In September of 1920, the corpse of an 80-foot-long blue whale drifted into Bragar Bay, on the western Atlantic side of the Isle of Lewis. It had a harpoon in its head, trailed by 50 feet of rope. The harpoon had not detonated, shooting the barbed “stun” into the creature, and so had merely become lodged into the whale’s body thus sentencing it to a slow death.
The beached whale attracted a great deal of attention due to its size, but the issue of what to do with it soon took center stage. Village officials contacted a whaling company to retrieve the body, but no ships ever arrived, perhaps because of Bragar’s remote location. A few industrial buyers from the mainland expressed interest, but none took the bait. The corpse began to rot, and Bragar was overwhelmed by the stench. With no one coming to retrieve the whale, the villagers rolled up their sleeves and dealt with it themselves.
The blubber was used for oil, disinfectant, ointment, tar, and medicine. It was harvested by tapping into the whale’s body and filling bottles and barrels with the gloopy fat. After a year the skeleton lay bare and the decaying organs washed out to sea.
Looking at the skeletal remains of the whale, local postmaster Murdo Morrison thought the jawbone might make a nice addition to his gate. So with the assistance of two horses and a lot of village men, he hauled the jawbone up to his workshop. He toiled away on it there, filing the bone and hammering iron joins. Morrison had claimed the harpoon as well, and while being cleaned it finally detonated. It tore a splintered hole in the wall of his garage, but luckily the postmaster himself was unharmed. Soon after, the jawbone was raised as an arch in front of Morrison’s home. It still stands there today, 25 feet tall and 4 tons heavy, with the harpoon at its apex.
No one knows where the whale was harpooned or by whom, but its arrival in Bragar is now the stuff of local lore and, of course, pride. The arch, which has more recently been coated in fiberglass for preservation purposes, has been bid upon numerous times over the century since it was raised. But the arch is not and will never be for sale.