A Year-Round Guide to Franklin and Nantahala

How do you move a 54-foot-long, 110,000-pound beached whale? Honestly, it sounds impossible. At least, it did in April 1928, when the massive carcass of a sperm whale washed ashore

Madison County Championship Rodeo

How do you move a 54-foot-long, 110,000-pound beached whale? Honestly, it sounds impossible. At least, it did in April 1928, when the massive carcass of a sperm whale washed ashore

Rosemary and Goat Cheese Strata

How do you move a 54-foot-long, 110,000-pound beached whale? Honestly, it sounds impossible. At least, it did in April 1928, when the massive carcass of a sperm whale washed ashore

Back in the Day: A Whale of a Tale

How do you move a 54-foot-long, 110,000-pound beached whale? Honestly, it sounds impossible. At least, it did in April 1928, when the massive carcass of a sperm whale washed ashore one morning at Wrightsville Beach. Initially, the mammal became a tourist attraction, drawing an estimated 50,000 gawkers.

Soon, though, the dead whale — as dead whales tend to do — reeked. Like a “factory for unexpurgated skunks,” mused H.H. Brimley, director of the State Museum (now the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences) in Raleigh, who hoped to claim the whale’s skeleton for the museum. The town mayor happily obliged Brimley’s proposal, but the project quickly became a comedy of errors.

Before making the trip to Raleigh, the bones of “Trouble” were excavated from Topsail Island by local fishermen after six and a half months under the sand. photograph by LOUIS T. MOORE, COURTESY OF NORTH CAROLINA MUSEUM OF NATURAL SCIENCES

First, when Brimley didn’t make whale-moving arrangements quickly enough, exasperated town officials ordered a marine towing company to drag the carcass out to sea, but the tugboat couldn’t budge it.

Meanwhile, Brimley had his assistant saw off the whale’s 600-pound lower jawbone for a museum souvenir, but an overnight storm blew the mandible out to sea. (Or it was stolen, depending on whom you believe.) Brimley devised an alternate plan to have the whale towed to Topsail Island, where a museum crew dissected it and buried the carcass in the sand to finish decomposing.

The whale finally made it to Raleigh. It eventually went on display in February 1930 — nearly two years after washing ashore — and it still hangs in the museum today. Despite Brimley’s attempt to dub the skeletal specimen “Wrightsville,” his amused friends gave the whale a more fitting name — “Trouble” — and that’s the one that stuck.

North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences
11 West Jones Street
Raleigh, NC 27601
(919) 707-9800
naturalsciences.org

This story was published on Jul 26, 2021

Jimmy Tomlin

Tomlin has been a features writer and columnist for the High Point Enterprise since 1990. His writing has won numerous state, regional, and national awards.