July 13 - 1846: "Sea of Fire" nearly wipes out Nantucket

1962: JFK here for a long weekend with Jackie and the children. 1963: John-John greets dad at Otis
The First Family on Squaw Island in 1962. Public domain photo courtesy of jfklibrary.org.

1846: Fire nearly destroys Nantucket Town

Burning whale oil created "a sea of fire."

On this day in 1846, a fire began in a hat store on Nantucket's Main Street. In no time, it raced through town, consuming everything in its path. Barrels of whale oil were stored on the wharves; when the fire reached them, they burst into flames.

The burning oil flowed into the water, creating what one man described as "a sea of fire." Seven hours later most of the town's commercial area lay in ashes. Some 250 buildings had been destroyed - almost all the markets and shops, seven factories that processed whale oil, a dozen warehouses, three of the town's four wharves, and many homes. The fire had lasting consequences: it contributed to the demise of Nantucket as the world capital of the whaling industry.

Approximately 800 people were homeless. Total losses were in excess of $1,000,000 (the equivalent of approximately $24,000,000 today).

Within days, the selectmen issued an appeal for aid: "There is not food enough in town to keep widespread suffering from hunger at bay a single week . . . We are in deep trouble. . . Provisions, Clothing, Bedding, Money - anything useful you may have to bestow, will be most gratefully received."

Painting courtesy of "The Great Fire of 1846," by Edouard A. Stackpole, "Proceedings of the Nantucket Historical Association," 1946.

See Mass Moments for more details.

Jack Kennedy made the Cape famous around the globe

Also in 1962, President's son greets dad at Otis AFB

This front page of the New York Times (below left) on November 8, 1960, is one which many Cape Codders will never forget.

It heralded the beginning of the thousand days of Camelot which followed, and turned the Cape into the hottest spot in America.

Also below right, a small news item from the New York Times on this date in 1963 about JFK's son John-John meeting his dad at the Otis Air Force Base.

1962: President, family, on Cape for long weekend

On this day in 1962, Cape Cod was in the midst of the biggest media frenzy in its entire history as a result of John Fitzgerald Kennedy's election in November of 1960.

The young president and his photo-op family spent evening summer weekends here creating what the media called his Summer White House, and the world press followed by the hundreds and thousands of tourists came to watch it all.

7-13-08-jfk-here-with-famil_467Not just JFK - it was the 60s too

It's impossible for any Cape Codder who wasn't alive then and living among the frenzy to understand how truly "different" everything was back during those three magical summers of 1961, 2 and 3 before he was killed in November '63.

In the 1960's thousands of young Americans believed they could change the world - remember the Beatniks, Hippies and Flower Children? It was the start of the Equal Rights movement and it would take three assassinations in the next few years to damper than spirit.

Jack and Jackie Kennedy literally made Cape Cod famous across the globe. Every time the president or his family was at The Compound in Hyannisport, Cape Cod was the dateline on a thousand stories in newspapers across the world.

People today who are over 55 always know where they were "the day that JFK died."


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