To the wonder and astonishment of thousands

By Jack Sheedy

Whenever I’m floundering about, searching for a new theme for this now eight-year-old blog, I consult with my business manager, who also happens to be my Boston Terrier-Dachshund, Willie. Normally it’s best to catch Willie right after he’s had his breakfast. He’s most awake at that point, with a belly full of crunchy bits, which he dines on while listening to classical music, normally Delius or Vaughan Williams, perhaps “The First Cuckoo in Spring” or “The Lark Ascending. ” He likes music about birds, which he later chases around the backyard.

So, this morning he offered some sound advice. He suggested, as he dunked his doughnut and then sipped his black coffee, that I simply reprint stories I’ve been publishing on my social media page (search Jack Sheedy – Cape Cod) in an effort to promote my book CAPE ODD, written with Jim Coogan.

“Hey, that’s a good idea,” I remarked.

“Of course it’s a good idea!” he barked as he poured himself more coffee. “Now hand me the Sports section if you’re done reading it.”

The following excerpts ran during March…

***

With this year's most recent nor'easter still battering our shores, it seems appropriate to reference an excerpt from our book, CAPE ODD, Chapter 1, which takes a look at the November 4, 1841 issue of the Yarmouth Register newspaper and the aftermath of the Great Gale of October 3rd of that year:

"A terrific storm on October 3, 1841 ravaged local seafaring interest...And apparently, not all damage and loss from the storm was restricted to the ocean waves, as evidenced by this notice: 'Horse Strayed Away! Some of the fences at Great Island were blown down by the late gale, and an Old Light Red Horse strayed away. Said Horse had a white spot in his forehead, and one white foot. Any person who will notify the Subscriber where said Horse can be found shall be suitably rewarded.'"

The horse was never recovered, but it is rumored that he changed his name to October Gale and went on to win the Irish Derby.

***
Chapter 1 of CAPE ODD, entitled "A Day in the Life," looks at the November 4, 1841 issue of the Yarmouth Register newspaper in an attempt to first present a picture of "normal" Cape Cod life of that era before diving into the remainder of the book, which presents Cape Cod peculiarities.

In those days, the local newspaper presented all the news fit to print, and nothing was off limits. Even personal ads held nothing back, revealing marital problems in black ink for all to read, such as the following advert published by an abandoned husband: "Whereas my wife K. W., left my bed and board on the morning of the 19th...without sufficient cause, and has conveyed herself to parts unknown, I take this method of cautioning all persons against harboring or trusting her on my account, as I shall pay no debts of her contracting after this date."

He goes on to describe her appearance: "She is a short, thick set woman, has black eyes, black hair tinged with grey, and is dark complexioned." He also mentions she had "previously taken measures to convey away all her wearing apparel."

The husband's appeal finishes with: "Any person who will inform me of her whereabouts shall be rewarded," hinting at a softening on his part, and a possible reconciliation. We like to think they worked things out. Or that she at least picked up a new wardrobe.

***
Jumping to Chapter 3 of CAPE ODD, entitled "Fish Stories," we include a bit about sea serpents and mermaids witnessed around the Cape, as printed in the local newspapers. For instance, the Nov 19, 1850 Barnstable Patriot announced that for 25 cents admission at the Barnstable Exhibition Hall, attendees could view a "Fejee" mermaid on display, "to the wonder and astonishment of thousands of naturalists."

The Aug 2, 1909 Hyannis Patriot talks of a mermaid caught in Nantucket Sound, near Bishop and Clerks Light, on display at Bearse's Market, and "attracting lots of attention among summer visitors." What was most amazing was that the mermaid worked at the market’s deli counter.

While the Harwich Independent of Jul 10, 1873 mentions a mermaid sighting by "a Mrs. Young and several children" while visiting a Brewster beach: "The head of this object, or mermaid, resembled exactly that of a child while the rest of the body was of fish form." The creature eventually "darted off into the sea, keeping its head above the surface and resembling in every manner that of a child swimming."

Or, perhaps that of a grey seal.

***
Welcome to another installment, in which we share stories from our book, CAPE ODD, wrapping up Chapter 3, "Fish Stories," with some shark tales. For instance, in 1929, a Navy Lieutenant, while swimming at Craigville Beach on his day off, was bitten by a shark. He was able to fight off his attacker, which by the way was only three feet long - certainly not the shark from the movie "Jaws."

A local fisherman was attacked by a shark in 1878. Charlie Healy, of Woods Hole, had caught a "good sized shark" and was preparing to haul the beast on board his boat when it bit him on the arm. "Charlie felt the bite very sensibly and soon became faint," said a Barnstable Patriot article, which is 19th century verbiage for "It hurt like hell." Later, another fisherman happened upon Healy's boat and found the wounded fisherman bleeding but alive. The shark had apparently escaped. And he took Charlie’s pipe and tobacco with him.

Meanwhile, an unruly crewman aboard a Cape Cod schooner off Panama was not so lucky. Unwilling to perform his duties, the crewman was put in irons, but later attempted to make his escape. While trying to steal the vessel's rowboat, he managed to fall overboard ... and was swiftly attacked by a shark. He was never recovered. Well, not all of him anyway. Certainly not the tasty parts.

For more CAPE ODD stories, including that of a 19th century Cape Cod man who found prehistoric shark's teeth "measuring from six inches to a foot in width," belonging to a 50+ foot Megalodon, click on NPR Radio's "The Point" program, below:

http://www.wgbh.org/programs/The-Point-298/episodes/Cape-Odd-25072

Jack Sheedy is the author of six books about Cape Cod.

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