Offtheshelf's blog

Twelve Days of Sea Creatures - Finale

By Jack Sheedy

We conclude our Twelve Days of Sea Creatures series not with 12 drummers drumming, but with the granddaddy of all Cape Cod sea serpent tales, which took place in 1886 at Provincetown. The following story can be found in a number of classic Cape Cod books – Edward Rowe Snow’s A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod (1946) and Josef Berger’s Cape Cod Pilot (1937), just to name a couple.

 

For the Twelfth Day of Christmas

George Washington Ready was the town crier at Provincetown, a position which afforded him some standing in the community at the Cape tip, so much so that he was nicknamed the “Professor.” What he was a Professor of is unclear. According to Webster, besides the educational reference, a professor is “one that professes, avows, or declares.” After reading the following you can decide for yourself if Ready was a “Professor” or a “professor.”

As stated above, the year was 1886. During those times, folks were rather educated in terms of understanding the world around them yet they still clung to some of what we might consider fantastic beliefs. The matter of sea serpents fell into that gray area, somewhere between science and myth.

While walking along the shore at Herring Cove beach, Ready noticed a commotion of foam in the water offshore. Something extraordinary was happening. Alarmed, he hid behind a nearby bush and watched as the turbulence revealed its source. A huge serpent emerged from the sea and came ashore. Ready claimed the beast he saw was 300 feet long and 12 feet wide, with blue, red, and green scales covering its body. It had a large head which held six eyes – three red and three green – the size of dinner plates. Ready said the creature had two-foot long teeth, an eight-foot horn atop its head, and a 20-foot tail.

Further, the “Professor” claimed that an odor of sulfur came from the serpent, which produced some internal heat, setting bushes ablaze. The beast lumbered along to Pasture Pond, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile to a mile from the beach, where it disappeared, presumably down an unknown chasm in the pond where it hid out of sight.

In terms of explaining the creature’s sudden appearance, someone suggested that perhaps the beast had been nudged from its underwater lair by some recent earthquakes, causing it to come ashore to find safer lodgings. To further punctuate the story’s validity, according to A Pilgrim Returns to Cape Cod and Cape Cod Pilot, Ready signed an affidavit which recounted the story and stated that during the episode he was “not unduly excited by liquor.”

"...and to all a good night!"

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Twelve Days of Sea Creatures - Part 4

By Jack Sheedy

While the moon is waxing in the western sky after sunset (yesterday a sliver appeared to the lower right of beaming Venus – this evening it will appear to the upper left of that planet), the Christmas season is waning as we eat our way through the first days of January.

Speaking of January, here are some more sea creature stories to help celebrate the Eighth, Ninth, Tenth, and Eleventh Days of Christmas, beginning with a sighting in January of 1936:

 

For the Eighth Day of Christmas

In our 1999 book, Cape Cod Companion, we mention in a chapter titled Sea Serpents Over the Centuries that in January 1936 a coastguardsman walking the beach in Orleans witnessed what he imagined were sea serpents offshore. From a distance he was able to notice these creatures’ mouths had 200 teeth and had tongues which resembled fish tails.

This coastguardsman also discovered the remains of some serpent along the shore, which was later examined by experts who identified it as a dolphin. A similar find by coastguardsmen in 1939 of a sea creature washed up along a Provincetown beach turned out to be a basking shark.

 

For the Ninth Day of Christmas

Other 20th century sea serpent sightings include two off Martha’s Vineyard. One took place off Menemsha, located on the western end of the island, and was witnessed by the crew of a Fairhaven fishing boat. The creature or sea serpent possessed “claw-like flippers” which it used to actually push aside the approaching vessel, according to the crew’s testimony. The creature was described as having a cow’s head with “eyes the size of dinner plates.”

Another sighting made by the crew of a fishing boat took place in March 1940 off Nomans Land, which is an island situated to the southwest of Martha’s Vineyard. This creature was fifty feet long as measured using the boat for reference, with a “lizard-like body” and a head that resembled that of a turtle. The serpent also had flippers and its tail ended in a triangular tip. The captain of the boat described the creature as looking “like something very old.”

For the Tenth Day of Christmas

In our book Cape Odd, we have a story of a Woods Hole fisherman by the name of Charlie Healy who in the summer of 1878 caught what was described as a pretty big shark. Healy hauled the shark onto his boat and was prepared to dispatch the creature with a club when the beast bit him on the arm and refused to let go. The fisherman eventually passed out, either from loss of blood, pain, shock, or a combination of all three.

What happened next is anyone's guess. Some time elapsed. The shark released his grip on Healy, apparently not liking his taste, and made its escape. Another fisherman happened by and found Healy in his boat, unconscious and bleeding. The fisherman mended his colleague's wounds and Healy lived to fish another day. 

For the Eleventh Day of Christmas

In September 1936 a Hyannis fisherman in a skiff sailing in Nantucket Sound between Great Island off West Yarmouth and the railroad wharf at Hyannis saw what appeared to be a large skate or stingray, larger than his boat, which was about nine feet in length. He felt it was not a shark as being a fisherman he was familiar with the variety of sharks in local waters.

***

Similarly, during the summer of 1983 I was sailing off West Dennis in a Sunfish with three college-age friends. If you consider four 21-year old men in a circa 13-foot Sunfish, the mathematics add up to a number of legs hanging over the sides and into the water.

As we were heading back in, about mid-afternoon – after helping a party in a small motorboat repair their broken propeller for which we were thanked with a six-pack of beer – I noticed a shadow in the water off to our starboard side. At first I assumed it was the shadow of our sail. It was roughly triangular in shape and it was at least half the length of the boat. I then realized it was not the sail's shadow, as this shadow was moving and eventually passed under the boat. I yelled. Everyone scrambled to get their legs out of the water. In a moment it was gone. It all happened so quickly.

Based on the shape of its body, and the vague impressions of a tail trailing after it, I’m guessing it was a skate or stingray, similar to the one seen by the Hyannis fisherman in 1936.

Oh, what fun it is to ride in a one-horse open sleigh!

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Twelve Days of Sea Creatures - Part 3

By Jack Sheedy

We continue our traditional Twelve Days of Sea Creatures with three little ditties from a book I co-authored in 2010 called Cape Odd, which contains “strange and unusual stories about Cape Cod.”

In a chapter titled Fish Stories we recount a number of interesting tales involving creatures of the sea. As you read the following entries, or sing the words to your favorite Yuletide tune, please accept my sincerest wishes for a Happy New Year. (Although … 2017 is a prime number, and we all know how prime numbered years have worked out in the past – the oil crisis in 1973, the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, and the California earthquake in 1987 just to name a few – so things don’t look too good from a mathematical perspective. Still, there is always hope, or to quote Emily Dickinson, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” Of course, seagulls have feathers, and all they do is mess up my car.)

For the Fifth Day of Christmas

It seems mermaids – mummified or otherwise – were on display in the town of Barnstable on at least two different occasions. The November 19, 1850 Barnstable Patriot ran an advertisement announcing that at the Barnstable Exhibition Hall, for the price of a 25-cent admission, Cape Codders could see orangutans, elephants, and other creatures, including something billed as a “Feejee” mermaid. Apparently this mermaid was touring America “to the wonder and astonishment of thousands of naturalists and other scientific persons.”

On Aug. 2, 1909, a short blurb in the Hyannis Patriot asked, “Have you seen the mermaid at Bearse’s market?” According the newspaper, the mermaid, which was captured in Nantucket Sound near the now defunct Bishop & Clerks lighthouse, was being viewed by quite a number of the summer folk who wandered into the market to have a look...and to buy a bottle of Moxie.

 

For the Sixth Day of Christmas

A mother and her children witnessed some kind of creature on a Brewster beach in the summer of 1873 as documented in this account from the Harwich Independent newspaper of July 10 of that year: “A supposed mermaid was seen upon the beach in this village last Thursday by a Mrs. Young and several children. The head of the object, or mermaid, resembled exactly that of a child while the rest of the body was of fish form. When first seen the lady became frightened, but the children, less timid, approached it, and wishing to determine whether it was dead or alive, threw some sand into its eyes, whereupon it uttered cries like that of a child and commenced rolling over and over down to the water and darted off into the sea, keeping its head above the surface and resembling in every manner that of a child swimming.”

 

For the Seventh Day of Christmas

According to the Barnstable Patriot of June 30, 1891, an unlucky crewman on the schooner Marjorie, of Dennis, was devoured by a shark off Panama. It all began as the vessel approached the port of Aspinwall (now Colon) when he refused to work, and so he was put in irons below decks. Later, when the ship was readying to leave port, the crewman tried to make his escape. Attempting to steal a boat, he fell overboard, and according to the ship’s captain, was swiftly attacked by the man-eater.

Now bring us some figgy pudding, and a cup of good cheer!

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Twelve Days of Sea Creatures - Part 2

By Jack Sheedy

The swapping of sea creature stories at Christmastime is a Cape Cod tradition that goes back down through the ages … all the way to Monday of this week when I shared a couple of century-old newspaper stories about killer whales (see my blog entry for Dec 26).

And so, we continue…

For the Third Day of Christmas

Sea creatures are certainly nothing new to Cape Cod.

The Cape natives have their tale of Squant the sea woman who would lure men to her underwater lair with her hypnotic song. Apparently this is exactly what happened to Maushop, the native giant who was credited with creating Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard with sand from his enormous moccasins and who made the fog with smoke from his huge pipe.

Squant, who had a body of kelp and a fashionable seaweed hairdo, had her eye on the giant Maushop. After all, he was tall and strong and handsome. So she summoned him with her song. As if in a trance, Maushop ventured to the sea woman’s den, where he ate a big meal and then fell asleep.It is said that Maushop sleeps there till this day.

Talk about the holiday guest who doesn’t know when to leave!

 

For the Fourth Day of Christmas

Henry Hudson, sailing off the Cape Cod coastline in 1609, witnessed a strange creature, or mermaid, or perhaps Squant herself, frolicking in the surf. Hearing the story of Maushop, he decided to steer clear.

Nearly one hundred years later, around 1719, Benjamin Franklin’s uncle, while living on Nantucket, saw a serpent which had a lion’s head, large teeth, floppy elephant ears...and a beard like that of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. Of course, Longfellow would not be born until 1807, so it couldn’t have been him.

A serpent in 1817 was pestering Cape Cod fishermen, and another in 1833, resembling a large snake, which eventually brought a Nantucket whaler into Massachusetts Bay to hunt it down. For a couple of weeks the vessel plied the waters between Cape Cod and Boston, but the crew found nothing so they sailed back to Nantucket just in time to appear in an evening performance of the Pirates of Penzance.

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Twelve Days of Sea Creatures - Part 1

By Jack Sheedy

In my household the Christmas season is a twelve-day celebration of roasted chestnuts, dried figs, traditional carols, a little reading, a little creative writing, a little watercolor painting, puffing pipe tobacco, and sampling ales.

Yes, we do roast chestnuts, just like in the song.

Overall, it is an annual Yuletide celebration that follows a certain established pattern of tradition hammered out over the course of nearly four decades of adult life – pretty much unchanged, year after year.

So, I thought this year I’d shake things up a bit by introducing a new Christmas tradition – of sitting before the crackling fire swapping Cape Cod sea creature stories.

The familiar Christmas story of Mary, Joseph, the angel Gabriel, the Shepherds, the Wise Men, and the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes comes from the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. The less familiar sea creature stories are referenced by the Gospel of Mark 1:13, “And he was there in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and was with the wild beasts,” and from the Gospel of John 3:14, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up.” Clearly, these “beasts” and “serpents” were none other than New Testament sea creatures.

So, with this entry I celebrate the First and Second Days of Christmas with two stories about orcas, a/k/a killer whales. This past summer, killer whales were sighted off Cape Cod, adding another species to the growing list of creatures swimming along our coastline (to join humpback whales, right whales, finback whales, minke whales, pilot whales, dolphins, seals and great white sharks). My interest in Cape Cod history has me flipping through old newspapers in search of interesting stories from the past. Recently I came across two turn-of-the-20th-century entries about killer whales, one from 1890 and another from 1903, which I thought I might share here.

For the First Day of Christmas (from the Barnstable Patriot, August 26, 1890):

“As if not satisfied with the harm it can do alone, the orca secures the aid of two or three of its fellows, and then the little pack of monsters starts on an expedition. Everything is game to them. If a school of dolphins comes in sight, away go the fierce sea-wolves in hot chase. The frightened dolphins dash madly through the waves, urged to their swiftest speed by terror; but grimly the ravenous pursuers close upon the flying quarry.

“Perhaps a great Greenland whale may cross the path of the marauders. Huge as it is – the largest of created beings – it has no terrors for the bloodthirsty pack. They dart about the giant with lightning velocity; now in front, now underneath, now on the sides; until the bewildered monster, with a lash of his ponderous tail, turn his mighty head downward and seeks the ocean's bed.

“Vain effort! His tormentors follow him apparently with ferocious glee. Up, up again, rage and agony lending added strength, till the surface is reached and all that bulk of flesh shoots out of water and then falls with a ponderous crash, dashing the boiling waves asunder. Still the agile foes are there. They leap over his head, high in the air, and dive under him. They rush at him, here, there, and everywhere. He opens his huge mouth to engulf them. They only mock at the danger, and soon wounded in a hundred places, weakened and powerless, the whale succumbs.”

Fa la la la la, la la la la.

 

For the Second Day of Christmas (from the Barnstable Patriot, June 22, 1903):

“The most voracious of all marine beasts of prey is the orca or killer whale. It reaches a length of twenty-five feet, and its jaws bristle with teeth from four to six inches long and as sharp as a dirk knife. Its digestive power is proportioned to the tremendous efficacy of its jaws. It seems also to be an atrocious glutton, as one specimen examined contained in its stomach thirteen porpoises and fourteen seals.”

That’s kind of how I feel this Christmas season – gluttonous – like I’ve eaten a dozen porpoises and an extra helping of seal!

Jack Sheedy is co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Campaigning for Willie's Vote

By Jack Sheedy

 

The Florida primary is on March 15th.

And Willie still can’t make up his mind.

He can’t decide whether he wants to “Make America Great Again.”

Or if he wants “Hillary for America.”

Willie isn’t sure if he can “Trusted” or if he can “Feel the Bern.”

Willie, by the way, is my Dachshund.

 

Willie has a winter dog house in Sarasota, Florida.

Where he resides for six months and one day of the year.

Thus maintaining a Florida residency for tax purposes.

Willie, a former rescue dog, took early retirement at age 8.

These days he can be found reading the newspaper and smoking his pipe.

I guess that’s one advantage to counting in dog years.

 

Willie is an independent.

As such, he has received a number of phone calls of late from both political parties.

Mostly prerecorded messages asking for his vote.

Willie has listened carefully to all of these appeals, weighing the facts, the pros and cons.

Turning the issues over and over in his canine mind.

Before trotting off to scratch at the back door.

 

Willie believes in keeping American dog food safe.

And in keeping his backyard borders secure.

Willie believes in equal rights for all, regardless of sex, breed, class, or pedigree.

He also believes that female dogs are entitled to the same ration of treats as male dogs.

And Willie believes in heathcare reform, but he isn’t a fan of “Obamacare.”

Mainly because it doesn’t cover canines.

 

So, Willie remains undecided.

But he had better make up his mind soon.

Because the primary is just a week away.

And he has to send for an absentee ballot.

Although marking his choice may prove to be a bit of a problem.

For, alas, Willie does not possess opposable thumbs.

 

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd. He will be presenting talks on Cape Cod history during March and April at various venues, so watch the calendar section.

A Hard Rain

By Jack Sheedy

The hardest rain I ever experienced occurred out in the state of Iowa, about 20 years ago, while driving along some stretch of road between Moline, Illinois and the city of Mt. Pleasant in the Hawkeye state on a tour of direct mail facilities. There were tornado warnings on the radio and the sky turned a shade of blue I had never witnessed before. Like stones fell the rain, drumming the roof of the car and quickly collecting by the tens of thousands of gallons into a torrent.

Over the next days, I continued on from Mt. Pleasant to Des Moines, through Oskaloosa and Pella, seeing a good deal of the Iowan countryside along the way. I remember lots of corn and lots of hogs. After a lunch of chicken at some faux-rustic Des Moines restaurant – and after buying small presents for the kids in the gift shop – I continued on to the airport, took an air-sickness pill, and flew on back to Logan.

I am reminded of these brief memories of Iowa as tonight that state’s caucus will be held. It seems every four years we of the primary states need to familiarize ourselves with this thing called “caucus.” One morning last week I was watching Washington Journal on CSPAN. A gentleman was speaking about the history of the Iowa caucus and how it all works – which, it turns out, is different for Republicans and Democrats.  Basically, it goes like this. All registered voters report to their designated caucus location for what is, essentially, a meeting. They must report by 7:00 pm. If they are late they are not admitted. Once inside, after some formalities, the Republicans gather in one room and the Democrats in another. After some party business, and some brief remarks about each candidate, the Republicans vote by ballot.

As for the Democrats, their process is a bit more like a square dance. If I understand correctly, those supporting the different Democratic candidates are asked to stand in different sections of the room in plain view of everyone else – no private ballot here. In fact, there’s no ballot at all. Discussions commence, and group dynamics come into play, during which people may be swayed from one group to join another, especially from those smaller groupings representing less popular candidates (less than 15% of the total). Voters are encouraged to cross the room, as if choosing another dance partner, and by doing so, throw their support to what appears to be a stronger candidate. Sort of like a political do-si-dos.

The remaining groups are then counted, as if tabulating a hand vote at a town meeting, and the figures are forwarded on. It’s all certainly quite quaint, and a bit archaic by today’s standards.

At first I thought, how odd. Yet, interestingly, Iowa’s caucus results over the past five presidential elections have panned out in terms of selecting the eventual party nominee, in most cases, that is:

  • Democratic Iowa caucus winners: 1996-Clinton (unopposed); 2000-Gore, 2004-Kerry, 2008-Obama, 2012-Obama (unopposed).
  • Republican Iowa caucus winners: 1996-Dole, 2000-Bush, 2004-Bush (unopposed), 2008-Huckabee, 2012-Santorum (narrowly beating Romney, the eventual party nominee, by a few hundred votes). The 2008 caucus was an anomaly, as McCain, who finished well back in Iowa eventually won the Republican nomination.

Results for earlier years, though, are a bit of a mixed bag: Muskie (D) in 1972, Bush (R) in 1980, Gephardt (D) and Dole (R) in 1988, and Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) in 1992 with 76% versus Clinton, the eventual Democratic nominee, with only 3%.

 

Now, as for the second hardest rain I ever experienced, it occurred along Route 69 in Indiana, just north of Indianapolis, in the vicinity of Muncie.

Incidentally, Indiana, unlike Iowa, holds a primary.

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Thirty-Five for Thanksgiving

By Jack Sheedy

Although we now celebrate Thanksgiving on the fourth Thursday of November, it is generally agreed that the Pilgrims did not celebrate their 1621 feast during the eleventh month of that year, but rather in late-September or October after the first harvest.

The two primary sources that mention that legendary first harvest are William Bradford’s journal (published as the book Of Plimoth Plantation) and a letter written by Edward Winslow (published in the book Mourt’s Relation). Bradford refers to the gathering in of their first harvest, including fish and fowl, wild turkeys, venison, and of course, the savior crop - corn. He does not mention a Thanksgiving meal with Native Americans, per se, but such a harvest meal, perhaps, is alluded to in so many words.

Yet, Winslow, in his letter dated December 11, 1621, and which travelled via “sea-mail” aboard the vessel Fortune back to England, fills in the details of that great harvest feast – details which for the past four centuries have painted our collective portrait of that peaceful Pilgrim-Native event.

Winslow wrote that after the harvest, Governor Bradford sent a handful of men out “fowling” in order to provide enough food for a week-long celebration. Part of that Thanksgiving harvest event included a three-day affair with the Natives, including their chief, Massasoit. But, instead of a handful of Natives, some ninety arrived, and sizing up the situation, Massasoit sent a number of his men out to hunt deer, bringing back five, which were presented to Bradford to add to the feast. As a result, everyone was fed and a splendid time was had by all. Winslow’s letter went on to say how he found the natives “faithful,” “loving,” “ripe-witted,” and “just.” He described a peaceful relationship that succeeded on many levels – “we often go to them, and they come to us” – and further mentioned that the Pilgrims walked with as much safety in the forests of the New World as they might walk along the streets of England.

But, getting back to the actual timing of that great harvest feast of 1621, if it most likely occurred in either September or October, what were the Pilgrims doing during the month of November – during the month when we now honor their legendary First Thanksgiving?

Actually, they were participating in another traditional custom of Thanksgiving – they were entertaining company. And not just a couple of in-laws arriving with a pumpkin pie and their overnight bags, but some 35 passengers and crew of the vessel Fortune, which arrived at Plimoth in late-November with the next wave of “Pilgrims.” And, according to Bradford, they arrived empty-handed, without provisions (“not so much as a biscuit cake”) and with pretty much only the clothes on their backs. Likewise, the new settlers were a bit shocked at how the Pilgrims were living - wearing ragged clothing and living in Spartan houses…and without cable television to boot.

Fortunately, there were still plenty of Thanksgiving leftovers to go around.

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.   

Remembering Two Veterans

By Jack Sheedy

A little late, but the sentiment extends beyond one day…

It took two atomic bombs to sink her, my late cousin John said, proudly recalling the battleship USS Arkansas upon which he served during World War II. John was my grandmother’s cousin, so he was more like an uncle.

The Arkansas, known as “Arky” to her men, was a veteran of World War I, and by WWII was the fleet’s oldest battleship. Early on in the war she was assigned to protect convoys heading to the United Kingdom. Despite the success rate of the German submarines, no ships were lost under Arky’s protection.

Joining the Navy in 1944 just after his 17th birthday, John was aboard the Arkansas off Omaha Beach on June 6th of that year as the battleship shelled German positions in advance of Allied troop landings. He was among those assigned to Turret IV. Casting back across the span of half a century he could still recall the drowned US servicemen he helped pull from the waters.

I can still see their faces, he said, tears welling up in the eyes of the old man as he remembered young men whose lives were cut short.

The Arkansas remained in European waters, hitting German targets along the coast of France, at Cherbourg and later in the Mediterranean, before heading back across the Atlantic to Boston for an overhaul in preparation for continued service in the Pacific. Passing through the Panama Canal later in 1944, Arky headed along with other ships of the fleet toward a rendezvous at the island of Ulithi. Ahead rested Japanese strongholds and what would become battles forever etched upon the pages of history.

In February 1945, Arky shelled Japanese positions on Iwo Jima in preparation for the Marine invasion. While standing on deck John witnessed the flag being raised on Mount Suribachi. The months following found the Arkansas at Kerama Retto and Okinawa, providing bombardment in advance of US landing forces. Ports of call included Leyte and Guam. It was upon one Pacific island where John bumped into a relative from back home in Boston. Imagine the odds, he laughed.

Interestingly, the teenager was never alarmed by enemy artillery assaults again the ship at Normandy, in the Mediterranean, nor in the Pacific. Yet, the one threat that admittedly scared him was Japanese Kamikaze attack. Every evening the threat was imminent. A number of ships in the fleet were hit and one Kamikaze pilot nearly struck the Arkansas but anti-aircraft fire downed the plane just shy of hitting its target.

During September, with the Japanese surrender, the USS Arkansas’ mission shifted to that of support during the occupation of captured Japanese islands.

In January 1946 cousin John, Seaman Second Class, was honorably discharged to resume his civilian life, living and working in and around Boston. He re-upped for Navy service during the 1950s. Among his WWII ribbons, medals, citations, and letters of gratitude from the United States and from France are two notes that warrant special attention. One is from President Truman, which reads: “To you who answered the call of your country and served in its Armed Forces to bring about the total defeat of the enemy, I extend the heartfelt thanks of a grateful nation.” The other is a homemade Veterans’ Day card from an elementary school child, received years later when he was an old man, thanking him for his service.

After the war, with a Cold War looming, the USS Arkansas was a participant in atomic bomb testing off Bikini Atoll in July 1946. Although she survived atomic test Abel, she proved no match for test Baker as its 23-kiloton “Helen of Bikini” bomb upended the ship, ripped her apart, and ultimately sent her to the bottom. A photograph taken of the mushroom cloud shows what is believed to be a vertical Arkansas in the lower column of the explosion.

As cousin John said, it did indeed take two atomic bombs to sink her.

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.

Among the Finite

By Jack Sheedy

At the beginning of October I indicated that I would be posting three blogs I began earlier this year yet never finished due to a variety of reasons. I published one from February, titled “Back to Bed,” on October 2nd. My family and friends found it woeful, gloomy, and downright depressing. In fact, their concern for my well being has caused me to rethink my earlier plan and perhaps not post the other two blogs.

Instead, I’m going to kick myself in the butt and get myself moving in a more positive direction. Hell, I may even shave.

You see, this has been a year of successes and failures. The months of January, February and March saw me working on a new book – Cape Cod Collected with co-author Jim Coogan – which was published in the spring. Then, throughout March, April and May I worked on the annual newspaper supplement, Summerscape, a Barnstable Patriot publication, this year’s issue detailing 185 years of Cape Cod history from the year 1830 (when the Patriot was first published) to the present time. Throughout the spring, summer and into fall I distributed books to Mid-Cape and Lower Cape outlets. Very busy. And very gratifying.

Yet, as I alluded to in my October 2nd blog posting, I experienced great difficulty in finding full-time employment in this Cape Cod job market. It was as if a 30-year career of working in the Cape business arena meant absolutely nothing. In fact, I think I became pigeon-holed as a 50-something-year-old dinosaur (to be completely honest, I still do not own a cell phone). In April I was able to land two part-time positions – at a church and a library – so between those two, and with my free-lance writing, and with book sales, I was able to fashion a pseudo full-time position, sans any benefits such as health care, of course (another thing I alluded to in my October 2nd blog posting).

So, that’s my tale of woe. Yet, being a “50-something-year-old” making his way in this impersonal 21st century world has given me plenty of ideas for future blog postings, which I have decided will be my theme for the foreseeable future. For instance, just trying to understand today’s TV commercials – hell that’s gotta be a couple of blog postings right there. Or my difficulty in finding a pair of pants that fits – there’s a blog. Or my ongoing battle with ear hair – in fact, that’s why I’m growing out my beard, in order to take the emphasis off my ears. The topics are endless.

So, until my next posting on that “50-something” theme, I’ll leave my readers with this poem by Thomas J. McSheey (1899-1939), which I recently unearthed in my research of the oft-misunderstood 20th century “lunatic” poet. It is titled “Among the Finite.”

Just before October dawn

planets stretched across eastern skies

pulling the sunrise along behind

Venus, Jupiter, warring Mars,

and speeding Mercury

 

Just after sunset

Saturn and a waxing crescent moon

recalling past civilizations in ruin

once gods upon chariots aloft

And, yet, who the hell are we?

 

Billions, millions, millennia depart

like swirling autumn leaves

turning and tumbling we weave

for in a universe of the immortal

we exist among the finite

 

Centuries mark humanity’s progress

decades produce our slow decline

the arc of an earthly lifetime

streaming through atmospheres

like a falling meteorite.

 

In McSheey’s notes he underlined “finite” and “meteorite,” clearly pleased with that rhyme…which he claimed he labored at for three weeks.

Interestingly, McSheey’s lady friend at the time believed she would be killed by a meteor. McSheey laughed and said that such a scenario was ridiculous. He then went on to explain that a “meteor” was the term for the streak of light caused when a piece of space debris known as a “meteoroid” burns up when entering the earth’s atmosphere, and that if she were to be struck and killed it would not be by a “meteor” but instead by a “meteorite,” which is the term for space debris that actually strikes the earth’s surface. To which the young lady struck McSheey upside the head with her handbag and vowed never to see him again.

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd. He has written “Off-the-Shelf” for the past ten years – boy, you’d think he’d be finished by now!

 

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