Monday, October 26, 2015

Boston Harbor, Summer and Fall - 2015

Teaching knots and pirate lore at Carson Beach, August 2015 Photo by: Joe Prezioso,
At the beginning of this project, what I didn't know about the Boston Harbor would have filled several volumes. The history of the harbor is as rich and as varied as the centuries and the waves of people that created it.  This summer,  my usual work expanded as I was invited to be a storyteller for Save the Harbor, thanks to a grant from MassHumanities. The amazing activities available to the people of the Commonwealth on the beaches in and around our harbor blew me away. I was honored to be even a small a part of it. As I traveled from beach to beach,  I witnessed kayaking, fishing, swimming, surfing and all manner of environmentally sound engagement with natural life. All this activity peopled the shores as I told and exchanged stories as part of the Better Beaches summer crew of SaveTheHarbor/Save the, Boston's premier, non-profit public interest harbor advocacy organization. Save the Harbor is directed by Bruce Berman, who leads and is supported by thousands of citizens, as well as scientists, civic, corporate, cultural and community leaders in a mission to restore and protect Boston Harbor, Massachusetts Bay, and the marine environment and share them with the public for everyone to enjoy. By the end of this month I will have visited and performed at beaches from Lynn to Hull and seen a lot of the great beaches that are closest to Boston in South Boston and Dorchester.

The wheelhouse of the Provincetown. Thanks, Captain Mark Aborn!
 USS Wyandot - circa 1966

This past Saturday,  I went on a cruise to Spectacle Island, one of the many Boston harbor islands that are now a National Park. Save the Harbor sponsors several of these great outings that are free and open to the public and draw hundreds of folk of all ages and stages of life.  I signed on as pirate Mary Read who sailed during the Golden Age of Piracy as 'Mark'. At the dock, our boat, the  Provincetown loomed high and as I looked up at the bridge, a fleeting wish to get to visit passed through my mind. Imagine my delight when less than 10 minutes later  I was invited to the wheelhouse of the Provincetown to use the PA system and announce my plans to share stories. What a blast! The last time I was in a wheelhouse was 1966. Our father, who was in the Merchant Marine had taken a job as the navigator of a ship bound for the South Pole. We went the Brooklyn Navy Yard where he had worked for years and for the first time actually boarded a ship.  We had lunch and spent the better part of a day exploring his vessel, the USS Wyandot. I remember we had the run of the bridge. Ever a geek, I was fascinated by all the controls and nautical paraphernalia. Confused by seeing two wheels, one metal and one wooden, we were told that the "old fashioned" wooden wheel was necessary due to the extreme cold the folks on the bridge would experience. I also remembered snagging some neat paper forms for "ice reports" which had descriptions and drawings of the many different forms of ice they would encounter.  That flood of memory receded as the Provincetown's whistle blasted and I got to watch as the captain smoothly moved the boat from the dock and we were underway in Boston Harbor! There is something about the way boats move that I just love.

Below decks on the Provincetown ( it was a chilly day) I interacted with people from all over Greater Boston and beyond, telling and listening to stories. One fellow was from LA where he was a water treatment specialist. He was interested in the story of Spectacle Island and had his own to tell about an LA landfill that now is a Botanical Garden.  Many families were on a boat or visiting a Boston Harbor Island for the very first time. The excitement level was high! Once at Spectacle Island we hiked a bit after sharing some stories from the summer programs.   I told stories about the islands and pirates at the Krystle M. Campbell Memorial Gazebo, a somber reminder of the tragedy of the everyday from a peaceful look out.  On the return voyage, I told more ghost stories and trivia about the islands, and the surrounding bay including: Bumpkin Island, Minot's Ledge, Deer Island Long Island, Thompson Island, Georges Island, Little Brewster Island and Nixe's Mate. Here are some of the questions I answered with stories. These are just the tip of the stories that inhabit the islands and harbor of Boston.

Q&A Trivia, Ghosts and Haunts: What Boston Harbor Island?
1.    Where is the Lady in Black said to roam?
2.    On what island is her body buried - where does the Lady in Scarlet moan?
3.    If you light a fire, during the winter,  the ghosts of hundreds of Native Americans will surround you? They died in 1676-77.
4.    On which island does a little girl call for “Shadwell!” and why?
5.    On a stormy night, you may hear the distant ringing of bell and a man’s voice cry “ Stay away!” in Portuguese? [Va embora!] (not an Island, but in the Harbor)
6.    Don’t respond to the cries of drowning boys off the shore of this island, they died 100s of years ago…
7.    He predicted the fate of what island when he met his own fate at the end of a hangman’s rope.
8.    The first hospital with ramps for the handicapped in 1902 on what island?

ICYM me all summer? I will be performing with an amazing line-up of storytellers at the Hull Life Saving Museum on October 29th 2015. Harbor Haunts is performed every other year around Halloween. Most of the stories will come from Edgar Snow's work. He recorded local legends of ghosts, pirates, storms and shipwrecks. The evening will include legends about Boston Light, A Lady in Black, The “Fantom” Fiddler and The Legend of Minot Light among others. The Lifesaving Station provides a great atmosphere for storytelling. I will tell the story of Ocean Born Mary.

On November 20th at 3:30pm I will perform a show for upper elementary ages in the Children's Room at the Winthrop Library in Winthrop MA . I appear in full costume as Mary Read telling stories about ghosts, heroes and pirates of Boston Harbor.

Thanks again to MassHumanities and all the crew at SaveTheHarbor/Save the for inviting me on what has been a voyage of discovery, in my own "backyard." What I now know about this beautiful public resource could fill a book.

Raymond T. Dooley is the guy in the middle.