National Geographic : 1946 Jun
Cape Cod People and Places BY WANDA BURNETT With Illustrations by Staff PhotographerRobert F. Sisson WHEN I went to Cape Cod the first time, it was autumn-the middle of October, in fact. I went with the advice of well-meaning friends to wrap myself in layers of woolens for the hard Cape winter. They warned me about those mad nor'east ers which periodically tear along the Cape's long coast, moving mountains of sand, dune by dune.* This long and narrow arm of land curls out from the main body of Massachusetts like a fancy half-handle on a teacup. It is linked to the mainland by giant steel bridges flung gracefully across Cape Cod Canal.f From its bridge-hinged shoulder blade all the 65 miles down to the tapering fingertip of Provincetown it is flecked with moors and dunes, lakes and ponds, and threaded with streams and eager inlets from the sea. It is long enough and broad enough to hold 15 towns and some 140 villages, and it has enough sandy bathing beaches to reach from Washington, D. C., to the heart of New York City. Its natives are not unsociable but "care ful." As one of them explained, "We jest don't let go our words to everyoldbody." From Buzzards Bay to North Truro, Cape Cod is anchored to the earth's floor by a clay and solid rock foundation. The Legacy of Glaciers Some 35,000 years ago southbound glaciers thrust rocks and debris forward to form the peninsula. The hills and hollows of Truro mark the northern limits of the glaciers' fine work. From there northward the ocean donated "filched ground" to form the grace ful finger of sand upon which Provincetown is built (map, page 741). This strip runs northward and westward from Truro for approximately 10 miles. In some places these offerings of beach land from other parts of the Cape have been so meager that only a scant half mile now keeps the ocean from reaching across to join the bay. The restless sand has been anchored by generous plantings of deep-rooted beach grass. Up the Cape, around the shoulder blade, the land is much wider and the vegetation richer. From Boston you go down to Provincetown and from Provincetown you go up the Cape toward Boston. On this broad up-Cape sec tion as much as 20 miles stand between the waters of Nantucket Sound and Cape Cod Bay. Trees grow taller. Ponds appear larger. Beach settlements are closer together. Hyannis, the shopping center for the Cape, though not on this broad part of the land, is an up-Cape town. It has all the earmarks of a town but it is only a village a village in the town of Barnstable, but a village which long since has outgrown the mother town. To me it appeared like a bulging muscle slightly relaxed after the sum mer tension. There was still some activity when I ar rived, even though the vacationists and sum mer people had gone and the numerous gift shops, one by one, were shuttering their win dows and taking their stocks south for the winter. Drugstores, grocery stores, dime-to-dollar stores, movie houses, summer-blooming night clubs and antique shops, and banks line the one-street village for many blocks. Railroad passenger service comes to a dead end and buses for on-Cape and off-Cape travel center here (page 742). Tie and Snip Parties The whist and rummage sale season was in full swing when I arrived. This is the time when housewives from surrounding villages clean out their attics and donate and sell and buy again. Churches and clubs "advertise" whist parties and bean suppers. Ladies have tie and snip parties-or just plain old-fash ioned quilting bees. At the foot of Pleasant Street, fishermen unload their catches of scallops, oysters, clams, haddock, flounder, and other fish. A small factory makes "pearls" from herring scales. Local restaurants proclaim Cape Cod clam chowder, Cape scallops, steamed clams, lob sters, and fish. From this bustling Cape "metropolis" I set out to smaller, quieter villages, places the old whaling captains had once called home. I sought the lonely wind-swept beaches where the Atlantic pounds its fists against the cliffs. * See "Collarin' Cape Cod," by Lt. H. R. Thurber, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, October, 1925. t See "The Cape Cod Canal," by Commodore J. W . Miller, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE, August, 1914.