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.