Cape Cod may be a popular tourist destination, but it has more than its share of strange and unique history.
The Pukwudgies were two- to three-foot beings with smooth gray skin, hairy faces and horns. These shape-shifting, mischievous "little people" are connected to Wampanoag Indian mythology. Edward Rowe Snow, a New England historian who was also known as "the Flying Santa," delivered Christmas presents to lighthouse keepers and their families. Jeremiah's Gutter was a canal in Orleans and the first Cape Cod Canal. Join author Robin Smith-Johnson as she uncovers the secrets behind many unique places, remarkable events and fascinating people of Cape Cod.
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About the Author
Robin Smith-Johnson grew up in Orleans, Massachusetts, where she honed her love of reading and creative writing. She has degrees in English from Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts and Bowling Green State University in Ohio. She is the former newsroom librarian at the Cape Cod Times and presently teaches in the English Department at Cape Cod Community College. She is the author of two books of poetry, as well as Legends and Lore of Cape Cod (The History Press, 2016).
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THE CREATION OF THE CAPE COD CANAL
The Cape Cod Canal is a man-made waterway that connects Cape Cod to the mainland, but for Cape Codders, the canal is so much more. It is the first thing visitors see when they arrive at their vacation destination. For locals, the experience of seeing the bridges and the glimmering waters of the canalway serves as the symbolic entrance to Cape Cod.
Did you know that it took 317 years for the Cape Cod Canal to become a reality? Myles Standish envisioned a canal across the narrow neck of land joining Cape Cod to the mainland. Before the canal was built, ships and schooners had to navigate around the Cape, with its treacherous access to the Atlantic Ocean. A canal was seen as being a practical solution.
In 1862, it was proposed that the canal be built at sea level, instead of implementing earlier plans that called for a lock canal. Then, in 1880, a group called the Cape Cod Canal Company was granted a charter to begin digging. At first, the five hundred workers brought in for the job tried to dig with shovels and wheelbarrows. Later, F.A. Lockwood constructed a huge dredge to supplement the workers' efforts. However, the project was ultimately abandoned because it was costly and the digging methods ineffective.
In 1899, a new charter was granted, and the work was headed by New York financier August Belmont. On March 27, 1907, the Boston, Cape Cod and New York Canal Company entered into a contract with the Cape Cod Construction Company. Work finally began on June 19, 1909, using much more modern equipment. The canal opened five years later on July 29, 1914. The project cost $16.1 million. Initially, the canal was opened for sailing vessels of limited draft, with the full depth of twenty-five feet reached in 1918. The owners charged each passing vessel for use of the canal.
The Federal Railroad Administration took over the canal during World War I. When it tried to return it after the war was over, the original owners refused the deal. Then, on March 31, 1928, the federal government agreed to pay $11.5 million for the canal. The canal has operated as a toll-free waterway ever since. Later, the channel was widened in 1932 and 1935. The first Bourne Bridge was built between 1910 and 1913 and was later replaced with the present bridge in 1935. The Sagamore Bridge also opened in 1935; it originally was built as a drawbridge before the canal was widened. The Railroad Bridge, a vertical-lift bridge, carries railroad traffic across the canal. Construction started in 1935, and the bridge officially opened on December 29, 1935.
The canal itself opened on a limited basis in 1914 and was completed in 1916. It was widened and deepened, and by 1940, the Cape Cod Canal was the widest sea-level canal in the world. According to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' website, ship traffic can safely transit the waterway, and now more than twenty thousand vessels of all types use the canal annually.
A 1983 Cape Cod Times interview with a retired surveyor, Robert Waite, gave a first-person account of traveling over the Cape Cod Canal. During the 1918 flu epidemic, Waite's school in Wollaston closed for three weeks. Fourteen-year-old Waite and his friend Bill Edward rode their bicycles to visit Bill's grandparents in Chatham. He said, "We came down the old Route 3 that wove in and out of all the towns on the way. There was a wooden bridge over the Cape Cod Canal then. It had streetcar tracks on it for the Brockton-to-Hyannis trolley. As I remember, the bridge rolled back on tracks to let tall boats through. The Canal was more like a big ditch then." After the U.S. government purchased the canal in 1928, it was deepened and widened. The wooden bridge was replaced by steel structures, one at each end.
Tale of a 1937 Canal Passage
My mother told a fascinating story she remembered from childhood on her traveling through the Cape Cod Canal in 1937 at the age of ten. This was an interesting tidbit and something I had never heard about before. She grew up in Morristown, New Jersey, and took a trip with her mother, aunt and best friend in the summer of 1937. They traveled via cruise ship from New York to Boston and then traveled north by car to Maine. I did a quick internet search and found two cruise lines that might have been ones my mother traveled on: the old Fall River line and the Eastern Steamship Acadia. Although the Acadia traveled to Yarmouth, Nova Scotia, from New York, it could easily have stopped in Boston for a layover.
The trip from New York City to Boston was a two-day affair, so the little girls slept over on the boat. My mother remembers waking around 5:00 a.m. as they made the trip through the Cape Cod Canal. Since the canal bridges had only recently opened, this was a big event for Cape Codders, as well as two excited little girls. My mom said there were cars lining the Cape side of the canal, and they all had their headlights on as the big ship passed through. The girls stood on the deck and waved to all the well-wishers. The cars tooted back in response.
Now, summer visitors and Cape residents alike use the bridges on a daily basis. The existence of the canal also technically makes the Cape an island. Most visitors look forward to rounding a curve in the highway and seeing the arc of one of the bridges coming into view. It's both a comforting and beckoning view because it tells the weary traveler that he or she is almost home.CHAPTER 2
CAPE COD TRANSPORTATION
THEN AND NOW
The History of Railroad Travel on Cape Cod
Nowadays, the only trains on Cape Cod are Cape Cod Central Railroad's Dinner Train and the CapeFlyer train that runs from Boston to Cape Cod on summer weekends. However, the Cape has a long history of train travel. The railroad/shipping enterprise began in 1848. Before the railroad, transportation on the Cape consisted of horseback and wagons. The Old Colony Railroad line originated in Middleboro and made its way south to Hyannis on July 8, 1854. The wharf where the single line of track ended was one thousand feet long and two hundred feet wide. The first ship to meet up with the train was the Nebraska (from Nantucket). In the railroad's heyday, six schooners could be accommodated along the wharf as they waited to offload their cargo of both freight and passengers. Businesses sprouted up in the area. Some of the freight included lumber, grain, fish, coal, whale oil, agriculture (including cranberries) and building materials.
The Woods Hole tracks were finished in 1872, with the Island Home one of the first ships to stop there. While the Hyannis and Provincetown wharves featured single tracks (in Hyannis, this was a double track that merged into a single track to facilitate the picking up of passengers), the Woods Hole wharf had twelve tracks. It was surmised that a large fertilizer factory in Woods Hole was one institution that most needed the railroad for its shipping interests. The original wooden station was built at the end of the Woods Hole branch in 1872 and was replaced by a brick structure in 1899.
The Provincetown line was started in 1873 and, like the Hyannis wharf, had a single track. The wharf was on Harry Kemp Way, and the first train ran in July 1873. There were also smaller railroads on Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket designed to carry passengers, with most of the tracks made for lighter locomotives.
For locals and visitors alike, the train system opened up a faster, more reliable way to get around Cape Cod. Tourists could step on a train in New York City, make connections in Boston and arrive in Provincetown several hours later. Almost every Cape town had its own depot, and locals eagerly awaited the Boston train to bring major newspapers and mail. At the advent of both world wars, families said goodbye to their departing soldiers as they boarded trains to take them to off-Cape training camps and, ultimately, overseas.
Railroads began to decline in the 1900s with the introduction of cars and trucks. The Hyannis wharf, abandoned in 1930, was sold to private interests in 1938. In Provincetown, the last rail car ran in 1919, and the wharf was sold to the town in 1928. The passenger rails ended in the 1950s, and now many of the old tracks have been taken out and replaced with bike paths.
Cape Air Travel: A Look Back
When the railroads were phased out in the 1950s, people began to look toward air travel. The Cape has never been without commercial airline service since the end of World War II.
In 1949, a young pilot named John Van Arsdale started the Provincetown-Boston Airlines to create service between those two terminals. Adults paid ten dollars to fly round trip, while kids flew for only five dollars. Unfortunately, the company was dogged by fatal accidents and financial burdens. The airline was taken over by the People Express in 1985.
A new era for Cape flight began in January 1987 with the announcement of a new airline: Cape Cod Air. Dan Wolf, the manager of the Chatham Municipal Airport and Cape Cod Aero Marine, presented plans for flights to Nantucket and Boston from Chatham. The airline was designed for tourists who wanted to reach Nantucket without fighting traffic to get a ferry to the island. Then, in 1989, Cape Cod Air took over air routes between Provincetown and Boston. At thirty years old, Dan Wolf became the president of Cape Air with his own office at Provincetown Airport and backup at Barnstable Municipal Airport.
In 1990, Cape Air expanded its commuter airline operation when it took over Hyannis–Martha's Vineyard flights from Edgartown Air Inc. Plans were afoot to fly nine-passenger Cessna 402 twin-engine airplanes. Twenty years ago, a round trip ticket cost sixty-two dollars. In 1993, Hyannis-based Cape Air expanded its commuter air service into Florida with flights between Key West and Naples. The young airline's motto was "Make our customers happy and have a good time doing it."
Near accidents marred Cape Air's perfect safety record. Smoke in the cockpit forced the return of a Cape Air flight bound for Nantucket back to Barnstable Municipal Airport in December 1999. The pilot, Thomas Shanahan, touched down safely, and the nine passengers were transferred to another flight. In June 2000, passengers described panic aboard a Cape Air plane in an aborted, roller coaster flight to the Vineyard. The plane was forced to return to Barnstable. No one was hurt, but the rough landing caused one of the tires to burst.
Other accidents happened in 2001, such as when a flight from Provincetown to Martha's Vineyard crashed on approach to the airport. The pilot and sole passenger escaped with injuries before the plane burst into flames. In that same year, a twenty-nine-year-old pilot, Jason Watson of Mashpee, suffered second-degree burns on his legs when his plane crashed and burned shortly after takeoff on a Logan to Nantucket flight.
Finally, in April 2009, Cape Air announced another new route that would connect Westchester County, New York, with Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket. Later, the airline added a number of new routes around the Northeast.
It's nice to know that we're not cut off from the mainland. We can hop on a plane and escape to the wider world. Air travel to and from Cape Cod has truly come of age.
A Cape Cod Air Tragedy
A routine flight turned deadly on June 17, 1979, when Air New England Flight 248 went down in Yarmouth Port. Ten people were aboard the plane, and all survived except the pilot, George Parmenter, sixty, of Centerville, who was killed instantly. Parmenter was a senior pilot for Air New England and one of the company's co-founders. The plane, an eighteen-seat De Havilland Twin Otter (registered N383EX), crashed around 11:00 p.m. It was heading to Barnstable Municipal Airport from New York's LaGuardia Airport before it disappeared into the woods of the three-hundred-acre Camp Greenough, about one and a half miles northeast of the airport.
The passengers were bruised, covered in fuel and disoriented. An eighteen-year-old girl, Suzanne Mourad, was able to stumble through the woods and make her way to Route 6. She flagged down a car, which took her to the nearby airport. At that point, family members had gathered, but airport officials had little information about the crash. Suzanne was able to show them to the crash site. In a Cape Cod Times article written thirty years after the crash, she was quoted as saying, "What stands out to all of us is once we got out of the plane, we kept looking for the helicopters and looking for the bright lights and listening for the sirens and there was no noise. What specifically I think all of us remember is like, 'Oh, my God,' you know, 'Where is everybody?'"
According to a National Transportation Safety accident report, the crash occurred during an instrument landing system (ILS) approach and was due to pilot error. The report stated, "Of the eight passengers and a crew of two aboard, the captain was killed, the first officer and six passengers were injured severely and two passengers received minor injuries. The aircraft was destroyed." There was some speculation that the pilot was either physically or psychologically impaired. He did not respond to routine callouts. In addition, Captain Parmenter wore glasses, but the glasses were found in the cockpit in their carrying case. The weather may also have contributed to the crash since there was fog and drizzle in the vicinity and reduced visibility.
Passengers escaped through one of the cabin's main doors after they tried unsuccessfully to get the emergency exits to work. They were desperate to get off the plane because of the threat of fire and the strong smell of fuel. A medical student onboard checked on the other passengers, and the two most seriously injured were carried out of the plane.
One of the passengers, Robert Sabbag, later wrote a book about his experience titled Down Around Midnight: A Memoir of Crash and Survival. According to a New York Post review, "The best passages are the recreation of the event itself which, like all air crashes, thrill and horrify through sheer physics. Just before it crashed the plane descended at 1,500 feet a minute and the G-force was sufficient to explode the links on the author's watch." In an interesting twist, a young Ted Kennedy was on the flight just before the one that crashed.CHAPTER 3
TRAGEDY AT SEA
The Steamer Portland
On November 27, 1898, the steamer Portland was lost with all on board. The official passenger list went down with the ship, so the exact number of fatalities is unknown, but between 176 and 191 people died in that disaster. The Portland left India Wharf in Boston, at 7:00 p.m. Saturday night on November 26 on its regular run to Portland, Maine. The ship was a wooden-hulled side-wheeler that measured 281 feet long and was built in Bath in 1890. A fierce storm began in midafternoon on that Saturday after Thanksgiving, and by midnight, it was a howling blizzard. The snow continued to fall through Sunday. Hurricane-force winds were believed to have reached ninety miles per hour. The ship was last spotted about 1:00 a.m. Sunday off Gloucester by crew members of the Maude S., which was headed to Boston. There were also reports that surf watchers off Provincetown saw it momentarily Sunday morning, tossing near Peaked Hill Bars during a lull in the storm.
According to a Cape Cod Standard Times article from November 26, 1959, "Experts theorize the vessel's captain, Hollis H. Blanchard, after realizing the magnitude of the storm, tried to get into the lee of the Cape, in Provincetown Harbor, but couldn't make it, and the ship foundered on the Peaked Hill Bars, off the back shore." The first sign that disaster had struck was debris coming ashore, including milk cans, barrels, chairs and mattresses. Two days later, the shore was covered with wreckage, and about thirty-five bodies were recovered. Watches discovered on the bodies were stopped between 9:30 and 10:00 (it was unclear if the time was a.m. or p.m.). In the ensuing years, other wreckage would be found in fishermen's nets.
Since there were no survivors, we may never really know what happened. One theory is that the Portland rammed another vessel during the storm, possibly the Patagoet, a ship that left New York with seventeen aboard and was never heard from again. Another vessel the Portland could have collided with was the cargo schooner Addie E. Snow out of Seal Harbor, Maine. It has been estimated that 140 vessels sank during the Northeast storm.
In 1971, a Boston Herald Traveler article reported that "even before the coastal side-wheeler was launched, a fellow shipbuilder had a premonition that the steamer would sink off Cape Cod. And, nine years later, the Boston-to-Portland ship foundered at that precise spot." Over the years, divers have searched for remnants of the ship. There was an unsubstantiated story that there was $18,000 worth of uncut jewels in the ship's safe. In 2008, five Massachusetts scuba divers reached the remains of the Portland, sometimes called the "Titanic of New England." A plaque was dedicated outside Truro's Highland Light, displaying a picture of the steamer Portland.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Cape Cod Curiosities"
Copyright © 2018 Robin Smith-Johnson.
Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
The Creation of the Cape Cod Canal 11
Cape Cod Transportation: Then and Now 14
Tragedy at Sea 19
Haunted Places 24
Cape Cod Visionaries 30
Old Schoolhouses: A Link to the Past 35
Old-Fashioned Holidays 38
Tales of the Lower Cape 44
Cape Cod Traditions 47
Cape Codders at War 53
A Pair of Cape Cod Authors 59
Far-Flung Connections 65
Early Immigrants on Cape Cod 69
Sandwich's Historic Past 71
Riptide Disaster: August 22, 1973 76
Orleans: A Town with History 79
Marsh People and Pukwudgies 83
Cape God Institutions 86
Tony Costa Murders 90
Suicide Watch 95
Cape Cod's Movie Past 98
A Trio of Creative Women 102
Mail Delivery: Past and Present 108
Edgar Rowe Snow: Historian and "Flying Santa" 111
Cape Cod Originals 113
Keeping a Cape Weather Eye 119
Presidential Visits 123
Patti Page: The Continuing Allure of "Old Cape Cod" 128
A Gape God Childhood 131
About the Author 144