November 24 - 1959: The day the 120 year-old French Cable Company in Orleans died - 1938 The wind which shook the wold

French Cable Co. sends last message - "Happy Thanksgiving"
Cable Station Museum, Rte 28 at Cove Road, Orleans.

1959: The day the French Cable Company died after 120 years

On this day in 1959, the French Cable Station linking Cape Cod and Europe sent out its last message - "Have a happy Thanksgiving. Station closed."

The 3,069-mile long cable was laid in 1879 from Brest, France to St. Pierre, Newfoundland and originally to a station in North Eastham near Nauset Beach Light before being moved to Orleans in 1891.

Several years later, in 1898, the station conveyed the first news to the world of the sinking of the steamer Portland with no survivors in a major late autumn storm. The postcard at right shows the station as it appeared in 1905. The station also transmitted news to the nation in May 1927 that Charles Lindbergh had landed in Paris and become the first pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic.

In May 1940, cable workers in Orleans learned that Brest had fallen to the Nazis after a brief message arrived - "Les Boches sont ici" - "The Germans are here."

Connected Cape Cod with the world after "A wind to shake the world"

When the "Labor Day Storm" in September 1938 See the short video by clicking here or the image on right, cut off all communication from the outside world, Mary Smith, a young Orleans native who was a reporter for the Providence Journal, remembered the cable station and had her editors cable Brest France with a request to cable the Orleans station for news of The Cape.

In 1971, a group of local business people bought the building, its equipment and land around it on Route 28 after the death of French leader Charles de Gaulle, who had resisted the sale of French assets abroad. The following year, the building reopened as the French Cable Station Museum . (postcard image, courtesy of atlantic-cable.com)

The article below was published in the Boston Globe on 23 October 1892 and gives an insight into life at the then recently opened Orleans French Cable Station.

Ocean Cables

Ten of Them Connect Us With European Nations
How Operators at the Different Ends Live, Work, and Are Paid.
In Comparison with Telegraphers, the Cable Operatives Fare Better.

1900_postcard-orleans_335

There are 10 wire filaments now connecting the American continent with Europe, and one of them touches our shores down on the bank of the pretty cove at Orleans village, on Cape Cod, in Massachusetts.

This is the line of the French cable. Although the cable station is there, and although the wire takes to the salt water there, it is not quite true to say, nevertheless, that it makes its final plunge into the Atlantic from that point.

Dipping into the water a few hundred feet back of the cable station on the beach, it runs out into the cove for a distance, and then trends off towards the point of land to the northerly, which it touches, plunges through a narrow covered trough about a mile in length, and then leaps into the sea (for its 1000-mile run to the island of St. Pierre) at the old landing place at North Eastham.

As life at cable stations goes, that of the operators here on Cape Cod is exceptionally pleasant. Compared, for instance, with that at Aden, in Arabia, and at Kurrachee, on the Persian gulf, it is a little paradise.

The operation of cables is practically a monopoly in the hands of the English. All the cable stations in the world are manned with men of British birth.

When a new company is formed and a new line put to work there is naturally a preference for old and experienced operators, as the task of breaking in new men is tedious, and for a new line anxious to do good work with as little blundering as possible, liable to be costly as well. The consequence is that the men are drawn from the old lines, and the consequence of that is that at every cable station you will men who have worked at one time and another at cable stations in every corner of the world.

In the little group of 10 men who are employed here there are those who have worked in Europe, Asia, Africa and South and North America.

Thus there is abundant means for comparing Cape Cod with other stations, and the general verdict is that life here at Orleans is vastly better than at nearly any other shore station in the world, barring a few on the coast of Great Britain and the continent.

Yet life in a Cape Cod beach village, especially in the winter, can not be described as wildly hilarious at the best. The topics of conversation do not cover a range of sufficient width to be quite filling for a man of cosmopolitan scope of thought.

Fish and cranberries are the serious things in Cape Cod life, and naturally are the chief topic of native discussion.

In mere points of view - of nagging and winging it and never letting go of it even after he has said the same thing about it many times - the Cape Codder has this faculty more surprisingly developed than any other living being that uses language. So it will be seen that a winter's isolation on the Cape to a man of a social turn who was not of the habit of thought of the neighborhood would have its drawbacks.

But the village of Orleans is one of the most beautiful on the cape. The sight of the cable station commands one of the prettiest marine views on all the cape shore line.

There are good schools, and the air is a sweet and pure as though the narrow neck of land, which shoots like a long, bent arm straight from Massachusetts' shoulder far out into the Atlantic, were an island far at sea.

There is, moreover, all about the evidences of Yankee thrift and tidiness which make the New England States so attractive. The cost of living is exceedingly small, and a pretty home with plenty of ground around it is quite within reach of very modest incomes.

As compared with the life of a telegraph operator in the cities, that of an operator at a cable station as pleasant as Orleans is better in every way. The cable operators are paid - that is the good ones - at the rate of about $100 a month.

In addition to this, they have a month's vacation at full pay every year. Many of them prefer to let the vacations accumulate for three years, so that at the end of that time they have a solid three months to themselves.

When they do this the cable company pays them the cost of a saloon passage in a first-class steamer to their homes in Great Britain and back again to the station. This, of course, is in addition to their regular salaries, which go on at full rates during the entire three months of their absence.

The $1200 a year which they receive is worth, on Cape Cod, quite as much as $2000 would be in a city, to say nothing of the additional wholesomeness of surroundings and impossibility of spending money for the hundreds of little follies which are a constant source of temptation in the city.

It is possible for an operator on the Cape, on $1200 a year, to have a pretty home, to keep his horse if he wishes, and to save a little money besides. Nor are the hours of labor long, or the labor itself very heavy.

The force is divided into relays, each working eight hours at a stretch, one being in operation, of course, both night and day. Since the introduction of the present recording system the work of receiving cable messages is much less trying than it was in the old days, when the operator had to keep his eyes constantly fixed in a darkened room, on a little fluttering bar of light thrown over his shoulder upon the receiver before him by a tiny mirror delicately balanced and move to right or left by the operator at the other end of the cable.

This was very hard upon the eyes, and the operators could not continue steadily at it from day to day without intervals of rest. The messages are now transcribed in waving ink lines on a constantly moving strip of paper tape.

This is not only vastly easier to the operator, but has the further advantage of preserving a permanent record of the message sent.

A good cable operator can keep up a steady pace of 25 words a minute, although of course on occasion and by spurts this rate is often exceeded; yet an operator who can do his 25 a minute is a skilled hand.

The French cable, after plunging into the Atlantic from the Cape Cod shore, makes straight off to sea for the island of St. Pierre, where there is another station, where the messages are repeated to Brest, on the French coast. The fact of the repetition, however, causes no delay worth consideration.

The operator at St. Pierre reads the message from the tape, and at the same time repeats it to Brest without transcribing, and is never more than a word of two behind the operator at Cape Cod.

In the same way the messages from the Cape are sent into the office of the company in New York by its own direct wires from Orleans.

The vast majority of messages to this country from Europe are from London, although in the fall Liverpool sends many and sometimes very long cablegrams to the Southern States. The cabling possibilities between New York and Europe are now something surprising.

The Anglo-American Company has three cables from Great Britain and one from France, the Direct Company has one, the French Company one, the American Company two, and the Commercial Company two - that is 10 in all. By the duplex system two messages - one each way - can be sent on the same cable at the same time.

Supposing operators at both ends are sending messages at the rate of 25 words per minute, that is to say, 50 words a minute both ways, each cable would have an hourly capacity of 3000 words, or 30,000 words per hour for the entire 10 - 72,000 for the entire 24 [hours] of each.

When it is understood that all these cables are kept pretty busy night and day, it will be possible to appreciate in a measure what the telegraphic communication between the United States and Europe has grown to be.

See a short video of the storm here.


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