Retired Morro Bay librarian Jude Sanner Long recalls numerous visits by Hershel Parker, the world’s authority on Herman Melville.
“Hershel was a giant in our Morro Bay Library; tall and looking scholarly in a comfortable way. I always knew when he was in the building, and I appreciated his quiet friendliness and humor, though I felt his intellect deserved a more extensive book collection than we offered,” Sanner said.
Born Nov. 26, 1935, in Comanche, Okla., the literary giant chose to spend his retirement days in Morro Bay. But like many who are inspired by the quiet lifestyle of the Central Coast, Parker is transitioning to his next career as he finishes his final publication on Melville. In 1997, Parker was a Pulitzer Prize finalist for “Herman Melville: A Biography Volume 1, 1819-1851.” In 2016, Volume III is scheduled for publication.
Parker retired as the H. Fletcher Brown Professor Emeritus from the University of Delaware. He co-edited the Norton Critical Edition of Melville’s “Moby-Dick” (1967 and 2001), was the general editor of the Northwestern-Newberry Edition of “The Writings of Herman Melville,” and his first two volumes of Melville’s biography were published by Johns Hopkins University Press (1996 and 2002). His personal bibliography is massive. He also taught at Northwestern University and USC.
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However, he now lights up telling stories about his current project, “Ornery People: Who Were the Depression Okies?”
“Mother was so poor,” Parker said. “We moved constantly. I thought I had no family history, but I’ve found relatives dating back to the American Revolution.”
He talks about his great-great-great grandfather being “… connected to one of (the) most horrendous events in the war (Pyle’s Massacre, 1781) and his “… people involved in the Battle of Kings Mountain.” In 1780, the North Carolina battle was a decisive victory for the Patriots over the Loyalists.
Researching his family history has led Parker to becoming a regular contributor to the Journal of the American Revolution (www.allthingsliberty.com).
His October 2014 article, “Fanning Outfoxes Marion,” was printed in the journal’s annual anthology (JAR Books, May 2015) where he was credited with unearthing “an important tool for researchers, who are able to pinpoint a specific person, event or location without having to review thousands of applications … namely hundreds of Revolutionary War pension applications …”
Parker is amazed by today’s access to traditional methods of literary research. “What 25 years has done to help (one) research,” he said. “I used to have to beg someone to research something for me when I couldn’t travel to get to it myself.” His 35 years of Melville research, including 90,000 online pages and files and shelves of stored materials, will be donated to Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas.