The Sacred Cod hangs proudly in the Massachusetts State House. Well, Sacred Cod number three to be exact. Between the fire and thefts, this proud wooden pisces is practically an endangered species.
Originally installed in the Colonial state house in the early 1700’s, the carved wooden fish was meant as a constant reminder of the booming fishing trade which had supported the native people and was now beginning to create wealth for the colonists. The dimensions of the original fish are not known, but it wasn’t long before the wooden Gadus morhua was destroyed in a fire that burnt down the State House in 1747. Just one year later a new fish was hewn and installed in the new State House.
Unfortunately, this new fish was not long for the world either, as it was poached by a mystery thief, never to be seen again. Undaunted, a third (and so far, final) cod sculpture was created and hung from the State House ceiling, but even this third fish could not stay put forever.
Finished and installed in 1784 the Sacred Cod that continues to hang in the State House to this day is a five foot long fish made of pine. The beloved icon continued to overlook the House of Representatives for over one hundred years until 1933 when the fish suddenly disappeared. The theft took the city by storm, taking up page after page of newspaper articles, spurring the dredging of a local lake, and even causing some officials to wonder if they should conduct business without the watchful dead eye of the fish. Soon it became clear that the theft was related to someone at the Harvard Lampoon, and after some detective work by a member of the Boston PD, the sacred cod was returned in a flower box dropped on the lawn.
When it was rehung, the Sacred Cod was hoisted six extra feet above the ground to put it even more securely out of the reach of potential thieves.
It worked until the 1960s when a prank war targeted the holy fish again. A man dismounted it and began to take it from House of Representatives. He didn’t make it very far, though. The fish was heavier than he expected and realized he would not be able to make it out of the state house. The man deposited it into a broom closet and exited the state house codless.
The fishy fetish still hangs above the House of Representatives, watching as the tides of government ebb and flow. Who knows how long it will remain there before something fishy happens…
Visit Massachusetts with Atlas Obscura Trips
Fishing Traditions and Marine Ecology in Martha's Vineyard
Set sail, September 12–15, with a seasoned local fisherman, reel in the ocean’s freshest fare, and explore the history and ecology of Martha’s Vineyard’s beaches, hatcheries, and wildlife sanctuaries.