Cape Cod Sand Dunes
Provincetown’s sand dunes, now part of the Cape Cod National Seashore, have inspired many artists. One writer, closely associated with the dunes was Harry Kemp,(1883-1960) who was fondly referred to by the summer and year-round residents as “The Poet of the Dunes”. It is likely Kemp helped promote that name for himself, as one of his poetry collections he self-published in 1952 was entitled Poet of the Dunes. Here is one of his short poems.
My books are ragged veterans
Much leaked on in my shack;
But each of them’s bound with a rainbow
And wears glory on its back.
Born in Youngstown, Ohio, Kemp first arrived in Provincetown in 1916. His memoir, Tramping on LIfe: an Autobiographical Narrative (1922) was a bestseller during the 1920a and 30s. He was part of the elite circle of bohemian writers of his era that included Upton SInclalir, Max Eastman, Eugene O’Neill, Edmund WIlson, John Dos Passos and many others. Setting down roots for a time in Greenwich Village, In the late 1920’s he started spending his summers in a Provincetown dune shack. A heavy drinker and a womanizer, he was a master of self-promotion, performing stunts for the press in order to garner publicity and attention. Eventually his literary popularity waned, and when he could no longer find a publisher for his poetry, he founded the Provincetown Publishers and had his books printed by the Advocate Press which he sold for two dollars and autographed with a seagull feather along with an envelope of sand “gathered from the first landing place of The Pilgrims”. Now that is marketing for you!
While the purchase of the new mystery novel Remaining in Provincetown does not include sand gathered from the dunes, it is the hope of the writer that when you read the book you will feel as if you’ve been walking on the streets of Provincetown, which usually results in a little sand in your shoes. Now available in trade paperback or on kindle at Amazon.com , Like us on Facebook and keep the conversation going.
Vintage Cape Cod postcard circa 1930
“If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air,” goes the 1957 song written by Alan Jeffrey, Claire Rothrock and Milton Yakus, “Quaint little villages here and there, you’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod.” The hit tune sung by Patti Page captures the spirit of the above antique postcard published 20 some years earlier. “If you like the taste of a lobster stew served by a window with an ocean view, you’re sure to fall in love with Old Cape Cod,” the song goes on to say although they don’t mention Provincetown’s Pilgrim Monument, fishing excursions, swimming, and little neck clams as illustrated in the postcard, the reference to “Old Cape Cod” alludes to the preponderance of historic buildings and antique shops even in the 1950s. There are still plenty of antique shops, flea markets, and yard sales on Cape Cod today. And there were plenty of antiques bought and sold during the 1990s, when the soon-to-be released mystery novel Remaining in Provincetown takes place. One of the book’s characters Bruno, has furnished his entire Bed and Breakfast with antiques and another character, Sonny Carreiro, collects antique postcards. Visit our facebook page to see the novel’s front cover . Click the “like” button and you’ll automatically be entered to possibly win a FREE copy. Now available at Amazon.com.
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Provincetown, Cape Cod
Railroad Station 1920
Wouldn’t it be nice to take a train to Provincetown? The last train that provided service to Cape Cod as far as Hyannis, shut down operations in 1986. Yet the railroad was an important mode of transportation to Provincetown businesses, residents and tourists 100 years ago. It was by train that the fresh fish caught by Provincetown fisherman packed in ice was delivered directly to New York City and it was by train that summer tourists and weekend visitors from Boston and New Bedford could conveniently get to Cape Cod vacation resorts and beaches.
As recently as 1960, the freight train was still running all the way down to the end of Cape Cod. When you visit Provincetown and go for walks along the trails, you can walk along the old railroad track bed. The railroad ties left behind when the tracks were removed and have been put to other practical uses by local folk in gardens and landscaping projects, but if you close your eyes you can imagine the sounds of the train chugging through the woods.
The railroad station shown in the 1920 vintage postcard above, was located on Bradford Street in the center of town between Alden and Standish Streets. It opened in 1873 and shut down in 1938. Initially operating as part of the Old Colony Railroad, the New Haven Railroad served the community from 1893 to 1960.
These days, you can get to Provincetown by airplane, car, bus, and boat. Sarah Carreiro (a character in Remaining in Provincetown) takes the small plane from Boston to come back to Provincetown for her husband’s funeral. Looking down from a small plane is a great way to see the unique geography of the Outer Cape, but that’s another story.
Dune buggy Tour looking out over Pilgrim Lake near Provincetown
Before there was a National Seashore, four wheel drive vehicles could traverse the sand dunes at the tip of Cape Cod, traveling back and forth to visit dune shacks and go fishing. Tourists would pull over to the side of the highway and get out of their cars to run up and down the dunes as they approached Provincetown. This postcard from the 1960s shows a Dune buggy tour on the sand dune above Pilgrim Lake, which you see as you approach Provincetown from Truro. Initially the National Seashore built a parking lot near Pilgrim Lake to provide a safe spot for visitors to park but quickly realized all the erosion damage taking place and closed the area. Dune grass has been extensively planted to help prevent more loss of the dunes. In 1946 Art Costa started Art’s Dune Tours and his son Bob Costa has continued the tradition of providing interesting educational tours that explain some of the historic highlights of the sand dunes that span from the back side of the town out to Race Point and the Outer Shore. You can walk the across the dunes by taking the path at Snail Road and hiking across the sand or you can enjoy the bicycle trails that cross the sand dunes as the Carreiro children do in the soon-to-be released mystery novel Remaining in Provincetown.
Provincetown Inn on Cape Cod
Looking out across Cape Cod Bay, the Provincetown Inn was built back in 1925 and initially had 28 guest rooms. Shown in this vintage postcard, it is located at the very end of town near the Breakwater and today looks quite different than it did at the start of the 20th century. Purchased by Chester Peck in 1935, in the 1950s a beach was “created” using sand from the nearby dune and four additional acres (according to the Inn’s website) were created. Hmm that is not something that would be allowed today, with concerns about retaining existing coastline and drainage, but the result was a spacious resort with night club, three dining rooms, gift shop, barber and beauty shops and more. Thirty-two more rooms were also added. In 1972 the inn was sold to investors and in 1977 was sold to the Evans family. During the mid 1970s Marvin Hagler started coming to Provinetown to train at the Provincetown Inn and jogged across the sand dunes to get into shape. He set up his very own ring by the indoor swimming pool. Hagler was world middleweight boxing champion from 1980-1987.
While the indoor swimming pool is no more as the Inn has continued to be refurbished through the years one thing that does remain are the hand-painted murals that were painted by Don Aikens that were inspired by old photographs, postcards, and paintings showing how the town looked in the late 19th century. It’s a favorite spot for the Carreiro family children to visit (the Carreiro’s being a fictitious family in the novel Remaining in Provincetown). They’ve got a lot on their minds with their father being murdered. Will they catch who did it? Stay tuned for more information and more vintage pictures.
Junction of Commercial and Bradford Streets entering Provincetown, Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Sand dunes greet you as you enter the east end of Provincetown in this antique postcard. The houses on Commercial Street don’t look much different than they did 100 years ago in this unique town on the tip of Cape Cod. On Bradford Street, the town’s major two-way thoroughfare, however, it looks quite different. With just two main streets and only a one route out of town, by car, how do you commit a murder and make a clean getaway? In 1990, the approximate year the new novel Remaining in Provincetown takes place, much of the sand dunes and woods had already made way for apartments, condominium complexes, and businesses.
Provincetown Sand Dunes 100 years ago
The sand dunes at the tip of Cape Cod, between Bay and Ocean have shifted with the wind, but the dunes have always been a secret place for hikes and love trysts. You can get across the sand on foot, horseback, or four wheel drive vehicle (with a special license) . Their beauty has inspired scores of artists and photographers. Are the Provincetown sand dunes a special meeting place for lovers? Where are the secret places two star crossed lovers might rendez-vous? It’s stories you’ll read about in the soon-to-be-released novel Remaining in Provincetown.