Friday, December 31, 2021

In My Footsteps: My 2021


    2021 is over. This year was less about resolutions and attempts to better my life and more about surviving until the bell rang. Will 2022 be any different? I’d like to think so. Is that na├»ve optimism? Perhaps. I can only speak of things in terms of my own life.

    As Jay-Z said “There’s much bigger issues in the world, I know, but I first had to take care of the world I know.” I’d love to think that 2022 ends the Covid pandemic as the number of vaccinated continues to rise and this in turn allows us to go back to life as we saw it in 2019. However that is not something I can change, so all I can do is hope family and friends are protected and the rest of the world is what it is.

    That being said 2022 has to be better than 2021 and definitely 2020. For me this comes down to changes I’ve made in life and seeds that were planted and are ready to be harvested. Farmers plant crops, not in the expectation of immediate gratification, but on the hopes that it they take the time and care to cultivate that a bountiful harvest will come there way in time. Life is more fine dining rather than fast food, you need to be patient for something good. This is how I feel.

    I look back 365 days to what life was and how bleak things felt. I worked in an unfulfilling job, a highly toxic work environment. It was loaded with people who were either unqualified or undeserving of the positions they held, some were both. There were no available Covid vaccinations yet. This meant that it was virtually impossible to visit my dying grandmother at the nursing home but for standing outside of her window. I had only recently quit alcohol and could easily fall off the wagon due to depression. I felt stuck.

    In March when my Nina passed I was at a turning point. The stress and unhappiness at work led me to take my own mental health into consideration. I gave my notice despite having no backup plan and it being in the midst of a pandemic. I hoped that if I bet on myself something better would come my way.

    Eventually it did. I was able to find a job back in personal training which is far more fulfilling. It turns out this job is one of those planted seeds I’ve mentioned. Likely in the spring of 2022 a new small-group training facility is opening as part of the place I work. It was not mentioned when I first got the job and was an extra bonus that showed me I was in the right place.

    This job is also bringing me back to center when it comes to my own mental health, physical well-being, and overall view of myself in the wider world. Having a boss and coworkers that are knowledgeable, positive, and supportive, allows one to not only do the job for others, but to do the job of fixing what’s broken within yourself. It has been a slow climb in the second half of 2021 with big things planned and hoped for in 2022 at least when it comes to me as a person.

    For those that know me, family, friends, even loyal podcast listeners, I have been up front about mental health and dilemmas in my own life. I have hoped that it might inspire others, or at least let them know that the issues they are dealing with are more common than they think.  One thing I have been leaning into is the fact that I am in control of my own life, my own narrative, my own happiness.  I cannot, and you should not, allow anyone else's negativity dim your shine.

    The main thing I can say is that even when things are at their worst, and it feels like you’re just fumbling around in the dark hoping to find a light switch, just keep moving forward. Sometimes you’ve planted seeds to be harvested without even realizing it. For me I had two new book opportunities come in 2021 based around previous works. I was not looking for new projects as of yet and they found me. These projects, a photography book and a true crime book, will see the day in late 2022 to maybe early 2023. They both came out of nowhere. This is why I try to be as good a person as I can and treat others with as much respect and kindness as I can. These good karma acts might get repaid when you least expect it.

    When it comes to the last three years, 2019-2021, I am not special. I am not unique in the fact that I have had problems, or tragedies befall me. I am not alone in having goals and dreams I wish to achieve and being forced to go through trials and tribulations, a virtual war of attrition to prove I really want them. What I am doing is sharing my own story to let others know that it’s okay to trip and fall down. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to have times where you feel like the tiniest grain of sand on the tiniest island in the largest ocean. What’s not okay though is to have that be what defines you.

    I lost my Grampa who was my hero. I developed a drinking problem to cope with it. I attempted to switch jobs right before Covid struck and ended up stuck in a terrible situation. I became a stress eater after giving up alcohol. I lost my Nina, my last remaining grandparent. I’ve had major crises of confidence and waves of depression. But you know what? I am still here. I am still standing and that fact alone gives me hope.

    I am optimistic and approaching 2022 with the best of intentions. You may not have had the same problems as me but we all get this symbolic clean slate. Will all of my seeds I’ve played lead to bountiful crops? Likely no, but I won’t know for sure until the time has passed. That is how we all must looks at things. You won’t know if things don’t work out until after, but like Henry Ford said: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

    When it comes to 2022, I think I can. So let’s go.


Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Zazzle Store: Cape Cod Living

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

In Their Footsteps: New England History - Edaville Railroad, Carver, Massachusetts

    For generations it has been a holiday right of passage for those living in Southeastern Massachusetts. Simple beauty, family fun, filled with wholesome memories, Edaville has been visited by countless thousands of families during its existence. Developed in the vision of its creator this Massachusetts staple has come back from several tragedies to now be going strong into its eighth decade. This is the story of the creation and perseverance of Edaville.

Christmas at Edaville(goaliej54/flickr)

    Born in 1889 Ellis D. Atwood was raised in Carver, Massachusetts. He graduated Tabor Academy in the nearby town of Marion. Later on he married Elthea Eldredge of Wareham in February 1919. 

    Atwood made a name for himself in the highly profitable local cranberry growing industry.  This began by him purchasing three acres of land from his father.  Then with his father died in 1915 Ellis took over all of the family cranberry business.  

    Ellis and Elthea lived in the Murdock-Atwood House near Sampson’s Pond which had been passed down to Ellis by his great-Uncle Marcus Atwood.

    The Atwood’s connection with the Christmas season began with an elaborate display on their front lawn in 1933. Cranberries, Christmas, and railroads, Ellis Atwood’s three favorite things, would eventually be brought together by another’s loss.

    What would eventually become Edaville Railroad was born out of the ashes of a defunct railway. The Bridgton and Harrison Railroad had begun operations in Maine in 1883. Late in 1941 it was being shut down. The rails and train cars were being destroyed. Having taken a blissful trip upon the railroad in August 1941, mere months before it was rendered obsolete, Atwood made a trip to Maine to buy what he could.

Ellis D. Atwood(Cranberries Magazine, Dec. 1950)

    On December 3, 1941 Atwood purchased one locomotive known as the Old No. 7. In addition he bought 11 box cars, 24 flat cars, a caboose, and a half-mile of two-foot gauge track. The final, and perhaps most important piece, was the hiring of former Bridgton and Harrison conductor Everett Brown. Atwood desired someone who knew the railroad and could teach him how to drive a train.

    Completing the Atwood property railroad was delayed due to World War II. Eventually though the man known as the Cape Cod Cranberry King soon had a fully-operational narrow gauge railway circumnavigating the 1,800-acre Atwood property. Atwood’s goal was to combine his success in the cranberry industry with his love of railroads. The new railway on his property was called the Cranberry Belt Line. It was used for sanding, spraying, and harvesting from the bogs.

    Atwood’s Cranberry Belt Line had more than five miles of track. There were some rumors in 1945 that Atwood was considering converting his railroad into an active route between Plymouth and Boston. That did not end up happening. Although it didn’t become an active passenger railroad Atwood’s train was used for more than work. Not long after beginning to take his own train rides around the cranberry bogs Atwood had curious neighbors stopping by for a trip of their own.

    In May 1946 Atwood parlayed his Cranberry Belt Line railroad into a local tourist attraction. He called it ‘Edaville’ for Ellis D. Atwood’s E.D.A. initials. By the end of the year more than 25,000 people had taken a ride on his locomotive around his cranberry bog property. During this first season all Atwood asked of his customers for a fare was common courtesy and common sense.

    Word quickly spread during the first few seasons of the Edaville Railroad. It was the last narrow gauge railroad in the country. In 1948 Atwood said that more than 35,000 people per month arrived to climb aboard the Cranberry Belt Line. The cars and stops along the railway had cranberry-themed names. These included cars named ‘Oceans Spray,’ ‘Eatmor,’ ‘Atwood Special,’ and stops called ‘Cranberry Valley,’ ‘Sunset Vista,’ and ‘Mount Urann’ which was named for Marcus Urann who was president of the National Cranberry Association.

The locomotive at Edaville, 1959(rickpilot_2000/flickr)

    Although it was popular during the warmer months due to there being a beach for summertime play it was the Christmas season where Edaville saw its largest crowds. In 1949 alone upwards of 75,000 people came for a ride to see the over 12,000 colorful lights and more than forty Christmas scene displays lit by floodlights. Train rides through the season began at 4:30pm and ran until midnight. Ellis Atwood had created a family-friendly and wildly popular local tourist attraction. However tragedy nearly ended Edaville.

    On November 26, 1950 Ellis Atwood was late returning home from Edaville. His wife Elthea went to check on him. She found him face down in the basement of the railroad administration building. The furnace had exploded with the door striking Atwood in the head. He clung to life at Wareham’s Tobey Hospital for four days before succumbing to his injuries on November 30th. Ellis D. Atwood, the Eda of Edaville, was dead at sixty-one.

    Cranberry growing had made Atwood a millionaire, but Edaville had brought him more love and popularity. His memorial held at Edaville was attended by more than 2,000 people. Elthea carried on the day-to-day operations of the park in Ellis’ honor. She increased the displays and lights surrounding the Christmas season in particular by creating the Edaville Christmas Festival. However it all became too much. Elthea sold Edaville to F. Nelson Blount in the spring of 1956.

    The railroad continued to thrill visitors for decades. It was sold a few more times yet each successive owner maintained or even improved upon the park’s presentation. The cranberry bogs were highly profitable due to their deep connection to the Ocean Spray corporation. In 1991 final owner George Bartholomew closed the beloved park. Most of the equipment was sold off shortly thereafter to a railroad museum in Portland, Maine. It seemed as though Edaville was finished after more than four decades in operation.

The entrance to Edaville on Rt. 58 in Carver.(T.S. Custadio/Wikimedia)

    The park sat vacant for eight years. In a surprising turn of events the CranRail Corporation bought the decaying Edaville in 1999. The company poured $5 million into restoring and renovating the park over five years. Edaville was reopened to much fanfare just in time for the Christmas Lights Festival in December 1999. Since its reopening Edaville has enchanted countless thousands of visitors. Parents and grandparents now bring new generations to enjoy Edaville much like they had.

    Ellis Atwood had only seen a tiny slice of the impact Edaville was to make on Massachusetts locals and visitors before his untimely death. Despite that his name is still front and center whenever someone utters ‘EDAville.’ It is far more than a little train roaming the cranberry bogs of Carver. Edaville is a destination for families annually. In a day when so much constantly changes Edaville is a throwback to a simpler time. It should be experienced, or re-experienced, by all of those within reach of the park.


Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Zazzle Store: Cape Cod Living

Thursday, December 2, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Shirdan's Country Kitchen of Hyannis

    Times change. Places come and they go. Sometimes even those that stuck around for decades and left a positive impression on the community can become lost to history. This is the case with Shirdan’s Restaurant. It was a popular eatery for nearly three decades. Yet at times it can feel as though it never existed. This is a little trip down memory lane with the story of Shirdan’s Restaurant and its Country Kitchen.

    Even a half a century ago the area surrounding the Barnstable Airport was one of the busiest on all of Cape Cod. Thousands of people circled the Airport Rotary daily. It seemed a fairly safe idea that any businesses that opened in that area would see some modicum of success. The greater the business, the greater the success.

    From the beginning Shirdan’s Restaurant was indeed a success. It was a true partnership between Shirley and Dan Shaughnessey. The husband and wife partners opened Shirdan’s at the Airport Rotary in 1968. This restaurant venture was not a passing fancy, especially for Shirley. In fact Shirley’s parents, Margaret and Al Barabe, owned Margaret and Al’s Restaurant in the same building from 1956-1968. Shirdan’s name was a nod to Shirley’s parents’ choice of business name. Margaret also went on to work at Shirdan’s.

    Shirdan’s Restaurant was by all accounts a classic, comfort food, New England establishment. It served breakfast, lunch, and dinner in a casual, family-friendly atmosphere. There were seafood choices like fish and chips, fried clams, and baked stuffed shrimp. In addition there were also classic comfort foods like sheppards pie, meatloaf, chicken pie, chicken croquettes, and prime rib on Friday’s.

    Throughout the 1970’s Shirdan’s delighted countless customers at their Airport Rotary location. When opportunity arose to expand the Shaughnessey’s jumped on it. In March 1979 they purchased Marshview Farms Restaurant from Ed and Alice Taylor for $112,000($426,000 in 2021). The restaurant was located on a quieter stretch of Rt. 132 in Hyannis. Shirley and Dan renamed it Shirdan’s Country Kitchen and had it open in time for the summer of 1979.

    The next several years saw success on two fronts for Shirley and Dan. Not only did the couple run a pair of popular restaurants but Shirley Shaughnessey also was an important figure in Hyannis town affairs. She would eventually become president of the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce during the early 1980’s.

    Despite Shirley’s connections to the town there were issues that she could not overcome. Changes to the leasing agreements of the Enoch Cobb Lot of property in 1982, the area also included Mitchell’s Steak House and the VFW, had the Shaughnessey’s considering their options. Eventually the Shaughnessey’s agreed to pay a higher rent but the writing was on the wall.

    While the VFW ended up purchasing their share of the property Shirdan’s went a different route. After Labor Day in 1983 Shirdan’s Restaurant was closed and the lease given up. Shirley said that she felt it would be easier to keep business under one roof. Nantucket Sound, the stereo store, moved into the spot from the Cape Cod Mall and still exists there as of 2021. All was not lost though as the Rt. 132 location was expanded. Shirdan’s Country Kitchen remained a popular destination.

The Nantucket Sound location where the original Shirdan's once stood.(Google Maps)

    In April 1985 Shirdan’s Country Kitchen was sold to John Kaye. He reassured customers that no changes would be made to the restaurant. A big change did come though when Kaye opened a second Shirdan’s in West Yarmouth on Rt. 28. For a time both locations were successful. However two problems crept up as the 1980’s turned to the 1990’s. One was the uncertainty of the seasonal nature of Cape Cod. A subpar summer could spell doom for places that depended on tourists. The second problem was the influx of larger chain restaurants.

    These problems came to a head in the mid-1990’s. First the West Yarmouth location of Shirdan’s closed sometime after the summer of 1995. It was sold at auction in July 1996 and turned into a Burger King(now Dunkin’). The Rt. 132 location hung on through the summer of 1996. It was that October when John Kaye decided to close. He stated that the encroaching chain restaurants, specifically Old Country Buffet in the neighboring Festival Plaza, had eroded Shirdan’s business to the point that staying open was no longer financially feasible. Incredibly the Hyannis area was reported to be the second-most saturated restaurant market in the country at the time, trailing only Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. It made it nearly impossible for local spots at the time to thrive.

    The Hyannis Shirdan’s building remained standing until 2005 when it was finally demolished. Even before then the landscape surrounding it was changing. In 1999 Bearse’s Way was expanded to cut through the former property. This paved the way for the Stop & Shop location that stands in that area.

    The Airport Rotary and Rt. 132 look far different today than even during the time of Shirdan’s. Despite only being gone for a quarter-century there are times when it feels as though successful businesses like Shirdan’s have been lost to history. Both Dan and Shirley Shaughnessey have since passed away and the three former Shirdan’s locations have either been demolished or repurposed by another business. The Shirdan’s name will remain alive in the memories of those locals who sat at its tables during its nearly three decades of serving delicious comfort food to Cape Cod.


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Be sure to check out my website: Christopher

Zazzle Store: Cape Cod Living

In My Footsteps Podcast Episode 47: Restaurant Storytime 3, Top 5 Xmas TV Specials, Nintendo Game Boy, Colonial Williamsburg