The Sacred Cod

When you visit the State House in Boston, you may be surprised to see a large wooden fish hanging in the back of the Chamber of the House of Representatives. Did you ever wonder what the fish is doing there, in the beautiful old hall where the representatives meet?

The fish is a carving of a codfish and it is called the "Sacred Cod". It represents the importance of the fishing industry in the early history of the state. Fishing is the oldest industry in the United States. Settlers and Indians were fishing long before the Pilgrims came to the New World in 1620. The Indians of Massachusetts used cod and other fish as a staple or basic part of their meals. When the Pilgrims celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the Wampanoag Indians, they ate cod along with the famous turkey. It was in the 1600s that the part of Massachusetts that curves into the ocean like an arm was named Cape Cod, after this delicious fish.

As Massachusetts grew, the fishing industry grew along with it. In the 1800s, many cities and towns became important ports for fishing boats. Gloucester, Boston, Provincetown, and New Bedford are some of the most famous places for fishing in Massachusetts. All of these cities and towns still have fishing fleets. The Boston and Gloucester fishermen catch a lot of cod. The codfish became a symbol of the state more than two hundred years ago. Therefore, it was not a surprise when the state legislature decided to choose the cod as the official state fish in 1974.

The Sacred Cod, which hangs above the heads of the representatives in the State House, is carved out of pine and is five feet long. The cod that is there now is the third carving under which Massachusetts lawmakers have sat. The first was destroyed in a fire at the Old State House in 1747, and the next was destroyed during the Revolutionary War. The third cod dates from 1784, but no one is sure who carved it. It has faithfully followed the House of Representatives wherever it went, from the Old State House to the new House Chamber in 1895. The cod has been there ever since, except for the time in 1933 when it was "cod-napped" by members of the Harvard Lampoon magazine. The practical jokers soon returned the cod and it now hangs once again over the House.

Among the grand paintings and statues of the long history of Massachusetts, the cod reminds us in a simple way of the importance of our first industry in the lives of the people of Massachusetts.

The Sacred Cod:
Questions for Discussion

1. The Sacred Cod hangs in the (a) Senate (b) House of Representatives (c) Governor's Office. Circle the correct answer.

(b) House of Representatives.

How long is the Sacred Cod?
Five feet.

3. Did the Pilgrims eat cod or turkey at the first Thanksgiving? Both.

4. Have you ever been fishing? Do any of your friends or relatives fish? What do you do when you fish?
Answers will vary.

5. Which city is important to the fishing industry? (a) Worcester (b) Springfield (c) Gloucester Circle the correct answer.
(c) Gloucester.

6. Staple foods are an important part of a person's diet. What is a person's diet?
A person's usual food and drink.

7. Can you think of any staples that you eat?
Answers will vary: milk, bread, cheese, eggs, etc.

8. What kind of fish do you like to eat?
Answers will vary.

9. Can you name places where people eat a lot of fish?
Answers will vary: Japan, Alaska, Hawaii, Pacific Islands, Gloucester, Baltimore, Norway...