Updated: May 19, 2021
Actress, Clara Bow, outside the Mattapoisett House on Water St., filming the silent movie, Down to the Sea in Ships- photograph taken c. 1921
Clara Bow (1905-1965) was just an emerging silent film star in 1921, her appearance in this film catapulted her to stardom. She appeared in numerous films after Down to the Sea in Ships including Poisoned Paradise, May Time, and Black Oxen. She is sometimes credited as the inspiration of the cartoon character, Betty Boop.
Elmer Clifton filmed Down to the Sea in Ships in 1921-1922 and featured film stars William Walcott, Marguerite Courtot, and Clara Bow. It was shot mostly in New Bedford but also includes scenes at the Apponegansett Meeting House in Dartmouth as well as the Mattapoisett House in Mattapoisett.
The title was inspired by Psalm 107, verses 23-26: Some went out on the sea in ships; they were merchants on the mighty waters. They saw the works of the LORD, his wonderful deeds in the deep. For he spoke and stirred up a tempest that lifted high the waves. They mounted up to the heavens and went down to the depths; in their peril their courage melted away.
Elmer Clifton drew inspiration from Herman Melville's Moby Dick and Alexander Starbuck's History of the American Whale Fishery, which are quoted in the opening scenes. The most impressive scenes in this film are the whaling ones which were filmed on the bark Charles W. Morgan. This ship, built in 1841, went on a two month, 5,000 mile whaling cruise to secure the scenes of the black fish, porpoises and fighting whales.