in the South Pacific for more than two months. The sun was relentless, their thirst was unquenchable, and the hull was leaking. Saltwater had leached into the men’s stash of bread, and one by one, Pollard’s men died of starvation—and were promptly devoured by the hungry survivors.

It was a nightmare scenario. Weeks earlier, in November 1820, Pollard's crew had been pursuing (and harpooning) a pod of sperm whales when an angry 85-foot-long whale barreled head-on into the captain's ship, The Essex of Nantucket, sending it to the ocean's bottom. The 20 survivors scrambled into three small whaleboats, which eventually became separated during a storm. After two and a half months at sea, the days began to blur and the stockpile of food dwindled, and the four men remaining on Pollard’s boat realized they were all going to starve if food didn’t soon become available. So they agreed to draw lots: Whoever pulled the short stick would volunteer to be shot and eaten.

It was a terribly irony. When the Essex sank, the men had been relatively close to the Marquesas Islands, but Pollard's men were afraid of landing there—the islands were rumored to be full of cannibals. Pollard agreed to follow a longer route, hoping to drift south and then east in hopes of reaching Chile. That decision, however, had made cannibals of the men on board.

As for the drawing of lots, Pollard’s 18-year-old cousin, Owen Coffin, was the unlucky loser. When Pollard insisted that he take the young man's place, Coffin refused—and was summarily shot in the head. “He was soon dispatched,” Pollard grimly recalled, “and nothing of him left.” About two weeks later, Pollard's boat was discovered. By that point, the two surviving men—Pollard and sailor Charles Ramsdell—had resorted to drinking their own urine and were found gnawing on the bones of their deceased mates.

The ordeal would haunt Captain Pollard. Before the voyage, he had promised Coffin’s mother that the boy would return home safely, and his failure to keep Coffin alive plagued Pollard's conscience. After surviving a second shipwreck, the captain took a job on sturdy land as Nantucket's night watchman, where he looked over the streets and wharves.

Three decades later, when Pollard was 60, Herman Melville—fresh from finishing Moby-Dick—paid the aging skipper a visit. Pollard didn’t know about the book, and the two didn’t exchange many words. But Melville harbored a secret: The sinking of the Essex had inspired his novel. (We should caution that Melville did not base the monomaniacal character of Ahab on Pollard himself. "While Melville was inspired by Pollard's adventures," the BBC says, "the unlucky seafarer's character is not thought to have been the basis for the novel's obsessive Capt Ahab.")

Melville marveled at the tormented man, saying of his encounter: “To the islanders he was a nobody—to me, the most impressive man, tho’ wholly unassuming, even humble—that I ever encountered.” In fact, Melville mentioned Pollard in his epic Clarel, the longest poem in American literature.

Never he smiled;
Call him, and he would come; not sour
In spirit, but meek and reconciled:
Patient he was, he none withstood;
Oft on some secret thing would brood.

Swear Off Toilet Paper With This Bidet Toilet Seat That's Easy to Install and Costs Less Than $100

Tushy
Tushy

The recent coronavirus-related toilet paper shortage has put the spotlight on the TP-less alternative that Americans have yet to truly embrace: the bidet.

It's not exactly a secret that toilet paper is wasteful—it's estimated to cost 437 billion gallons of water and 15 million trees to produce our yearly supply of the stuff. But while the numbers are plain to see, bidets still aren't common in the United States.

Well, if price was ever the biggest barrier standing in the way of swearing off toilet paper for good, there's now a cost-effective way to make the switch. Right now, you can get the space-saving Tushy bidet for less than $100. And you'll be able to install it yourself in just 10 minutes.

What is a Bidet?

Before we go any further, let’s just go ahead and get the awkward technical details out of the way. Instead of using toilet paper after going to the bathroom, bidets get you clean by using a stream of concentrated water that comes out of a faucet or nozzle. Traditional bidets look like weird toilets without tanks or lids, and while they’re pretty uncommon in the United States, you’ve definitely seen one if you’ve ever been to Europe or Asia.

That said, bidets aren’t just good for your butt. When you reduce toilet paper usage, you also reduce the amount of chemicals and emissions required to produce it, which is good for the environment. At the same time, you’re also saving money. So this is a huge win-win.

Unfortunately, traditional bidets are not an option for most Americans because they take up a lot of bathroom space and require extra plumbing. That’s where Tushy comes in.

The Tushy Classic Bidet Toilet Seat.

Unlike traditional bidets, the Tushy bidet doesn’t take up any extra space in your bathroom. It’s an attachment for your existing toilet that places an adjustable self-cleaning nozzle at the back of the bowl, just underneath the seat. But it doesn’t require any additional plumbing or electricity. All you have to do is remove the seat from your toilet, connect the Tushy to the clean water supply behind the toilet, and replace the seat on top of the Tushy attachment.

The Tushy has a control panel that lets you adjust the angle and pressure of the water stream for a perfect custom clean. The nozzle lowers when the Tushy is activated and retracts into its housing when not in use, keeping it clean and sanitary.

Like all bidets, the Tushy system takes a little getting used to. But once you get the hang of it, you’ll never want to use toilet paper again. In fact, Tushy is so sure you’ll love their product, they offer customers a 60-day risk-free guarantee. If you don’t love your Tushy, you can send it back for a full refund, minus shipping and handling.

Normally, the Tushy Classic retails for $109, but right now you can get the Tushy Classic for just $89. So if you’ve been thinking about going TP-free, now is definitely the time to do it.

At Mental Floss, we only write about the products we love and want to share with our readers, so all products are chosen independently by our editors. Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a percentage of any sale made from the links on this page. Prices and availability are accurate as of the time of publication.

5 Places to Find Free E-Books

She's grinning because she got hooked on an Agatha Christie whodunit without spending a penny.
She's grinning because she got hooked on an Agatha Christie whodunit without spending a penny.
sawaddee3002/iStock via Getty Images

Even if you have a long history of choosing hefty hardcovers and dog-eared paperbacks over e-books, life in quarantine may be giving you a new appreciation for your tablet’s ability to download a book the moment you decide to bump it to the top of your to-be-read list.

With the world of digital reading material at your fingertips and probably a little more time to bury your nose in a book than usual, your credit card could soon have a reason to protest—but it doesn’t have to. Discover five different places you can download free e-books online below.

1. Project Gutenberg

Project Gutenberg is a digital library with more than 60,000 e-books in the public domain. You won’t come across the hottest new thriller on here, but you will find countless classics in every genre, available to read online or download as EPUB or Kindle files. Make your way through Jane Austen’s whole catalog, tackle Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick, or get hooked on an Agatha Christie whodunit.

2. ManyBooks

ManyBooks is another site that features older books in the public domain, but it also includes e-books by self-published authors you probably haven’t heard of. It’s a great place to discover something new (or old), and the site layout is well-organized and modern.

3. Libby

You'll find the hottest new thriller on the Libby app, though you might have to wait your turn to check it out. The app, created by digital library company Overdrive, gives users access to their local library’s entire inventory of e-books (and, for some libraries, audiobooks, comics, and magazines, too). All you have to do is download the app and log in with your library card credentials.

4. hoopla

Like Libby, the hoopla app lets you check out digital content from your local library; however, there are a couple key differences between the platforms. For one, hoopla offers TV shows and movies in addition to e-books and audiobooks. Also, you don’t have to place something on hold and wait for another user to return their copy—every piece of content is available for you to borrow whenever you want. Instead, there’s a limit on how many checkouts you’re allowed per month, which varies by library.

5. Internet Archive

The Internet Archive is a treasure trove of material both for research purposes and recreational reading. After you sign up for a free account, you can borrow up to 10 books at a time, each for a two-week loan period, though you might have to hop on the waitlist for popular works that aren’t in the public domain. The Internet Archive’s Open Library contains plenty of modern novels, like Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games and some Stephen King bestsellers, and it recently launched a temporary National Emergency Library with more than a million e-books that you can check out immediately—no need to join a waitlist. However, since the Internet Archive acquires e-books through donations, purchases, and partnerships with academic libraries, rather than licensing them directly from publishers, authors have spoken out against the National Emergency Library, explaining that its unlimited lending model prevents them from earning royalties on their work. If you're looking for the best way to support an author, we recommend sticking to library-affiliated apps like hoopla (or ordering a physical book from your favorite indie bookstore).