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Sunday, September 19, 2021

In My Footsteps: 4K Cape Cod - Race Point Lighthouse



Monday, September 13, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Shootflying Hill, Hyannis

 

    In the 21st century the geographical area known as Shootflying Hill is seen by thousands of people daily. At the same time it is passed by and given barely a moment’s thought. Standing 220-feet high it sits directly on the route of the Mid-Cape Highway. In between Exits 5 and 6, sorry Exits 65 and 68, vehicles traverse Shootflying Hill in heading through Barnstable. However for the better part of a century Shootflying Hill was a destination. From hiking and picnicking to scenic overlooks in the early days of the Mid-Cape Highway, this is the story of when Shootflying Hill was one of Cape Cod’s most popular attractions.

    In the 19th century and the time preceding it Shootflying Hill in Barnstable was one of the top places to go for hunters. It was given its name due to the fact that hunters scaled the hill to shoot ducks and other birds. Despite its status as Cape Cod’s most popular hill for activities Shootflying Hill is not the Cape’s tallest. Ahead of it are Pine Hill in Pocasset at 306-feet, Telegraph Hill in Sandwich at 289-feet, and Town Line Hill on the Bourne/Sandwich line at 277-feet.

The Shootflying Hill observation tower c. 1918(Henry Isenberg


    Being perhaps the only spot on Cape Cod from which someone can see both Nantucket Sound 3 ¼ miles to the south and Cape Cod Bay 3 ½ miles to the north it was naturally a place that locals and visitors congregated to in the late-19th century. As the Cape grew as a summer vacation destination Shootflying Hill did as well. While picnics along the grassy slope were commonplace some wanted to go to the next level. An idea to put an observation tower atop the hill was brought forth by an unnamed woman from the village of Wianno.

    In 1890 this woman sold newspaper subscriptions to the Barnstable Patriot to help raise the necessary $200 to erect a 20-foot tall wooden observation tower on Shootflying Hill. It was completed that August and was an immediate sensation. The Lookout, as it was often called, drew hundreds of visitors annually wither on foot or via the dirt carriage road which was nearby. Despite the success of the tower little was done to maintain it.

    Things came to a head in August 1904 when various complaints about the tower and carriage road were aired. Some of the damage to the wooden tower was related to the harsh New England weather. Much of it though came from carelessness or intentional damaging including people carving their initials into the green stain of the tower. The structure was in need of repairs amounting to more than $300.

    The Lookout took on a second purpose in October 1911 when it was designated a fire tower. An upper story, enclosed and surrounded by windows was added shortly thereafter. The first appointed observer for the fire tower was Calvin Benson of West Barnstable. Benson reported more than 2,300 visitors to the tower in 1912, sometimes as many as 40 in a day.

    Adding the responsibility of watching for forest fires made it easier to have a new tower built in 1914. It didn’t hurt that the existing tower was in dangerous risk of collapse. At a town meeting a unanimous vote was given to raise the necessary $350 for a new tower on Shootflying Hill. The new structure was completed in October 1914. This tower was made of steel, stood 40-feet tall, and 18-feet wide at the base. It was said to have been easily spotted from miles around.

    This new tower stood tall atop Shootflying Hill for more than 30 years. It grew in popularity as time went on. This included 1923 where visitors came from 29 states and 6 foreign countries to see the observation and fire tower. Over time it was eventually decided that a new tower needed to be built. However this one would not be on Shootflying Hill.

    In August 1947 construction began on a new tower. This one was to be located on Clay Hill only ¾ mile west of Shootflying Hill. When finished the new tower stood 68-feet tall. It was opened for duty on March 1, 1948. Subsequently the Shootflying Hill tower was torn down. For the first time in nearly 60 years there was no tower atop the hill.

The Clay Hill Tower seen from the eastbound lane of the Mid-Cape Highway(Google Maps).


    Only a few years after the tower came down Shootflying Hill became linked with the new Mid-Cape Highway. In 1954 the new roadway finished at a rotary just past the hill, what would become Exit 6(68). In the following years the highway eventually extended all the way into Provincetown. This made Shootflying Hill a perfect midpoint and prime real estate for a rest area.

    In the immediate area around Shootflying Hill became home to a large water tank in the mid-1960’s. It also became home to a transmitter tower in 1970 for the new WQRC radio station. In the Fall of 1988 the Shootflying Hill rest area was closed by the state due to safety reasons. This brought the tenure of the titular hill as an attraction for visitors and locals.

    After the closing of the rest area the land between the two side of the Mid-Cape Highway was allowed to grow over. Naturally being located in the center of a busy roadway it is nearly impossible, and unwise, to try to journey to where so many people used to hike and picnic. That being said, if one dared to cross into the area it is possible to find remnants of the bases of the former fire tower on top of Shootflying Hill.

The former location of the tower and rest area.(Google Maps)


    Today it is a geographical feature passed by thousands daily yet the vast majority likely have no idea of the popular attraction it once was. An area for hunting, an area for picnicking and sightseeing, and the home of an observation and fire tower, Shootflying Hill in Barnstable can lay claim to all of these things.

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Monday, August 30, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Fiddlebee's, Hyannis

 


    It came in with a big splash, faded away and returned again. It made its mark in a 19th century home yet was firmly developed on late-20th century ideas. It spread its wings but they were quickly clipped. This is the briefly spectacular, complicated, and somewhat odd history of the Fiddlebee’s restaurants and night spots.

    The story of Fiddlebee’s actually started back in the late 19th century. It was in 1880 that a Victorian house was built on North Street in Hyannis. Back then Hyannis was not the business hub of Cape Cod and Main Street and the streets surrounding it all were dotted with traditional residential homes. At the turn of the 20th century the town’s population was a mere 4,364, a drop in the bucket to the estimated 44,406 of 2019.

Ralph Tryon's North Lodge(Cape Cod Community College)


    As the 20th century moved along times changed. More and more businesses moved into the area around Main Street. Around the middle of the century the Victorian home on North Street became a spot called the North Lodge. This small guest house was owned by Ralph Tryon and spoke to Hyannis’ slow change from residential neighborhood to bustling business center. It was relatively successful from the 1950’s into the mid-1970’s, even coming back from a fire in May 1970.

    After closing in 1976 the old Victorian house was primed to be razed. It seemed its only value left was the parking lot which several nearby businesses rented out in 1977. The entire property at 72 North Street was sold in 1978 for $35,000($146,500 in 2021) to be converted into a restaurant. However there are no records showing that this spot ever materialized. It took a man named Harry B. Miller to come along in 1981 and create a new chapter for the Victorian house.

    The new restaurant was named Fiddlebee’s. Opening in time for the summer of 1981 it promoted itself as having Al Fresco dining with an outdoor seating area large enough for fifty people. The interior of the Victorian house was also renovated adorned with lots of hanging plants and filled with friendly people.

    Fiddlebee’s staked its claim as a family-friendly restaurant with a casual atmosphere. There were daily specials, soups, quiche of the day, fondue, crepes, and sandwiches along with a traditional dinner menu. Although there was a 14-foot bar and cocktail area it wasn’t until its second season that Fiddlebee’s began to lean into the sale of liquor.

    This slow change began on February 16, 1982 with a charitable event for the March of Dimes. It was on this date that Fiddlebee’s attempted to concoct the world’s largest cocktail. Fittingly it was to be a Cape Codder. The drink was so large that it had to be stirred with an oar from the second floor of the building. It is unknown how much money the event raised for the March of Dimes.

    It was around this time that Fiddlebee’s got a new owner, William Planinshek. It was also around this time that Fiddlebee’s became so popular that it was seen as a calculated risk to branch out. In March 1983 the Buttermilk Bay Motel in Buzzards Bay was purchased and converted into a second Fiddlebee’s. This new location did not siphon any business from the original though. In fact it continued to grow.

    The popularity of Fiddlebee’s began to become problematic due to the finite number of parking spaces. Complaints came in June 1984 when patrons of the establishment began parking in the neighboring condominium complex and even blocking the fire lanes. Although not the fault completely of the management it was not a good time to also be looking to created an outdoor patio on the second floor of Fiddlebee’s.

    1985 saw more change and expansion. In April 1985 the company took over the venerable Golden Anchor restaurant in West Dennis. This became the third Fiddlebee’s known as Fiddlebee’s Seafood Shanty. During the summer the Hyannis location was approved to have live entertainment and a dance floor. Despite the parking issues the changes were approved as Fiddlebee’s had otherwise been model citizens. It was also during this time that three Fiddlebee’s employees left to start their own barbecue family restaurant on Main Street Hyannis called Harry’s.

    Although they began leaning heavily into the bar and night spot atmosphere of Fiddlebee’s they did not lose sight of where they came from. They maintained a connection to the restaurant aspect with a kids menu, apps, seafood, steaks, pizza, and the ever-popular Fiddleburgers. However just as they hit their stride as both family-friendly and a happening night spot things changed.

A Fiddlebee's Ad from 1985


    As 1985 turned to 1986 Fiddlebee’s changed its name to Anthony’s Restaurant, serving Italian food. Then in May 1986 the West Dennis Fiddlebee’s also became Anthony’s, owned by Anthony Scialdone. Within four months of its changes the Hyannis location had become Willy’s Northside Cafe, named for owner William Planinshek. This did not stick either. In a fascinating turn of events Fiddlebee’s was reborn in April 1987. This second act was far different though.

    They still had their traditional lunch and dinner fare but the entertainment became the main selling point. Some of the most well known local performers came to play there including the Incredible Casuals, Jeff Lowe Band, The Natives, and Freddie and the Maybellines. Early in 1989 Fiddlebee’s got their biggest brush with fame when legendary singer and television personality Tiny Tim performed there twice.

    The 1990’s brought different attempts to increase business including 18+ nights and heavy metal music. It succeeded in getting more people in the door, however these changes brought a whole new set of problems. Whether it was a younger crowd, the different music, or just overcrowding of the property itself, Fiddlebee’s saw an increase in violence and thus an increase in police presence.

    It came to a head in 1993 with an increasing number of reports of fights including a stabbing in the parking lot across the street. However this was not strictly a Fiddlebee’s problem. Other Hyannis night spots were under increasing scrutiny as the summer of 1993 began. Fiddlebee’s did its part to cooperate with town officials and local police by eliminating the 18+ nights and toning down their musical choices. They tried to give the establishment a more laid back feel.

The former site of Fiddlebee's(Google Maps)


    The efforts seemed to work as 4th of July passed with no incidents. Surprisingly it was the restaurant branch, which they had been minimizing in recent years, that got them in trouble. During a routine health inspection several major violations were noted and Fiddlebee’s was closed pending their rectification. The doors closed on August 6, 1993 and they never reopened. It was an abrupt ending to a popular Hyannis establishment.

    In the years since the Victorian house has seen its share of businesses come and go. There was The Boat House, Kendrick’s, The Steak House & Sports Bar, and today it is home to Portside Tavern. Despite decades of being used as a guest house and various restaurants the one thing that hasn’t changed is the Victorian house. It may get renovated, re-shingled, and repainted, but overall it still remains the same. The property at 72 North Street has kept one foot in its past while adapting to the future. Fiddlebee’s for all of its fleeting popularity was just another chapter in the story of the old Victorian house.

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Sunday, August 29, 2021

In My Footsteps: My Biggest Butterfly Effect Moment

 

    It’s amazing how much the journey of life is a game of inches or seconds. I am getting close to wrapping up my 43rd year on this earth and have been looking back and marveling at how many forks in the road there have been. It’s like a butterfly effect where if something had changed ever so slightly my life would look nothing like it does today.

    We all have those ‘what-if’ moments. Life is not a Choose Your Own Adventure book though, so we can’t safely look forward and see what might be. You do or do not. Typically these what-if’s come down to relationships or employment. I’ve had so many with both. I moved to Las Vegas and moved to Ft. Lauderdale at different times and wonder what if I had stayed at either place. I’ve had relationships end, or potential relationships never happen and wonder about all of them.

    However there is one what-if that I felt compelled to discuss as it coincides with a sad anniversary. As of writing this it is the 16th anniversary to the day of Hurricane Katrina devastating New Orleans, Louisiana. As a brief overview, Katrina was a monstrous Category 5 hurricane which struck the United States with sustained winds topping out at 175mph. It caused $125 billion in damages and led to 1,836 deaths. New Orleans in particular was the epicenter for the destruction. Sadly also as I write this Hurricane Ida is traveling nearly the same path into the city.

    Flashback to June 2005. There was a relationship I was in that had become long-distance. She lived with her family in a suburb just outside of New Orleans. I was crazy about her. My plan was to move down to the area and begin a life and see how things progressed with her. I had visited in February and felt out how I might do moving there.  In June I had begun setting up viewings of apartments and sent out feelers for job interviews including one particular one at an art gallery.

Laketown Park in Kenner, a suburb of New Orleans during my February 2005 visit.


    The plan for me was to move down to the New Orleans area in early July and go from there. Then things changed. Our relationship ended. She got cold feet and thought things were progressing too fast. Looking back she was absolutely right, I was so smitten by this girl and just wanted to skip the chase and get to the finish line. I was very confident in what our future could be, but sometimes that stuff doesn’t matter. At the time I was 27 and she was 22 so I can see that she felt she was too young for such a serious step I was planning.

    That being said, about 2 months after my New Orleans plans dissolved Hurricane Katrina hit. My first thoughts were concern for her and her family. I reached out to her after not speaking for a few months. They all had to relocate to Houston, Texas but were safe. We would remain in touch casually for several more months. Once she told me that she was seeing someone else I excused myself from her life as I didn’t think it was good for either of us to be in each other’s lives at that point.

Some of the horrific damage from Katrina in New Orleans.(cgcolman/Pixabay)


    However after I got over the initial shock of the storm and found out that she and her family were alright I went down the what-if road. If things had gone the way that I had hoped it was my intention to be down in New Orleans at the time of Hurricane Katrina. What would have happened then? Would I have stayed in New Orleans after the storm? Would I have tried to move to Houston too? What if my relationship had gone up in flames shortly after I got down there? Above all of those possible scenarios I came back to all of those poor people who lost their lives during the storm. Could I have ended up as one of them? It’s both chilling and humbling.

    As much as I wanted my relationship at the time to work and to be a grand new chapter of life I can only look back and be grateful that it didn’t. All of my writing that I have done, up to and including this blog here, might not have happened. My sadness at the ending of that relationship spurred on a lot of my initial writing. Maybe I would have still done some writing, but the travel writing which led to currently 6 books and a 7th on the way, likely would never have happened.

geralt/Pixabay


    Who knows, maybe I get lucky and find success working in an art gallery in New Orleans? Maybe I’m lucky and spared by the hurricane? Maybe my relationship works out and the big risk pays off? Or maybe it all goes the other way.  If I could go back and change how things went down, I likely would keep it the same.  It ends up literally being the choice between love and career.

    That’s one of my big what-if, butterfly effect moments of my life. There are other ones but this one always sticks out in my mind as the biggest, or at least riskiest as far as my actual life and future goes. It’s just amazing how so much of life is just a matter of inches, or a matter of seconds one way or another.

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Saturday, August 28, 2021

Let Me Tell You About My Friend Barry

 

A few weeks ago I did a podcast episode where I spoke at length about one of my oldest friends Matt Medeiros. I told stories of how we met, growing up together, and reconnecting as adults. I also told the story of what it was like finding out that he had suddenly died. I mentioned on the podcast that feeling of regret of not having one last conversation, no matter how mundane it might have been.  I was happy to have shared so many great memories of Matt, but very sad that he wasn't around to hear it.

In that same episode I spoke about how I had two friends I met at virtually the same time as a young boy. Matt was one, the other was Barry. Today is his birthday and I wanted to share a little about my friend Barry and why he has been one of the greatest positive influences on my life and myself as a person. Will we get a little sentimental? Likely. Will we get a little embarrassing? Oh yeah. But it is so important to me to make sure that all of this is shared now rather than it being too late like it was with Matt.  So let me tell you about my friend Barry.


I first met Barry when I was about 7 years old. His family lived in the same complex as a woman I lovingly referred to as my Aunt despite us not being related by blood. Her name was Esther and she had been as close as blood to my family since long before I was born. I would visit her house and one day I must have seen Barry outside of his family’s house and things went from there. I vaguely remember those days. It was basically like one day I had this new friend and that was now more than 35 years ago.

I usually had a small clique of friends growing up and even through high school. Some would cycle in and out but Barry was always a constant. He has always been one who was almost the straight-man to the craziness I could bring. It was double at times when John was involved. John and I would work extra hard to out ‘crazy’ each other while Barry would probably think to himself ‘How the hell did I end up between these two idiots?’

The thing was, and still is, that Barry was the center for us. He was like a strong silent type basically picking the perfect time to speak, unless he was egging us on to get crazier. I can only speak for myself but he was a very calming presence, almost like Cesar Milan knowing when to reign in wild dogs. I joke about it a little, but it became a much more valuable trait as we all grew up.

I can remember for me personally so many times that Barry was the one to pull me back from the ledge just by being who he is. During bad breakups, bouts of depression, deaths of loved ones, these moments where life felt like it was crumbling around me, Barry was there.

There would be times, especially during and after college ended, where we would go quite a while without seeing each other. Then he would come home from college, or I’d go visit him at school, or later when he lived in Providence, and it would be like time had stood still. 5 minutes in and it was like we were all caught up.

After that would come one of my most favorite memories of life. I don’t know how to sum this up without leaning heavy into the craziness. It usually happened when we’d go out to eat somewhere. We’d be chatting about random stuff and one of us would hit on something stupidly funny and we’d just keep going down that road until we were both gasping for air and in tears laughing. I wish we’d had a tape recorder for those times. Remember the Old Country Buffet story? It had to do with their OC Bee Mascot and who was actually under the big head.

I don’t want to share too many insider secrets about the old days though. There’s 65 hours of old videos from the high school days when I wanted to be a movie director. There are some classic skits we did, some music videos we created. Many of those hours are filled with seemingly mundane, random times sitting at Bass Hole with John laughing about the most random things. Now in my 40’s those are the things I gravitate toward most. I don’t care about the music videos, I’d rather watch and listen to our old conversations at Bass.

When I think of Barry the first word that comes to mind is genuine. He is a true, real, genuine human being. He is a gentle soul but he sticks to his values and beliefs. It is admirable and difficult to do but he pulls it off. Barry has talents I could only dream of. I could speak of music or graphic design but I am speaking of things far more important. I am speaking of being a great husband and a great father. I am far from surprised though.

Barry has this way of making you feel like you’re important and your feelings and opinions matter. That was what always has made it easy to pull back the curtain and talk with him about some of my worst moments in life. I know that he won’t judge and will always have my back, even if I am at fault for the mistakes. That’s a true friend.

It has been an honor and privilege to call Barry my friend for so long. I hope that anyone reading this has a friend that means to you what he has meant to me. I tried my best to not make this too long, too embarrassing, or too random, but it’s tough when trying to sum up more than 3 decades of knowing someone.

So let me conclude this by wishing Barry a Happy Birthday. I love you like a brother and you have meant more to me and my life than you could possibly imagine. Thank you for being there when I needed it most. Thank you for being who you are. If there were more people like you this world would be such a better place.



Saturday, August 21, 2021

In Their Footsteps: New England History - Henry & Elsie Baumann, From Escaping the Nazis to Finding Success in New England

 


Many Cape Cod restaurants have interesting or inspiring stories behind their creation. Few have stories more deeply entrenched in world history than the story behind Elsie’s and its owners Elsie and Henry Baumann. Long before creating a legacy in the restaurant industry Elsie and Henry were part of something much greater. They were two of the 282,000 Jewish citizens who fled Germany in the years leading up to the start of World War II in September 1939.

Henry Baumann was born December 12, 1903 and Elsie was born March 28, 1912 in Nuremberg, Germany. The couple was living in the Germany with their two young sons, Edward and Rudolph, with Henry making a relatively good living in the meat business. As Hitler and the Nazi Party gained power things changed dramatically. The Baumann Family was planning on leaving Germany behind, something they never wanted to do.

Nuremberg, Germany in 2015 (Ввласенко, Wikimedia)


    One night in late 1938 eight armed men awakened the family during the night. They tore up their home, terrorized the two young boys, and most alarming they took Henry off to a concentration camp. In a tremendous bit of luck due to the fact that Henry’s emigration papers had already been issued the Gestapo allowed him to leave for America. It was only Henry though. Elsie along with Edward and Rudolph were left behind in Nazi Germany.

    Henry arrived in America and waited in New York for word of his family’s arrival. For six months the Gestapo routinely interrogated Elsie, asking her why she wanted to leave Germany so badly. It took until July 1939 for Elsie to be able to leave to join her husband in America. They had escaped what would end up being one of the most horrifying events in history, the Holocaust.

    With the Nazi’s now behind them things started slowly in America for the Baumann’s. Upon arrival they both spoke no English and had a mere four dollars to their names. The Baumann’s found their way to Lowell, Massachusetts. Henry found work in a meat factory while Elsie worked for the Red Cross.

Harvard Square, 1936 (Richard Merrill)


    They learned English and became American citizens in 1944. Henry and Elsie worked hard to save money for several years in Cambridge before taking their first major step forward. In the late-1940’s the couple would purchase a small shop in the Boston suburb and name it Hunter’s Lunch. Their first step forward would last only four years as the property would be taken by eminent domain to make way for the new Southeast Expressway.

    In 1955 Elsie and Henry got another chance and it would pay off in a big way. They bought the restaurant on the corner of Mount Auburn and Holyoke Street in the Harvard Square section of Cambridge. There they opened a sandwich shop they named Elsie’s Lunch. It specialized in German food but became well known for a pair of sandwiches. The ‘Fresser’s Dream’ sandwich would contain a heaping portion of meats including ham, turkey, and corned beef. It would only be topped by Elsie’s ‘Roast Beef Special.’ The thinly-sliced meat was topped with onions, German mustard, Russian dressing, and relish. The best part of all was these scrumptious sandwiches were only 50 cents.

    Elsie’s attracted people from all around. It included students and staff from nearby colleges and John and Robert Kennedy. The sandwich shop would open every day at 6am with Elsie as the face of the establishment and Henry as the soul of it. Elsie’s kind heart and generous listening skills got her the nickname of the ‘adopted mother of Harvard.’ The couple did their best to make the establishment feel like a home kitchen as much as possible. Henry and Elsie were happy and proud to have made it in America. Their love of where they were and what they did shone through. It made Elsie’s a place to be in and around Boston.

    After a decade of running the shop the daily grind began to take its toll on Elsie. She was there often until 2am making sure everything was clean. This attention to detail caught up with her in January 1965 when she had a heart attack. It made it impossible for Elsie to continue a full-time schedule. She and Henry made the difficult decision to sell their immensely popular establishment shortly thereafter. It was particularly difficult as the little sandwich shop was selling between 1200-1500 roast beef sandwiches every day. The Baumann’s found the perfect new owners in Philip and Claudette Markell. They agreed to not change Elsie’s even in the slightest which eased the Baumann’s pain of leaving their business behind.

The former location of Elsie's in Harvard Square. (Google Maps)


    The Baumann’s would retire and travel after selling their Cambridge establishment. They returned to Germany nearly thirty years after leaving. After traveling the family came to Cape Cod and settled in Falmouth. However the down time would start to wear on them.

    Only a year after selling their Cambridge restaurant Elsie and Henry purchased James Rogers’ Greenhouse Sandwich Shop at 553 Palmer Avenue. It was there that they recreated Elsie’s Lunch for the Cape in 1966. It would have much the same menu as the Cambridge spot with the ‘Fresser’s Dream’ and ‘Roast Beef Special’ becoming popular to an entirely new set of clientele. The couple had expected their new venture to be a quiet lunch venture. In a fitting tribute to the quality of the food there would routinely be lines out the door of hungry patrons waiting to get their share of the delicious sandwiches.

Henry and Elsie Baumann inside their Falmouth location. (Falmouth Historical Society)


    Despite not being nearly as booming as its Cambridge counterpart, Elsie’s in Falmouth was a success and would be a staple of Falmouth’s restaurant scene for twenty years until Elsie and Henry decided it was time to retire in 1986. Crabapples Restaurant has taken up residence at 553 Palmer Avenue ever since.

    The Cambridge original Elsie’s would last until 1994 as of 2021 Playa Bowls stands where this icon once did. Henry and Elsie remained married for 58 years before his death in 1991. Elsie died on February 3, 2002 at the age of 89. They came from Germany with no money and speaking no English and ended up with not one but two successful restaurants in Massachusetts. Henry and Elsie Baumann left behind not only a legacy in the restaurant business but more importantly a legacy of hard work, survival, and perseverance as they made their way thousands of miles from their homeland to escape the growing evil of the Nazis.

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Saturday, August 14, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Lawrence's Sandwich Depot, Falmouth Heights




    It served four generations of locals and visitors. It lasted from horses and buggies to smartphones and wifi. Whether a bakery, a sandwich depot, or a straight up restaurant, when it came to eating establishments on Cape Cod there was only one Lawrence’s. This is the long and storied history of this beloved business and the people that helped it last nearly a century.

    The tale of Lawrence’s goes back more than a century and a half to the birth of its namesake. Lyman M. Lawrence was born in Falmouth in 1850. As was common on Cape Cod in the 19th century ‘Lyme,’ as he was affectionately called, took a job on a ship at sea when he was a teenager. He was reported to have done at least one journey around the world in his time on the open ocean. Even after leaving the long journeys on whalers behind Lyme remained a sailor and fisherman. During his young adulthood Lawrence spent ample time on Martha’s Vineyard hunting and fishing. He even was said to have made good money in turtle hunting which included him sending his catch to Philadelphia restaurants.

    The trajectory of his life changed as he entered his 30’s. Lyman married Alice Upham of Bristol, Maine on May 11, 1882. They would remain together until his death. Even before he crossed over into the business world Lawrence was said to have been a habitual practical joker with a keen sense of humor. He was in every sense of the word a people person. The big break of Lyman’s business life came from an interaction with one of his closest friends and fishing buddy Dr. Walter Swazey.

Falmouth Heights 1908(Falmouth Public Library)



    A huge fan of fishing Lyme was typically out on a boat or in his small fishing shack on Grand Avenue cleaning his catch. However one day early in 1892 he was struck with a flare up of his rheumatoid arthritis and thus was not able to go fishing. Lawrence instead visited his friend Swazey and began to measure his fishing shack. It was 12x12-feet. Lyme turned to Swazey and remarked that it was the size of the store he was planning to build.

Falmouth Public Library



    In time for the summer season of 1892 Lyman Lawrence had done just that. Already in his early-40’s Lyme built a small bakery on the corner of Nantucket Avenue and Indiana Avenue overlooking the water in Falmouth Heights. His wife Alice was his first assistant. The initial patrons of Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop were met with a simplistic setup. Inside the tiny shop was a counter, a kerosene lamp, one chair, and a peanut roaster. The food on hand was equally as simplistic. Typically there would be a bunch of bananas, some sliced ham and cheese, and bread made freshly in store by Lyme. He made the ham and cheese sandwiches to order for five cents. The bakery at first was a money loser, even when adjusted for inflation Lawrence was charging $1.50 per sandwich by 2021 standards.

    However as previously stated Lyme was a people person and his personality brought loyal customers back repeatedly. Business began to increase and the building began to expand. Word of mouth spread about the quality of the food with Lyman slicing the bread by hand, slathering on some butter, and filling it with ham and cheese. Naturally later a greater variety of meats came along. A major selling point for those who had never visited Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop was the attention to hygiene and cleanliness. Lyman and anybody he had working for him never touched a customer’s sandwich with bare hands. From the cutting of the fresh bread to the finished sandwich product utensils were used to create the food. At the turn of the 20th century Lyme was ahead of his time.

    In the early 1900’s the business grew, as did the somewhat wacky escapades of its owner. A favorite past time of Lawrence was to get a customer sitting inside eating and while they were doing so he would sneak out, unhitch their horse, and quietly lead it away. The customer would be agitated at first before laughing and realizing they had been pranked by Lyme.

    On many days people would come to have a light lunch and commiserate on beautiful Falmouth Heights. There were equally as many evenings where Lawrence would hold court outside his shop swapping stories. One legendary story consisted of a time that a pair of thieves were seen by Dr. Swazey stealing the dory owned by he and Lyman. After procuring a boat owned by Webster Draper of the nearby Cottage Club Swazey and Lawrence gave chase. One of the thieves fired a shot toward the pair. However Swazey returned fire and shattered one of the oars from the dory. Shortly thereafter the thieves surrendered. They were returned to shore by Swazey and Lyman with a crowd of 50-60 on the beach cheering. It turned out the thieves had escaped from the Barnstable jail.

    In 1912 Lyman hired a young man named Clifford Wood to help him run his increasingly busy sandwich shop. Lawrence typically hired one or two people to help him each summer and learn his sandwich making methods. Wood however was in it for the long haul. After working alongside Lyme for more than a decade Wood made him an offer. Lyman sold the business to Clifford in 1926 and quietly slipped off into retirement in Lake Worth, Florida at 76.

    With Wood running the ship Lawrence’s Sandwich Shop became the Sandwich Depot. In 1931 the biggest change since its inception came when a brand new building was created. Gone was the tiny sandwich shack, here was a building that could seat 350. The business itself enlarged on the corner of what became #24 Nantucket Avenue. It was complete with knotty pine walls, hand-hewn beams, a fireplace, two outdoor gardens for summer, and a pond.

The interior of the new building. (Falmouth Public Library)



    Though it was no longer simplistic Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot kept its roots close. The sandwich making process remained virtually unchanged albeit on a much larger scale. A counter ran the entire length of one end of the building with a soda fountain sitting in front of an authentic ship’s wheel. It hearkened back to Lyman’s fishing history. The main attachment to its past was Lyme himself. Although fully retired he could not stay away. In fact he spent the entire summer of 1933 working full-time hours at the new location. That summer would be Lyme’s last at his former establishment and his last visit to Cape Cod.

    Lawrence’s health began to fail near the end of the summer of 1936. His old friend Clifford Wood made it a point to be there for him in his time of need. Lyman Lawrence died October 12, 1936 at the age of 87. Falmouth and Cape Cod as a whole mourned the loss of a one-of-a-kind character and hugely popular businessman.

    Clifford Wood carried on the legacy of Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot. It held tight to its past while also embracing its popularity as a more traditional restaurant.  The only thing to slow the growth of the establishment was World War II which led to Lawrence’s remaining closed in 1943. Clifford made the Sandwich Depot a centerpiece of summer life in Falmouth Heights. He held the reigns of the establishment until his death in October 1955 at the age of 60. Clifford’s wife Idamae took over for him and continued the success into the 1960’s.

    Lawrence’s Sandwich Depot was passed down to Clifford and Idamae’s son Donald. It was rechristened Lawrence’s Restaurant. Despite the name change Donald was fond of holding nostalgic memorabilia events at the establishment that relived and celebrated its rich history. He ran it until 1986 when it was sold to James Carroll. Lawrence’s Restaurant continued to be a summer favorite in The Heights into the 21st century.

Where Lawrence's once stood. (Google Maps)



    From the days of horses and buggies to the days of cell phones and internet, Lawrence’s was there through it all. Whether a simple bakery, a sandwich shop, or full-fledged summer restaurant, the people came to visit the establishment on Nantucket Avenue. Behind the century of success though was a modern thinker who screamed ‘Olde Cape Cod.’ Lyman Lawrence mixed his traditional upbringing with a contemporary sense of business, added an ample amount amount of good humor and bright personality to create someone still beloved nearly a century after his death. The memory of Lawrence’s will long echo among the people of Falmouth Heights.

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Sunday, August 1, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Christine's Restaurant & Showroom, West Dennis

 

    It was a can’t-miss spot, both literally and figuratively. Located on the big curve of Route 28 in West Dennis, Christine’s set the bar high when it came to entertainment. Some famous names graced the stage in the twenty-five years this landmark was in existence. The three-hundred-seat Christine’s packed people in on a nightly basis.

    It began in 1980, when Joe Jamiel, straight out of college, purchased the property and originally called it Celebrities. It was a young rock-and-roll bar back when the drinking age on Cape Cod was still eighteen. When the drinking age was raised, Jamiel decided to change with the times. The hopping nightclub atmosphere of Celebrities was replaced with a function room for private parties, banquets and family-style meals. The only thing left was choosing the new name. Jamiel named the venue Christine’s after his wife, and the new establishment opened in 1983.

    Despite the changes, this spot did not lose its appeal; in fact, it gained even more. The young rock-and-roll bar began incorporating all sorts of musical tastes to increase its audience. Monday was jazz night, and many legendary local musicians played there weekly. Tuesdays were reserved for standup comedy, including a young Jay Leno, who plied his trade on stage there before later becoming host of the Tonight Show for many years.

A 1987 Ad for Christine's(Yarmouth Register


    Shows started between 9:00 and 9:30 p.m. and never ceased to amaze and enthrall customers. Jamiel credits having really good agents for helping him book many talented acts. Christine’s was seen as the little stepchild of the Melody Tent, a popular music venue that opened in Hyannis in 1950 and is still running strong as of 2016. This was due in part to the fact that several acts would play the Tent and then Christine’s, or vice-versa.

    It was a family-run restaurant, with Joe Jamiel booking the entertainment, his brother Geoffrey working as the chef and his wife, Christine, running the front of the house. His kids ran and played throughout the restaurant, adding to the true family atmosphere that they wanted to display.

    Though it was known for tremendous entertainment, Christine’s could hold its own with cuisine as well. It had the classic Cape Cod seafood meals and award-winning clam chowder. It was also known for its buffets on holidays such as Mother’s Day, Easter and Thanksgiving. The talented staff could change the function room from buffet setup to nightclub setup in thirty minutes, an impressive feat for a three-hundred-seat establishment.

    The entertainment is what made Christine’s a landmark. There are legendary stories to attest to that fact.

    There was the time that the rock band Steppenwolf came to Christine’s. The Canadian American band had some major hit songs, including “Born to Be Wild” and “Magic Carpet Ride,” and sold more than twenty-five million albums worldwide. It also attracted a large biker following, and on the night that they played, some two-hundred-plus motorcycles packed the Christine’s parking lot to hear the band play.

    Sometimes Jamiel got lucky with the timing of the acts he booked, like the time he had R&B singer Chubby Checker come and play in 1988. Not too long after booking him, it was revealed that Checker was to play the halftime show of Super Bowl XXII between the Denver Broncos and Washington Redskins. The publicity for his appearance was off the charts.

    Then there were times like when the Guess Who came and played. The Canadian rock band had a string of massive hits in the 1960s, including “No Time,” “American Woman” and “These Eyes.” After playing a large arena show, the next stop for the band was Christine’s. The band walked into the three-hundred-seat function room thinking it was just a place where they were going to eat and asked where the venue was, not knowing they were there already.

A 1990 Christine's Ad featuring some big name artists.(Yarmouth Register)


    Perhaps the most famous story is that of the time the band War played. The California-based funk rock band had some substantial hits, including “Low Rider” in 1975. However, when the band was nearing the end of its show at Christine’s, the musicians played another hit—“Why Can’t We Be Friends?.” It was during this song about peace, love and friendship that a massive brawl erupted between patrons right in front of the stage, completely contradicting the message of the song.

    There was also the time that Boston Red Sox first baseman Mo Vaughn came to help promote the Dream Day on Cape Cod charitable event. He had just been named American League Most Valuable Player in 1995. Again, the hype for this appearance was palpable, and it included legendary Boston sportscaster Bob Lobel coming down to interview Vaughn from Christine’s.

    Not to be forgotten in the world of Christine’s entertainment was the Italian wedding show dinner theater and music from the reggae, folk and even disco genres. It was true that this spot had something for everyone.

    As the twenty-first century dawned, it started becoming harder to book acts due to the rise of local casinos. Jamiel said that felt he was “starting to get a little old for the nightclub scene.” It was around this time that he opened the first Ardeo Mediterranean Grill on Station Avenue in South Yarmouth. At one point, there were five of these spots featuring Mediterranean cuisine. For a few years, the Jamiel family ran both Ardeo and Christine’s, but the rapid success of Ardeo—combined with the tragic loss of Joe’s brother Geoffrey in 2006—made it easier to sell the legendary establishment.

The former Christine's building in 2008.(Google Maps)


    It has been over a decade since Christine’s lights went out for the last time, and people still reminisce about it. After sitting dormant for many years, in 2015, a new complex opened on that famous curve in West Dennis, anchored by a barbecue restaurant called Billygoats BBQ.  The new restaurant did not last very long.  In a fitting twist of irony though Ardeo, which had been closed for a few years, opened a new location in that very complex in 2019.  This means that Joe Jamiel is operating his business on the grounds where Christine's once reigned supreme. 

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