Thursday, October 31, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Jane Toppan's Poisoning Murders

     There have been many horrific crimes that have taken place on Cape Cod, from Tony Costa to the Lady of the Dunes, to Edward Ray Snow and beyond. One name that belongs right up there with those previously mentioned, but usually is overlooked, is that of Nurse Jane Toppan. Nicknamed ‘Jolly Jane’ her poisoning murders shocked New England and were only the tip of the iceberg. This is the story of those crimes and the intriguing soul behind them.

     The life of Jane Toppan began in turmoil. Born in 1857 as Honora A. Kelley in Boston’s North End she was one of four sisters born to poor Irish immigrants Peter and Bridget. Bridget died of tuberculosis early in Honora’s childhood and shortly before Peter died from alcohol in 1863 Honora and her sisters became residents of the Boston Female Asylum for Destitute Girls on Washington Street. Honora was adopted by Captain Abner Toppan of Lowell and his wife Ann who christened her Jane Toppan. She would become an indentured servant to the family.
'Jolly Jane' Toppan

     Despite being treated poorly by her adoptive mother Jane excelled in school and participated in activities at the First Congregational Church in Lowell. She got along well with the Toppans’ daughter Elizabeth whom she felt a kinship with as she too was mistreated by Mrs. Toppan. After turning eighteen Jane had the chance to leave yet chose to stay and continue working for Elizabeth and her husband Oramel Brigham for a decade. Jane’s life changed at the age of twenty when she fell in love with a man she wished to marry. He moved nearly one hundred miles west to Holyoke for work to save money for marriage. However while there he met someone else and ended up marrying her instead. Jane would never be the same.

     She became introverted and brooding, resenting Elizabeth’s happy marriage. In 1885 Jane suddenly left Elizabeth’s home and entered nurses’ training at Cambridge Hospital. She would also train some at Mass General Hospital where she made a great impression on her superiors but her fellow nurses-in-training saw her as trouble. It was during her time at Mass General where Toppan attempted to poison a fellow nurse. To further complicate things it was discovered that Jane had left the training before being formally discharged and thus her diploma as a Registered Nurse was never awarded. This did not stop Toppan as she would ironically become head nurse at Cambridge Hospital only a year after failing to get her diploma by lying to management there about her credentials.

     Her time at Cambridge Hospital saw her garner a very positive reputation as a nurse, the best doctors recommended her as she was described as highly intelligent and caring. She had a high volume of cases which masked her sinister side. During the early 1890’s Nurse Jane Toppan’s poisoning murders began. Those people whom Toppan wished to keep as cases she would sometimes administer less-than-lethal doses of poison to keep them from recovering. The striking dichotomy of her pleasant outside with her evil inside was apparent in the murders of a husband and wife in her care.

     On May 26, 1895 Toppan poisoned Israel P. Dunham. The family thought so highly of her that when Dunham’s widow became sick two years later they sent for Toppan to care for her. She then poisoned Mrs. Dunham as well. While part of the private-duty circuit in and around Boston Jane moved back in with her foster sister Elizabeth and her husband Oramel. In 1899 Elizabeth became ill and Jane cared for her, including accompanying the family to the village of Cataumet in Bourne on the Cape for the summer. However Elizabeth only grew worse and died in August 1899. Coincidentally Elizabeth’s housekeeper, also in Jane’s care, died in January 1900.

     Toppan’s reputation gained her a job as a nurse at the Episcopal School in Cambridge caring for a girl with typhoid fever in the fall of 1899. There she met Myra Connors the head matron at the school and also at the Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory. In January 1900 Connors became sick and confined to her bed. Ironically after Toppan left for another case Connors began steadily improving. When Toppan returned to care for her ‘friend’ for free Connors rapidly declined and died on February 11, 1900. It was at this time that several people including Connors’ friend Nellie Coombs began to suspect Toppan of poisoning Connors to gain her position at Woods Hole. These suspicions only grew when Nurse Jane did indeed succeed Connors as head of the ‘Mess House’ at the M.B.L. in the summer of 1900.
The Woods Hole Marine Biological Laboratory

     Much as during her time at the Cambridge Hospital Jane Toppan was highly respected at Woods Hole. During her summer at the M.B.L. there were no incidents to speak of. However her undoing would come when she returned to Cataumet for the summer like the year before. 


     Toppan became good friends with the Davis family from Buzzards Bay, including renting a cottage from patriarch Alden P. Davis. Davis, his wife Mattie, and his two daughters referred to Nurse Jane simply as ‘Jennie.’ Toppan left Woods Hole and returned to Cambridge in 1901. On July 3, 1901 Mattie Davis arrived for a visit to see if Jane wished to rent their cottage again for the summer and had dinner with her. Mattie became violently ill and died on July 4th. Suspicion arose but Jane proclaimed diabetes as cause of death and her word was believed.

     She returned to the Cape with the body of Mrs. Davis to grieve with the family. Mattie’s daughter Genevieve became ill at her mother’s funeral and Nurse Jane cared for her at the request of her father. Genevieve died July 13th with Toppan claiming heart disease as the culprit. Alden P. Davis was devastated and at 70 years old his failing health which followed was not surprising. On August 8th Alden was found dead in his bed by Nurse Jane, she proclaimed his death a mixture of grief and a stroke. Shockingly the man who performed Mrs. Davis’ funeral confessed to burying her without a death certificate, going only on Nurse Jane’s word again.

     Toppan stayed with the remaining daughter Mary, and some other family members who had come to comfort her. When Mary became bed-ridden Nurse Jane cared for her. She told a doctor who came that she was just tired and the doctor took her word and left. Mary died early on August 13, 1901 making her the fourth member of the Davis family to die in Jane’s care in six weeks. Finally Jane’s facade unraveled as Mary’s husband suspected poisoning. After Mary’s funeral Jane left Cape Cod returning to Lowell and a police investigation began.

     The undertaker recalled Jane telling him the Davis family wished for a lot of embalming fluid to be used, possibly to mask the poisoning agents in their bodies. The net closing in Jane attempted suicide by poison but was revived by a doctor. She then fled to Amherst, New Hampshire and was subsequently placed under arrest on October 29, 1901 and arraigned at Barnstable District Court. Now in custody the true scope of the horrific crimes Jane Toppan committed would be exposed.

     On November 20, 1901 the four Davis family victims were exhumed and it was determined they all died from a lethal dose of morphine. She was indicted in December. Jane confessed to her lawyer Fred Bixby that not only had she murdered the Davis family but at least 31 people, perhaps as many as 100. With her victims she administered morphine and atropine in water or whiskey, or used injections. Toppan admitted that although she did not think she was insane she did not feel any remorse for what she had done.
Taunton State Hospital where Jane lived out her remaining years.

     On April 8, 1902 three experts examining her found Jane Toppan to be insane. Her trial in Barnstable began and ended on June 24th with Jane being committed to the Taunton State Hospital. Toppan lived out her remaining years feeling no remorse for the lives she had affected, dying inside the hospital’s walls on August 17, 1938.

     Despite her claims that she wasn’t insane, and her confession to untold cruel poisoning murders, only Jane Toppan herself knows just how far her crimes reached. Jolly Jane’s story is truly terrifying showing that sometimes looks can be deceiving and trust can get you killed.


Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Sunsets 2020

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Friday, October 25, 2019

Photo Friday: Ned's Point Light Sunset

Welcome to Photo Friday!

Today features a bright orange and yellow sunset photo taken at Ned's Point Lighthouse in Mattapoisett, Massachusetts.

This photo is for sale at Smug Mug here: New England Lighthouses

I also have a Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Sunsets 2020

View my previous blog posts: In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - The Panama Club
                                                In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Thomas Ridley & Cape Cod's Loneliest Grave

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Thursday, October 24, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Thomas Ridley and the Cape's Loneliest Grave

     October is perfect for hiking through the woods gazing upon the colorful leaves as they change with the temperatures. It is a time for football, friends, family, and fun. On the other side of the coin it is the Halloween season which is perfect for fear and the unknown. Cape Cod is home to its share of scary stories, hauntings, murder, and other oddities. One such intriguing story is that of Cape Cod’s loneliest grave. This grave does not lie in any cemetery on a map, nor are there any markings or signs to allow you to easily find it. No, this grave and the person who lies beneath it were buried far from society specifically to not be found.

     The man Thomas Ridley is far more ordinary than the adventure of the search for his hidden grave. A fisherman and seaman Ridley was born in Truro on December 13, 1715, the eldest son of Thomas Ridley Sr and Mary Smalley. Thomas Sr. had been born on the Atlantic Ocean in 1685 as his parents traveled from Great Britain to New England.

     Thomas Ridley Jr. married Elizabeth Cook in 1738 and together they had ten children, four sons and six daughters. All things being equal Ridley’s life was ordinary until it neared its end. It was in the 1770’s when Thomas contracted smallpox. Sadly at this time on average 20-60% of adults who contracted smallpox, and more than 80% of children infected died, with the survivors usually living with severe scarring. Unfortunately for Thomas the process of vaccination did not even begin until 1796 under the watch of British doctor Edward Jenner and would take several years to perfect. The ordinary smallpox strain, which accounted for ninety percent of all cases throughout history, took twelve to fourteen days on average to begin showing symptoms after a person was infected. Those who died usually passing after ten to sixteen days of the onset of the symptoms of severe rash and fever.

A wide view of Thomas Ridley's grave, showing how it blends in.
     Sometime in 1776 Thomas Ridley caught and died from smallpox. The fear of the spread of the disease caused the residents of Truro to bury Ridley’s body far from the rest of the village. He was buried deep in the thick forest of North Truro. When his wife Elizabeth died in 1792 she was buried in Provincetown at the present-day Winthrop Street Cemetery more than five miles west of her husband’s resting place.

     As for Thomas Ridley in the 240-plus years since he was laid to rest underneath a simple gray slate stone, with his name misspelled as ‘Rideey,’ Cape Cod has evolved. Route 6 passes a half-mile south of his stone with Montano’s Italian Restaurant being the closest civilization to the former fisherman’s remains.
Thomas Ridley's grave with his name misspelled.
     For those wishing to lay eyes on Cape Cod’s loneliest grave it is an adventure all on its own finding it. The area of woods in which Ridley’s grave exists, between Pilgrim Heights Road to the north, Head of the Meadow Road to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the east is approximately 736 acres in size. Contrast that to the fact that the gravestone itself is little more than a foot tall and the gray color allows it to easily blend in to its surroundings. From the parking lot of Montano’s approximately 1,300-feet east is a 14,000-square-foot sand pit which marks roughly the halfway point to Ridley’s grave. After scaling the sand pit it is roughly 1,200 more feet, northwest from the sand, through the thick Truro woods which leads one face to face with history and reality.

     Thomas Ridley was a real person with a real life and family who caught the deadliest disease of his time and was buried miles from anything as a way to protect those still living. His name and story seem like legend or folklore, however making the trek through the woods that have likely remained the same since he was first buried there, gives one a sense of sadness and loss realizing that a real person rests underfoot in an area so withdrawn from civilization. It truly is Cape Cod’s loneliest grave.

     For more about the history of smallpox visit: History of Smallpox -

View my previous blog posts: In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Panama Club, Hyannis

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bassett's Wild Animal Farm

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Sunsets 2020

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher
My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Thursday, October 17, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Panama Club, Hyannis

As nightspots on Cape Cod go there are few which can rival the history or the legendary status that The Panama Club earned it its time. In the days before the Melody Tent, or even before the West End Rotary existed, the Panama Club was drawing in the masses in huge numbers to an area which at the time was not yet an epicenter for after dark fun. It put Hyannis and jazz music on the map on Cape Cod and Southeastern New England.
The story of the Panama Club began shortly before World War II landed on America’s front step. It was a time shortly after the worst of the Great Depression had subsided. In those days there were very few places for young people to get together and have a good time. That would change with the arrival of Antonio Caggiano from Boston in 1937. In 1941 he, along with his son Reynold would open the Panama Club near the end of Main Street. Decorated in red and white velvet this would usher in a new era of nightlife on Cape Cod. It was the first swinging jazz club.
Postcard from the 1950's looking east down Main Street with Panama Club on the right.
Courtesy of Sturgis Library

Though the father and son owners would also operate other businesses, Rennie’s Lounge in Hyannis and Rico’s Restaurant in Centerville, the club on Main Street would forever etch their names in Cape history. Their Panama Club would be a hotbed for the youth of Cape Cod, guys and girls dressed to the nines looking to meet up. Couples and those who had never laid eyes on each other alike would pack together on the small dance floor and get their feet moving to lively swing music.
Not very long after bursting onto the scene the Panama Club became an escape for locals after news hit of the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Those who were in the club learned of the news inside, some rushed home while others stayed. The establishment did not close though and it was packed again the next day with some even bringing their own beer with them. The events of Pearl Harbor and the Panama Club would become the subject of a popular fictionalized play written by Larry Marsland of Chatham in 2006.
Looking down Main Street from a similar vantage point as the above postcard.

The Panama Club would become the jumping off point for Cape Cod’s First Lady of Jazz Marie Marcus who first graced their stage in 1943 when she was still billed under her maiden name of Marie Doherty. She teamed up with Alma Gates White to form the ‘Piano Maniacs’ playing the Panama Club as well as the Coonamessett Club in Falmouth. While performing at the Panama Club Marie would meet her future husband, trumpeter Bill Marcus.
The bar at the club was always packed with beer being the drink of choice, selling for seventy-five cents, while shots of whiskey cost sixty cents. For those who did not wish to travel to the busy club there was another way to listen to the live music being performed there. This was thanks to the occasional live radio broadcasts being transmitted from the Panama Club. However so crowded did the club become that during one show in 1943 legendary WOCB DJ Vern Coleman, then only seventeen, had to set up his equipment and broadcast the night’s live music from underneath a table. The radio broadcasts would remain a fixture throughout the 1940’s.
As the decade passed the club became the place to be, World War II did not damped the business. Everyone from celebrities, to soldiers at Camp Edwards, to the average everyday worker made their way to the end of Main Street. Those who worked in the businesses nearby would get off of their shift and walk down to enjoy a drink and a chat. Many local would become well known due to their playing at the Panama Club including pianists Mike Markaverich and Marion Cahoon who would teach piano at the Cape Cod Conservatory of Music for three decades. The joint would be jumping until midnight after which people would pour out of the Panama Club’s several exits. Some would wander down The Byway alley winding behind the club, while others would simply congregate in the streets. The crowds were so large that during its heyday it was said to look like a mini Times Square outside after.
Where Panama Club once stood on Main Street.

The Panama Club would gain perhaps its most famous regular in the form of summer resident and future President of the United States John F. Kennedy. The course of history was changed inside the walls of the club in September of 1944. It was shortly after the Great Atlantic Hurricane had hit the Cape that Kennedy and two female friends paid a visit to the Panama Club as they enjoyed it and also it was one of the first places to reopen after the storm. It was during a break between dancing where Kennedy first mentioned his desire to become a politician, specifically a potential run for Governor despite only being twenty-seven years old at the time.
In the 1950’s the Panama Club would see some changes. In June 1953 the Caggianos would sell the establishment to former Uxbridge Inn owner John Cornelia. There would also be competition in the form of the Catalina Club which opened at 654 Main Street. The club would continue its run for a few more years before closing in the late 1950’s. The building would be torn down in 1972 and as of 2018 the site of the former Panama Club is occupied by a Dunkin’ Donuts. Only memories and scant images remain now of Cape Cod’s original swinging jazz club, luckily Larry Marsland’s play brought some light back to this lost icon.

View my previous blog posts: In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bassett's Wild Animal Farm
                                                In My Footsteps: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Sunsets 2020

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

In My Footsteps: Happy Birthday Grampa in Heaven (Coping with Grief and Loss)

     Nobody tells you how grief and loss are going to affect you. There is no text book on coping to follow. Suddenly you look up and more than 6 months have gone by and you barely remember anything that happened. That’s where I’m at. Opening my eyes, my mind, my heart and soul to try to right a ship which has been capsized and taking on water since the spring began.
     My Grampa John Sullivan was the most important man in my life. The person who I wanted to be, who gave me the blueprint on being a man, being a true success in life simply by living his. He passed in May, 5 months ago, but the sense of grief and loss began weeks earlier when he was admitted to a nursing home and began a quick decline from Alzheimer’s. It was when I realized this was soon to be the end that I began to dive back into a familiar coping mechanism, alcohol. It’s far easier to numb feelings than to deal with them.
     It was easy to get lose in the cycle of grief, depression, and coping with alcohol. Everyone else I know, family, friends, etc, they all had their own problems. I was able to slip through the cracks, not because they didn’t care, but because I wanted to. I wanted to be alone with sadness and guilt. Sadness because he was gone, guilt because I felt like I had yet to become all of the things he knew I could be.
     During the first few months I reached out to lots of people, I even got to see some old friends I hadn’t seen in forever, but those moments were band-aids I tore off with a few shots once I was alone. I released my 5th book, I was on television, I had more eyes on what I had worked so hard at for years, but I preferred to sit alone and drink and be depressed. So that’s what I did, every day for over 6 months.
     I felt that a grand sadness was the only way I could show my Grampa how important he was. That as soon as I felt like I had grieved enough and I needed to put my life back on track I would step back and feel like it was disrespecting him to ‘only’ be sad for a month, 2 months, 3 months. I kept his obituary open on my phone for 4 months to keep that fire of grief burning. I would think about opening up to people about what was going on but the wounds were so raw, the immense hurt bubbling just below the surface that I didn’t dare face them again like I had to during Grampa’s decline and right after his death. Alcohol made it possible to feel but not feel.
     Things were only exacerbated by increasing stress at work. The days would be so filled with drama there that I could not wait to get home and drink to forget everything. It became a double whammy, grieving my Grampa and drowning my sorrows from a stressful job. It also became the convenient excuse why I stopped reaching out to people. I had no time, work was stressful, I also had 2 other jobs, personal training and writing, I needed to focus on that. It was partially true. I believe you make time for who and what is important. I made alcohol and sadness important and always had time for that.
     More than 6 months have passed since I visited my Grampa in the nursing home and got my first taste of what Alzheimer’s was doing to him. In the time since lots has happened but I barely remember any of it. There would be moments of clarity where I’d ask myself what he’d think of how I was reacting to his death. I knew he’d be disappointed but alcohol made me forget that and go another day.
     With Grampa’s birthday today I decided to finally try to stop drinking as a makeshift present to him. More so stopping drinking will allow me to truly get life and career back on track, giving me a better chance to become what he believed. That’s the true birthday gift, to him and to myself, since mine is November 2nd. Today is Day 3, and I can’t believe that it took me so long to finally have the strength to actually say I love you Grampa and I will keep your memory strong not by drinking and grieving, but by living the best life I can.
     To anyone out there who has lost a loved one, or close friend recently, or anytime for that matter, remember there is no guide book on coping with grief. Some days I feel like it all just happened, other days I feel like it was so long ago that I need to get a grip and move on. I keep coming back to his words and his belief in me as my compass. Again, everyone deals with loss differently, and I hope that anyone out there dealing with it finds the strength and courage to keep on moving forward for the ones they lost, for the ones still here, and mostly for yourself.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Photo Friday: Nauset Light Beach Sunset

Welcome to Photo Friday!

Today features a brilliant pink and black sunset photo taken at Nauset Light Beach in Eastham, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.

This photo is for sale at Smug Mug here: Cape Cod Sunsets and Sunrises

It is also a part of my Cape Cod Sunsets 2020 Calendar available at Zazzle here: Cape Cod Sunsets 2020

View my previous blog posts: In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bassett's Wild Animal Farm
                                                In My Footsteps: Oak Bluffs, Massachusetts

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing

Thursday, October 10, 2019

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Bassett's Wild Animal Farm, Brewster

Bassett's Wild Animal Farm

     In today’s technologically-driven world the younger generation have access to almost anything they could want to view at the tips of their fingers. Video games, on-demand movies and television, virtual reality, stimulating one’s senses comes easy in the 21st century. In the decades of the past entertainment was far different for those growing up on Cape Cod. For nearly fifty years the Cape Cod Mall has been a popular hangout spot, the Cape Cod Baseball League has consistently provided family-friendly fun for a century, miniature golf, bowling, and more have been go-to’s for kids and families. However once upon a time there was another outlet for family entertainment located in a rural wooded area near Route 6A in Brewster. It was where kids could see creatures both familiar and new to them many in a hands-on way. This was not a zoo, it was an animal farm. It was Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm.

     The idea of the wild animal farm, similar in theory to a petting zoo, on Cape Cod was the brainchild of Harry ‘Bud’ Bassett. Bassett was born and raised in Brewster, a part of the Brewster Bassett family lineage. From an early age he was a lover of animals and the environment. After fighting in World War II and working in the private sector as part of Cape & Vineyard Electric Co. until he was in his early-thirties Bassett decided to act on his love of animals, as well as his large tract of land on Tubman Road in Brewster. In 1959 Bud, along with his wife Olivia, began dreaming up an animal farm after Olivia gave him a pair of deer as a birthday present.

     Bassett would purchase more land to the south of his farm to accommodate more animals. He would include creatures familiar to Cape Codders like rabbits, raccoons, Canadian geese, skunks, and more. The true appeal of the endeavor would be those animals not native to the peninsula. Bassett would purchase those creatures from reputable dealers at game farms in the south. He would prove his love of animals by selling those that did not naturally hibernate during winter to southern farms in the fall and purchase the animals again in the spring.
A postcard for Bassett's Wild Animal Farm (Sturgis Library)
     Initially known as Bassett’s Game Farm it would have its grand opening May 2, 1959. It cost 50 cents for adults and 30 cents for children to enjoy the sights of the familiar and unfamiliar animals nestled among the peaceful pine forest. It was a much more fulfilling experience for people to see these animals in a natural environment rather than a city zoo. The pony rides, hayrides, petting zoo, and more attracted throngs of families to the twenty-acre farm. The venture was a success and by 1962 there were more than fifty species of animals at the-now Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm. As his farm grew in popularity Bassett added llamas and a black bear among other creatures. It would become a staple of summer family outings and school trips as the 1960’s wore on.
     In the 1970’s a leopard, mountain lion, several coatimundi, and a few Patagonian cavies became part of the farm. In 1979 after nearly twenty years of sharing his love of animals with Cape Codders, visitors, and their families Bud Bassett decided it was time to sell and retire. He found a buyer in Gail and Donald Smithson who were looking for a place to begin an Appaloosa horse breeding farm. Initially the Smithsons were not going to continue on with Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm, that was until the grounds were being toured and Gail fell in love with the animals there. She kept the attraction going, simply adding her Appaloosa horses to the mix. Bud Bassett moved to Mariaville, Maine after selling his farm.

     Gail Smithson did not take the legacy of Bassett’s lightly. During her first few years she did extensive repairs and renovations trying to make the farm as impressive to those perhaps seeing it for the first time. She improved the cages some of the animals were kept in, and added Indian zebus, a mountain lion, and an African lion for visitors to gaze upon. Smithson also integrated her horses into the farm as part of the pony rides and hayrides. In 1994 a Bengal tiger cub named Okemo was brought in to be a part of the popular attraction. Although Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm continued to be widely patronized by families and school field trips and incident involving that Bengal tiger would spell the end of the line.
One of my own personal visits to Bassett's Wild Animal Farm. 1982
     In May 2000 a fourteen-year-old employee at the farm was bitten by the tiger on her right calf after entering the cage to feed the 500-pound animal not knowing the trap door was open. Concerns from the federal licensing agency which oversaw all animal parks were two-fold, if the animal was rabid, and whether the girl had the appropriate paperwork to even be employed there. In the years leading up to the incident there had been minor protests about the captivity of the animals, most notably by local artist Malcolm Wells in 1996, this incident with a large cat was too much to ignore. Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm closed in 2002.
     Bud Bassett, despite spending his remaining years in Maine and Florida, continued contributing to the Cape in other ways. Before his passing in 2010 he and his wife Olivia donated a one and a quarter acre chunk of land along Slough Road to the Brewster Conservation Trust. The main parcel of Bassett’s Wild Animal Farm along Tubman Road is seeing a second life as well. In 2014 an affordable housing project through Habitat for Humanity was approved with 13.9 acres of land being used for fourteen homes ranging from two to four bedrooms and being ready for living in 2021. The remaining land would be sold back to the town of Brewster.

     Though it has been closed for nearly twenty years many residents and visitors to Cape Cod have fond memories of wandering the seemingly endless maze of animals, some dangerous, some not, and feeling so far away from the typical Cape surroundings. Because of those memories Bud and Olivia Bassett’s showcase for their love of animals will never be forgotten.

Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

My 5th book, Cape Cod Nights, is on sale at and through Arcadia Publishing