Burning Their Bras and Their Brooms…The Fabulous Witches of Outer Cape Cod

October 24, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

Long ago, when Provincetown was a thriving whaling port and the town and harbor were full of the hustle and bustle of commerce, there lived an old woman in a decrepit shack in the dunes. A mysterious woman, the townsfolk feared her and referred to her in hushed tones as Old Mother Melt. Stories abounded that late at night strange noises and lights came from her cabin. Others said they saw her dancing in the moonlight on the beach, surely casting a spell or conjuring evil spirits. Anytime misfortune fell upon Provincetown, be it a storm or an outbreak of illness, townspeople blamed her and called her a witch. An unruly child of the day might be scolded with the warning, “Old Mother Melt will get you!” prompting them to obey their parents. Most everyone believed in the powers of this witch, and lived in fear of her, running indoors whenever she made an infrequent trip into town. The sailors prone to superstition made extra efforts to avoid her gaze, fearing she’d put a hex on their next voyage, damning them to a watery grave – all but Captain Samuel Collins.

Collins considered himself a man of science and reason, and scoffed at the claims of witches, potions, and spells. While the story goes that Old Mother Melt lived a solitary life, she must have had a visitor at least once, as she had a teenaged son.  Hoping to change their lot in life, Old Mother Melt asked all the whaling captains to take her son on as a cabin boy, but they all refused, fearful of her magical powers. Collins, however, accepted. But on the day of sail, the ship left earlier than scheduled and sailed away without the boy. Old Mother Melt was seen screaming and shrieking at the end of the wharf, placing a “curse” on the ship and all who sail upon her. Just a few weeks into their voyage a freak storm struck, washing half the crew overboard to their deaths.  Captain Collins had no choice but to return to Provincetown. And on the journey back to homeport he recalled the curse laid upon the ship by Old Mother Melt and vowed to kill her himself for her wicked ways.  Bursting through the door of her cottage, Captain Collins was thwarted in his attempts to rid Provincetown of this wicked witch by Old Mother Melt’s plea for mercy and a promise to never again use her powers. Upon that promise Captain Collins took her son on as an apprentice, and his ship encountered no more ill winds thereafter.

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All Washed Up

September 26, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

The world’s oceans cover 71 percent of planet Earth. While geography classes teach there are four oceans in the world, of course looking at any globe or map shows that there is indeed just one big one. Anyone who lives in a coastal community knows that on a daily basis all kinds of things wash up on the beach. And true to form here on the Outer Cape, while we have had all kinds of organic and inorganic flotsam and jetsam, we’ve had some really unusual things appear on our beaches, and some really creative responses to it.

While images of fishing gear and plastic bottles come to mind when thinking of what floats in an out with the ocean’s tides, of course seashells and sea creatures, big and small, have be in the surf for millennia. The classic scallop shell is a symbol of Massachusetts, and wampum, from clamshells, is made into high-demand jewelry. But the larger animals that occasionally appear on our beaches can attract nationwide attention, like in 2009 when a dead humpback whale washed up on Herring Cove Beach. While strandings usually happen elsewhere on the Cape, and Provincetown is often where rescued dolphins are released, dead whales and other large marine animals date back to days when they stirred fears of sea monsters. 

In 1938 a heavily decomposed beast washed ashore on Long Point. A few of the “old timers” in town thought that perhaps it was the sea monster spotted by town crier George Washington Reedy in 1886. Alas, Harvard University zoologists identified it as a long dead basking shark. 

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Courage in the Land of Oz

September 5, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

In January 1981 I was in the first grade. My mother picked me up one day and took me home for lunch so I could watch the inauguration of Ronald Reagan as president. She put the black and white set my parents had in their bedroom on the kitchen table and we watched the ceremony together. Throughout, she did her best to explain to a six-year-old the American electoral process, and why, despite the fact that neither she nor my father voted for Reagan, we were watching his swearing in on the Capitol steps. “It’s an historic event,” I remember her saying. Much like Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Provincetown on August 26, which I also witnessed.

Only a couple of years after watching Reagan’s inauguration, we went on a family vacation to Washington, D.C. Walking into the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History my father suggested we go see the antique cars in the exhibit on American transportation. But my mother and I were already making a beeline to the First Ladies exhibit. Rosalynn Carter’s 1977 inaugural ball gown as well as Mamie Eisenhower’s fuchsia pumps, which I thought looked like Dorothy’s ruby slippers from The Wizard of Oz, particularly enchanted me. 

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The Gift of Art

July 18, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

To be able to give to others is a great gift. Too often, the philanthropic impulse is squelched in those of us who are not millionaires, for fear that what little we can give won’t “make a difference.” But opportunities to give back do exist and they are open to the working people of our community. Case in point: a recent initiative spearheaded by writer Steve Desroches to acknowledge the special connection between Provincetown and the students from the American University in Bulgaria, who work in Provincetown every summer, by gifting a painting by a Provincetown artist to the school, where it will hang with a plaque saying, “From your friends in Provincetown, Massachusetts, USA.”

“I know we have lots of workers from other countries here, but it’s clear that the town and the school have a special bond,” explains Desroches.

While working on a story for this magazine, Desroches saw firsthand just how deep the connection runs. On a trip with his partner Peter Donnelly to Istanbul, Turkey, Desroches took an excursion to Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria, to visit the university, which he had heard about from Bulgarian guest workers working all over Provincetown. The finished piece ran in the June 7, 2012 issue of Provincetown Magazine. (It can still be accessed on our Web site: provincetownmagazine.net.)

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Provincetown, Nudity, and You

July 11, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

There is something about Provincetown that makes people want to take their clothes off. Be it on the stage, in the studio, along the streets, or in the sand dunes of Provincetown, throughout history public nudity has arguably played a larger role in the cultural, and sometimes political, life here than in other communities. And the evidence is everywhere. A photo of a naked Tennessee Williams frolicking on the beach hangs in the Atlantic House. The Provincetown Art Association and Museum’s collection features nudes dating back to the early days of the art colony. Louise Bryant, feminist and lover to both John Reed and Eugene O’Neill, appeared nude in a 1916 production with the Provincetown Players. Newspaper reports from the 1880s state that elder Benjamin Lancey, the wealthy eccentric whose family built the mansion where Front Street restaurant is now, would walk to the harbor for his daily swim through crowded Commercial Street, completely naked.

Indeed, be it for high art, shock factor, comfort, or free expression, nudity has remained a very public component of life in Provincetown. Perhaps the longest standing traditional representation of nudity is life drawing classes offered by a variety of institutions as well as private instructors. The iconic image of a nude person standing in front of a room full of students sketching is as well known in popular culture as it is in fine art. The process of drawing the nude is of course not native to Provincetown, but for such a small community, indeed it seems that a large percentage of residents have posed nude for art’s sake, or to help supplement their income.

“Drawing the nude is important to learn how to draw line and form,” says artist Larry Collins, who has run several life drawing groups in Provincetown. 

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A Home Away From Home: The Bulgaria and Provincetown Connection

June 6, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

It all started at a rave in Germany.  

In 1999, four students from the American University in Bulgaria (AUBG) were at a techno party just prior to traveling to America for the very first time.  But they had no idea where to go. Their home country of Bulgaria is about the same size as the state of Virginia.  In comparison, America is huge. They needed a little guidance.  In a perfect example of the “Butterfly Effect,” where little things make a big difference, the DJ at the party gave some fateful advice. 

“Go to Provincetown.”

The story is of almost mythic proportions on the AUBG campus in the small city of Blagoevgrad in the southeastern corner of Bulgaria.  The DJ had recently played a gig at a circuit party in Provincetown over the Fourth of July. By the late 1990s, Cape Cod was certainly home to a large number of international workers helping to solve the chronic labor shortage each summer. But this was new for Bulgarians. Communism had collapsed earlier in the decade bringing new opportunities, one of which was the ability to travel to the United States to work on the J-1 visa, open to university students from around the world.  Formerly closed off from the rest of the world by the Iron Curtain, Eastern European students were now flurrying around the world looking for adventure, financial opportunities, and the kind of maturation that comes with traveling abroad.  Students from AUBG went far and wide around the globe, but one place captured the attention, and then the hearts, of the student body: Provincetown.

“We hear about Provincetown a lot. I hear it is really amazing,” says freshman Nelly Ovcharova, one of three student ambassadors chosen to give a tour of the campus when Provincetown Magazine visited last January.  “It is like a fairy tale they tell us.”

Walking through the hallway of the Panitza Library at AUBG, the largest English language library in Southeast Europe, student after student shares a story about Provincetown, or expresses a desire to work for a summer someday.  

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Now Showing In 3D

April 25, 2012 5:00 am0 comments

It’s hard not to notice the role movies play in everyday life. And even in the so-called Digital Age, where movies can be seen on iPhones, laptops, and portable media players, the act of physically going out to a movie continues to endure – so much so that communities are finding ways to bring movies to unconventional spaces, as well as committing to renewed support for those theaters that have existed in the past. 

Further up Cape in Chatham, the Chatham Orpheum Project raised over a million dollars in five months to bring back the town’s Main Street movie theater that had become a victim of the multiplexes back in the 1980s. Wellfleet Harbor Actors Theater’s glamorous Julie Harris Stage reserves time for art house cinema in the off-season. And right here in town, the options for seeing a movie have never been more diverse – the silent cinema series at WOMR, free screenings of new DVD releases at the Provincetown Public Library on Wednesdays, and of course our annual cine-celebration, the Provincetown International Film Festival.

But nothing compares to having a dedicated, year-round movie theater where film is not a side venture, but the main attraction. After several months of renovations, the Whaler’s Wharf Cinema is set to re-open, better than ever, this weekend.

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Discover the NEW and IMPROVED Provincetown Public Library

April 12, 2012 4:13 pm0 comments

by Steve Desroches After completing an epic restoration project, a decade’s worth of fundraising, and dealing with a few unexpected setbacks, the Provincetown Public Library is about to embark on its first season without the distraction of being a construction site. And the staff is more than excited to focus [...]

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The ‘Black Flash’…The Legend Lives On

October 26, 2011 6:45 pm0 comments

altIt started with the children. Coming home in tears and shaking, the children of Provincetown told of a monster that frightened them on the way home from school. Something big. Something that growled.  Something all in black. Something that appeared from nowhere and then took off in a flash.  Their parents smiled, gave them hugs and maybe a cookie to calm them down.  But it did little to appease the children’s fears of this ghoulish phantom they knew was lurking somewhere in Provincetown. No matter how hard they insisted that what they saw was not a figment of their imagination, the adults would not believe them. That is until Maria Costa was walking home by herself one night.  Then, some of the townspeople began to believe that maybe the devil had come to Provincetown.
By October in 1939 the summer crowds were long gone. The tourist season ended sharply on Labor Day in those days. By mid-October the town was pretty much only the 4,500 year-rounders and a few stragglers who had not yet returned home after a summer of painting or partying, or both. That’s why no one was around one October night as Miss Costa walked by Town Hall and from out of the bushes an inhumanly tall figure dressed all in black jumped out in front of her. He had glowing blues eyes, big silver ears, and the ability to jump like a gazelle. Costa ran into a coffee shop screaming and several men inside ran down Commercial Street looking for the apparition, but found nothing. The police apparently chuckled after taking a statement from the visibly shaken Costa.  But over the next week, several more residents reported being scared to death when this tall, beastly banshee appeared out of nowhere right in front of them as they walked through town. Some called it the Provincetown Phantom, others the Devil of the Dunes. But the name that stuck was the Black Flash, both because of his long, hooded black cape and his super human ability to run away before anyone could get a good look at the fiend.

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The Return of the Beaux Arts Ball

October 22, 2011 6:22 pm0 comments

altBy now, chances are you have seen the iconic archival masquerade ball image. Marc Jacobs has used it in his ad, the town has it on display in Town Hall, and now here it is again just in case you missed it. The image depicts a masquerade ball that took place in Provincetown Town Hall in 1916 – one of many, as the event was an annual one put on by the Beachcombers Club back in the day.
Flash forward to today: The Beaux Arts Ball is back, but this time it has been underwritten by Marc Jacobs International, features Blondie diva Debbie Harry, and has the town in a tizzy with excitement, frustration, and nostalgia all wrapped up in one package.
Town Manager Sharon Lynn says she got the idea to revive the ball after seeing that 1916 photograph during the process of renovating Town Hall. She says she was seven or eight months into the party planning process when Robert Duffy, president of Marc Jacobs International and a local, seasonal resident came to see her about the renovations, which really impressed him.
“He hung out here [as a kid] and remembered what Town Hall used to look like and he was in awe,” Lynn says. “He was very interested in underwriting it… Once it became a focus of Marc Jacobs, they pretty much ran with it.”

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