Don’t Give Up the Ship

Our economy may be in the dumps, but from my experience the dumps are a great place to discover forgotten and discarded  items and ideas that can lead to exciting new places. Since I’ve moved to Gloucester, I’ve started learning about the area’s rich history and current controversy of how to move forward. While I love mucking through the harbor’s low tide mud to dredge up artifacts from the past, or hiking up through Dogtown, where so much has happened, I’ve only started to uncover the stories that have been recorded in many books and poems. I’ve taken one poem by Kitty Parsons (Dogtown Common 1944) and set it to music (see some advice I received in the Incoming Mail column).

DOGTOWN COMMON by Kitty Parsons
By 1850 dogs and cats and widowed wives had left
And Dogtown’s empty cottages stood lonely and bereft
And as these years rolled swiftly by these too began to fall
Till naught but cellar walls remained to mark the spot at all

And cattle grazing lazily indifferent to the scene
Are not disturbed by Tammy’s ghost or what the spirits mean
But those who yearn for real romance in happy days gone by
Will thrill to Dogtown’s atmosphere and heave a wistful sigh

For in the whirligig of life with turmoil everywhere
to find a buried colony is something very rare
And those who roam about the hills
and lonely moors we know
And stand in Judy’s cellar-hole with Morgan’s Brook below

May steal a moment’s breathing space and let their fancy fly
To days when Peter Lurvey fought or old Black Neil limped by
These all have vanished long ago but can we not feel still
the breath of fragrant memories on Dogtown’s lofty hill?

Part of the modern attraction to Dogtown is the Babson boulders. During the Great Depression, millionaire Roger Babson hired unemployed stone carvers to engrave words and inspirational phrases into the massive boulders found all over Dogtown. With the help of the Internet, I found a crude map and was able find and photograph all 26 boulders. The photos were not as impressive as the boulders themselves, but I worked on my worst photo (see below/left) to create something with an older feel to it.

I’m currently reading Elyssa East’s novel Dogtown: Death and Enchantment in a New England Ghost Town. When she came Cape Ann, she was interested in knowing more about Dogtown and ended up researching in depth the 1984 murder of Anne Natti. The book connects the murder and the enchanted history of Dogtown, which is now only filled with decaying cellars and a boulderous landscape.

The painting, Mountains in Stone by Marsden Hartley, specifically led Elyssa East to her fascination with Dogtown and her ten years of devotion in creating a novel that has taught me more about the history of Gloucester than any history book. Plus it has led me to write and record a new song, which is always a pleasure for me. So remember—don’t give up the ship.

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