Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"Swallowed by a Whale" from Edcon Publishing

When the whale's jaws close, one man will be swallowed.

James Bartley was swallowed by a whale one summer afternoon in 1891. He claimed that he lived inside the whale for three days. For years after that, he lived a full and active life. He became famous as the man who had lived inside a whale. Bartley was a sailor on the British whaling ship, The Star of the East. Near the end of the voyage, the crew was hunting whales in the Arctic Ocean. It had been the most successful voyage the ship had ever made. The hold of the ship was nearly full of valuable whale meat and blubber.

On this particular afternoon, James Bartley and ten other sailors had left the whaling ship in a small wooden boat. They were chasing whales and trying to kill them with harpoons. It was growing late. The sailors had already killed one whale and wounded another. Bartley's job was to steer the light wooden boat by controlling the rudder. While six men rowed and four men worked with the harpoons, Bartley held the handle that controlled the rudder and kept the boat headed for the whale.

Without any warning, the wounded whale suddenly turned and swam right toward the small boat packed with sailors. For every whaling man this was a moment to dread. An angry whale could flip a boat out of the water and fling the sailors in every direction. The whale came straight at them. When it struck the boat, the men leaped into the water. The force of the blow broke the boat into pieces. James Bartley, in the back of the boat near the rudder, was the last man to jump. Every other sailor escaped unhurt.

But not James Bartley. He leaped too late and landed right in the whale's open mouth. That was the last his friends saw of Bartley for three days, although he was closer to them than they knew. Some of them had seen him fall into the whale's mouth. The captain and the crew decided that he must be dead.

The next day a whale floated to the surface near the ship. The sailors saw that it had been harpooned earlier. They hauled the dead whale onto the deck. For two days they worked on the whale, cutting off the meat and blubber. Finally one of the sailors said to the man next to him,

"I just remembered that only one wounded whale got away from us. "

The friend replied, "Yes, and this must be the one."

The first sailor asked, "Don't you know what that means? The wounded whale that got away from us was the one that swallowed Bartley. "

Quickly they told the other sailors. They all decided to cut into the whale's stomach to discover if Bartley were still there. Slowly they cut into the whale, being careful not to cut through too far. They dreaded what they might find. Before long, they discovered what seemed to be the form of a man inside the stomach. Using the least pressure possible, they cut through the stomach wall and found James Bartley. He was not conscious, but he was alive.

They laid the unconscious sailor on the deck. They rubbed his arms and legs to get the blood moving. They put pressure on his chest to help his heart beat better. Slowly, Bartley became conscious again. But he was out of his head. He cried out, "I am in a furnace!" He complained of great pain inside his head. He said that he felt terrible heat.

Tenderly, the sailors lifted Bartley from the deck and put him into a bed. At first he would fling himself about in his fever, but gradually he quieted down. When the ship reached England, Bartley was well enough to tell what had happened after the whale had flipped his boat into the water and broken it into pieces. He described his adventure inside the whale.

He said he remembered very well the moment he jumped from the boat and felt his feet strike something soft. "I felt myself being drawn downward, feet first. I realized that 1 was being swallowed by a whale. 1 was drawn lower and lower, a wall of flesh surrounding me, yet the pressure was not painful, and the flesh easily gave way before my slightest movement."
Once inside the whale's stomach, he felt great heat and pressure. Then he lost consciousness. He remembered nothing more until he awoke three days later, lying on the deck of the ship.

Many people did not believe Bartley, even though the captain and the whole crew swore that his tale was true. Scientists questioned Bartley, checking and rechecking all parts of his tale against his friends' statements. It got so bad that he dreaded any questions. Finally he was tested by a team of doctors. They reported that Bartley was a very strong man. It was possible for him to stay alive inside a whale. Their report seemed to provide the last bit of proof. Not all of Bartley's story was accepted by everyone. But, the fact that he had been swallowed by a whale was believed. His adventure was widely reported. For a while he was a famous man.

According to the Bible, Jonah lived inside a whale for four days. Bartley's experience was a shorter one, but it was more than he wanted.

1. James Bartley claimed that he lived inside a whale for _________ .
a. two hours
b. two days
c. three days
d. four days

2. The Star of the East was ________.
a. a British whaling ship
b. an American whaling ship
c. a rescue ship
d. a hospital ship

3. Bartley's job was to _________ .
a. row the small boat
b. steer the small boat
c. set the sails
d. harpoon whales

4. The boat was attacked by __________ .
a. an enemy ship
b. a school of sharks
c. an unseen monster
d. a wounded whale

5. Bartley fell __________ .
a. into the open sea
b. back into the boat
c. into the whale's mouth
d. under the wooden boat

6. The sailors discovered that Bartley was ____________ .
a. alive and conscious
b. alive but not conscious
c. unable to remember anything
d. calm and cool

7. After his adventure with the whale, _________ .
a. Bartley bought a whaling ship
b. Bartley sold his story to magazines
c. Bartley could never work again
d. Bartley became a famous man

8. Scientists did not believe Bartley's story because _________ .
a. the rest of the crew said it was not true
b. they needed the whale for proof
c. they had never been to sea themselves
d. they didn't think anyone could live inside a whale

9. Another name for the story could be __________ .
a. "A Modern Jonah."
b. "Lost at Sea."
c. "The Most Friendly Whale."
d. "Don't Go Near the Water."

10. This story is mainly about ______________ .
a. how to hunt whales
b. a strange escape from death
c. how to fool scientists
d. the last whaling ship in the world

11. Blubber is a thick layer of ______________ under the whale's skin.
a. fat
b. dark meat
c. bone
d. muscle

Whales on Youtube

Friday, September 3, 2010

"John Henry" a "Tall Tale" from VOA


Today we tell a traditional American story called a “tall tale.” A tall tale is a story about a person who is larger than life. The descriptions in the story are exaggerated – much greater than in real life. Long ago, the people who settled in undeveloped areas of America first told tall tales. After a hard day’s work, people gathered to tell each other stories.

Each group of workers had its own tall tale hero. An African American man named John Henry was the hero of former slaves and the people who built the railroads. He was known for his strength.

Railroads began to link the United States together in the nineteenth century. The railroads made it possible to travel from one side of the country to the other in less than a week. Before then, the same trip might have taken up to six months.

Railroad companies employed thousands of workers to create the smooth, flat pathways required by trains. John Henry was perhaps the most famous worker. He was born a slave in the southern United States. He became a free man as a result of America’s Civil War. Then, he worked for the railroads.

Confirming details of John Henry’s life is not possible. That is because no one knows or sure if he really lived. This is one of the things that makes his story interesting. However, John Henry is based, in part, on real events. Many people say he represents the spirit of growth in America during this period.

Now, here is Shep O’Neal with our story.


SHEP O’NEAL: People still talk about the night John Henry was born. It was dark and cloudy. Then, lightening lit up the night sky. John Henry’s birth was a big event. His parents showed him to everyone they met. John Henry was the most powerful looking baby people had ever seen. He had thick arms, wide shoulders and strong muscles. John Henry started growing when he was one day old. He continued growing until he was the strongest man who ever lived.

John Henry grew up in a world that did not let children stay children for long. One day, he was sitting on his father’s knee. The boy picked up a small piece of steel and a workman’s tool, a hammer. He looked at the two objects, then said, “A hammer will be the death of me.”

Before John Henry was six years old, he was carrying stones for workers building a nearby railroad. By the age of ten, he worked from early in the morning until night. Often, he would stop and listen to the sould of a train far away. He told his family, “I am going to be a steel-driver some day.”

Steel-drivers helped create pathways for the railroad lines. These laborers had the job of cutting holes in rock. They did this by hitting thick steel drills, or spikes.

By the time John Henry was a young man, he was one of the best steel-drivers in the country. He could work for hours without missing a beat. People said he worked so fast that his hammer moved like lightening.


John Henry was almost two meters tall. He weighed more than ninety kilograms. He had a beautiful deep voice, and played an instrument called a banjo. John Henry married another steel-driver, a woman named Polly Ann. They had a son.

John Henry went to work as a steel-driver for the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, or C-and-O. The company asked him to lead workers on a project to extend the railroad into the Allegheny Mountains. The workers made good progress on the project until they started working near Big Bend Mountain in West Virginia.

The company’s owners said the mountain was too big to build a railroad around it. So the workers were told they had to force their drills through it. This meant creating a tunnel more than one-and-one half kilometers long.

The project required about one thousand laborers and lasted three years. Pay was low and the work was difficult. The workers had to breathe thick black smoke and dust. Hundreds of men became sick. Many died.

John Henry was the strongest and fastest man involved in the project. He used a hammer that weighed more than six kilograms. Some people say he was able to cut a path of three to six meters a day.


That July was the hottest month ever in West Virginia. Many workers became tired and weak in the heat. John Henry was concerned his friends might lose their jobs. So, he picked up their hammers and began doing their work.

One week, he did his own work and that of several other steel-drivers. He worked day and night, rarely stopping to eat. The men thanked John Henry for his help. He just smiled and said, “A man ain’t nothing but a man. He has just got to do his best.”

The extreme heat continued for weeks. One day, a salesman came to the work area with a new drilling machine powered by steam. He said it could drill holes faster than twelve men working together. The railroad company planned to buy the machine if it worked as well as the salesman said.

The supervisor of the workers dismissed the salesman’s claims. He said, “I have the best steel-driver in the country. His name is John Henry, and he can beat more than twenty men working together.” The salesman disputed the statements. He said the company could have the machine without cost if John Henry was faster.

The supervisor called to John Henry. He said, “This man does not believe that you can drill faster. How about a race?’

John Henry looked at the machine and saw images of the future. He saw machines taking the place of America’s best laborers. He saw himself and his friends unemployed and standing by a road, asking for food. He saw men losing their families and their rights as human beings.

John Henry told the supervisor he would never let the machine take his job. His friends all cheered. However, John Henry’s wife Polly Ann was not happy.

“Competing against the machine will be the death of you,” she said. “You have a wife and a child. If anything happens to you, we will not ever smile again.”

John Henry lifted his son into the air. He told his wife, “A man ain’t nothing but a man. But, a man always has to do his best. Tomorrow, I will take my hammer and drive that steel faster than any machine.”


On the day of the big event, many people came to Big Bend Mountain to watch. John Henry and the salesman stood side by side. Even early in the day, the sun was burning hot.

The competition began. John Henry kissed his hammer and started working. At first, the steam-powered drill worked two times faster than he did. Then, he started working with a hammer in each hand. He worked faster and faster. In the mountain, the heat and dust were so thick that most men would have had trouble breathing. The crowd shouted as clouds of dust came from inside the mountain.

The salesman was afraid when he heard what sounded like the mountain breaking. However, it was only the sound of John Henry at work.

Polly Ann and her son cheered when the machine was pulled from the tunnel. It had broken down. Polly Ann urged John Henry to come out. But he kept working, faster and faster. He dug deep into the darkness, hitting the steel so hard that his body began to fail him. He became weak, and his heart burst.

John Henry fell to the ground. There was a terrible silence. Polly Ann did not move because she knew what happened. John Henry’s blood spilled over the ground. But he still held one of the hammers.

“I beat them,” he said. His wife cried out, “Don’t go, John Henry.” “Bring me a cool drink of water,” he said. Then he took his last breath.

Friends carried his body from the mountain. They buried him near the house where he was born. Crowds went there after they heard about John Henry’s death.

Soon, the steam drill and other machines replaced the steel-drivers. Many laborers left their families, looking for work. They took the only jobs they could find. As they worked, some sang about John Henry.


FAITH LAPIDUS: You have just heard the story of John Henry. It was adapted for Special English by George Grow. Your storyteller was Shep O’Neal. Join us again next week for another AMERICAN STORY, in Special English on the Voice of America. This is Faith Lapidus.