The Great EsCape Cod


Photography by the authors

The land pushing out into the North Atlantic hasn’t really changed that much since the last Ice Age dumped a glacial erratic on the north shore of Cape Cod about ten thousand years ago. Praise the Lord — it’s a handsome place. Our Maker sure got it right the first time.

But the hand of Man has added something more: beautiful, former sea-captain’s homes and attractive villages — just like they always were — as if designed by Walt Disney and peopled by Norman Rockwell.



Forgive us but it’s hard not to rhapsodize about our favorite vacation place. Even the fact that things don’t change much on Cape Cod is appealing. For example, a longtime painting of the Old Yarmouth Inn compared to its present photograph suggests time stands still in this special place. A contrast of the present day Brewster General Store with how it once was as shown by an antique model in its loft upstairs reinforces the point. Both places are worth a visit: the inn for its stupendous Sunday brunch and the store because it really captures the feel of an old world village shop.



Tourism came to the Cape with the railways and took off after World War II. The north shore has Route 6A, the Old King’s Highway with its antique shops, art galleries, B&Bs and great little restaurants. The south shore has Route 28 which, like 6A, dawdles east to Orleans where it joins Route 6A and merges with 6 to continue on to Provincetown, the end of the road.

Visitors have their preferences. The north shore has a shallow coastline with long beach walks for romantics when the tide is out. The south side has a sharper drop off with deeper water at the beaches; it has the family fun places, the motels but also some of the better known villages. The best way to appreciate the Cape, we smugly say, is like us — have family there and a home of many visits.

So, what advice perhaps would a family give for a weekend visit from, say, Boston, the purpose to discover the Hidden Cape Cod?

First, find a B&B around Yarmouthport, Dennis Village or Brewster. There are many choices but if this is summertime and a weekend make your reservations early. Pick up the free newspaper Along Route 6A and study its maps. Distances are short and the travel would be easy if it wasn’t for the busy roads in summer.



Favorites would have to include the Cape Cod Museum of Art in Dennis Village. It has a surprisingly interesting and eclectic collection for a small town until one realizes there’s money on Cape Cod and the museum has surely benefitted. The museum started with works by Jerome Thompson and J.J. Audubon and recently had a painting by Jamie Wyeth, “a third-generation American artist,” gifted by a benefactor. The collection includes sea scenes, landscapes and portraits and maps, mood-shots and garden monuments.

The museum also has the Penelope Jenks’ 8-foot tall plaster statue of Eleanor Roosevelt. The bronze cast from it now stands in Riverside Park in New York City. Some of the First Lady’s wise sayings are exhibited beside the statue such as, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right — for you’ll be criticized anyway” and still raise understanding smiles.

The museum was founded in 1981 to show the work of local artists. Angela Bilski, a local potter, the registrar of the museum, is charmed to know the artists.

“Both because of what they have achieved and how they are developing,” she says standing below a ceramic Untitled (large Female Head) by Harry Holl.

A photographer, watching the scene, laughs at the title of the piece and says, “I understand Harry. It’s sometimes hard for me to think of the caption for a photograph!”



The Edward Gorey House, now a museum, was not a place where captions were ever a problem. The problem, some might say, was the torrent of odd-ball eccentric nonsense and art coming from this brilliant gifted cartoonist, theater set artist, costume designer and author who inhabited, John Updike once said, his own “unique bygone world.”

“Edward Gorey died in June 2002,” says Rick Jones, curator and director of the museum. “He would be shocked now at his growing fame — from grandmothers to little children. His only professional training was when, in high school, he attended a summer course at the Art Institute of Chicago! He was the kindest gentlest man I knew, yet he was always known for his macabre work.”

Gorey is better identified for his clever animated cartoon introductions to Mystery! on television.

Gorey poked fun at everyone including physicians. His book The Dream World of Dion McGregor has a drawing called “The Operation” with the patient showing the surgeon where to cut. He embellished his skull, an art school prop, with colored sunglasses and placed it beside what looks like an orchid.



Just round the corner on the same street lies the former Captain Bangs Hallet House whose back yard has what some claim is the oldest tree in New England, a European Weeping Beech. Its competitor in age, “Herbie,” an elm in Maine was 200 years old when it had to be cut down a year ago. Herbie was thought to be placed in the ground in 1798, and although some Cape Codders claim its famous Weeping Beech was planted in 1776 historians can find no documentation. The beech however is 70 feet across and 60 feet high and looks to probably be 150 years old.



The burial ground of the Nobscussett Indian Tribe lies as another link with the past. In the 1600s, the chief of the tribe had donated the land that ultimately became the town of Dennis and in 1828 the town fenced off the tribe’s burial ground beside Scargo Lake to show its respect to this now extinct tribe.

The quiet spot at the end of a natural tunnel of trees has now been opened up to respectful visitors as part of Cape Cod’s history. Tributes left by visitors show an ever changing display of personal effects and artifacts that hang from the trees. Other items like pine cones, shells and feathers lay on flat stones or table tops created from tree stumps.



If hunting for a hidden cemetery on a hot day sounds like thirsty work, maybe you’re ready for the Village Tearoom at the Borsari Gallery, about two country miles west on Route 6A. In December 2008, photographer/artist Andrew Borsari and his family opened an art gallery in a formerly functioning barn that also has hosted an authentic English tearoom since January 2010. But before they brought in the art and the tea and the scones and the clotted cream they had to take out the meat locker and the ice box and clear the pigs from the basement and remove 17 dumpsters, each of 30 square yards, of debris: 89 tons of trash in total.

The setting in the gallery is gorgeous and the teas in the tearoom delightful. The style of the tearoom is English but the man in charge is Scotsman George Davidson, who is the former chef to a famous political family in Hyannis (yes, that one). Tea in this barn might well be the highlight of your weekend on the Cape.



Feeling mellow? Ready for a quiet evening now? Going to the movies on vacation can sometimes seem like a waste of time. But on Cape Cod seeing a film can be an event in itself if you go to the celebrated Cape Cinema, built in 1930 with its 6,400-square-foot painted ceiling. Go early so you can sink into the padded seats and feel you are back in the early and great days of Hollywood. And think back to a simple weekend living the simple life, the one Patti Page sang about when suddenly she fell in love with old Cape Cod.

The Andersons, who live in San Diego, are the resident travel & cruise columnists for Physician's Money Digest. Nancy is a former nursing educator, Eric a retired MD. The one-time president of the NH Academy of Family Practice, Eric is the only physician in the Society of American Travel Writers. He has also written five books, the last called The Man Who Cried Orange: Stories from a Doctor's Life.

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