Of the Social Contract and Gloucester




Proud American – July 4th Revelry Document Photo / Morin

Of the Social Contract and Gloucester

Ernest Morin

” What is the object of Human society ? Is it to dazzle the eye with an immense production of useful and elegant things ? Is it to cover the seas with ships and the earth with railways ? Is it finally to give two or three individuals out of each 100,000 the power to dispose of wealth that would suffice to maintain in comfort those 100,000 ? “

Simonde de Sismondi – Studies in Political Economy 1818 – 1836

I recently watched a video on You Tube of Gloucester locals on a roof top porch espousing, “We need to elect …   to protect our Money… to protect our Money …” in  the local elections.

You can view it here and form your own opinion :

Rooftop Republicans

I wondered how is it that particular mantra is what’s most important now to Gloucester or as political thought, even.

The social contract as Rousseau framed it essentially explains that in a state of primitive existence man has all rights and no rules nor governance.  In this state of “every man for himself”  fatal conflicts are frequent and inevitable and it’s rule by sheer brute force.

In order to avoid that brutish state, people agreed to form a collective and be ruled, for the mutual gain of all.

The assumed contract is explained in three simple points by the time of philosopher John Locke, whom our founding fathers were influenced by: Life, Liberty and Property – property,  meaning what you labored to make is yours – what’s yours is yours, not communally owned. It originally meant land as property more than material goods.  The right to the ability to grow food and survive was its intent.

Later Property was expanded to mean the pursuit of happiness – the right to exist and achieve whatever your innate and learned capacities could allow.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” is part of our Constitution’s preamble, yet we know, all men are not created equal in strength, nor intellect,  but should have the right to reach whatever height they can so long as it doesn’t interfere with other’s rights, nor the collective good.

And we also now know that if you are born into the 1 percent now you are not created equal at all in terms of nurture, political power, ability to have freedom, live where you choose, or live a life of leisurely pursuits.

And if you are not born there, social mobility no longer exists. You will have less nurture, less ability to get a quality education, less chance of getting a high paying job, living in a quality neighborhood or not being the equal of an indentured servant to banks for school loans, mortgage and credit card expenses just to stay even. You will also likely be renting not owning for a very long time.  Thus your ability to have a life or liberty or to pursue happiness is far less optimal by birth accident, which the social contract was set up to level towards a more equal equation.

And while these are broad concepts there is universal agreement as to the gist of their meaning.

Prior civilizations understood the social contract. The Roman Empire did not let the top tier of society go below ten percent of the total to maintain itself peacefully for over 500 years. It shared the spoils of wars as well as provided allotments of bread to citizens during hard years.

In an age of machines and cities, the concept of  every man owning land and thus the means to survive doesn’t exist – therefore there is a need for some form of allowing for a means to survive economic swings. We now know the means as the various social programs of current government. Such programs are bound to have some margin of error and unnecessary costs incurred. It’s akin to a restaurant factoring in spoiled food costs as part of doing business.  That cost is inevitable, and you try to minimize it as best you can.


With constant progress of technology comes the constant loss of employment and continuous job reductions.  People can’t go back to subsistence farming, as they have no arable land. Provision has to be made or conditions will rightfully lead to revolt and return to anarchy and a brute state.

The problem with current society in a developed nation like the USA is that it has already devolved back to the more primitive state of every man for himself because economically 1 out of every 100,000 commands the bulk of the resources and wealth,  leaving the others scraps to fight over, albeit compared to a third world nation, the scraps are generous.

The elite now operate with little conscience for social consequences of the collective group as a result of that power concentration and its destructive actions.

They no longer believe in a social contract as it has been in the past.

Who needs a social contract if you have extreme wealth?

You can buy elections, private guards, schools, playgrounds, water, anything a government would provide, and get real service. The wealthy do not need to rely on public institutions at all.

If you live in an isolated bubble the notion of a social contract is perhaps meaningless, completely irrelevant.

Why would you want to contribute to maintaining such an antiquated notion in the age of drones. artificial intelligence, robots and G8 summits at Davos?
Or believe the notion of a nation in an age of rampant globalization, which is a mere euphemism for having no corporate national allegiance.  (The actual idea of a nation has only existed since Napoleon. It is relatively new in human terms and perhaps was an anomaly.  They may no longer be viable as we know them. Smaller regional or tribal units were the norm for millennia and existed as such under large empires.)  Are you aware GE paid no US corporate taxes on 19 billion dollars in profits last year?  Or that the major defense contractor Boeing is thinking of moving chunks of its production, outside the US now?  Under such circumstances the whole notion of a “Nation” begins to unravel into nonsense.

When your government leaders and presidential candidates like Mitt Romney keep most of their investments in offshore tax havens, when Congress exempts itself from insider trading for years and the Supreme Court gives corporations rights as people and unlimited ability to influence elections, what does a “Nation” mean aside from suckers to exploit?

It’s a long way from the society of Jeffersonian notions, of our younger democracy or New England town hall meetings.  The age of robber barons wasn’t this warped in terms of income inequality or political power of a minority.  It only took 400 families to contribute the bulk of 250 million to superpacs for the 2016 presidential elections, and many of them donated to both sides. It’s obviously a blatant attempt by the super-rich to buy influence and protect their interests above all.

That is only ten percent of the 1 percent – a tiny fraction of 360 million people living in the USA.

One could label it as: Tyranny of the extreme minority.

The bulk of the 1 percent no longer create, produce or trade any products. They are not entrepreneurial, merely wealthy. Reliance on living off one’s investment income is to lack the drive needed to be prosperous and thus protect wealth.

Hearing  the phrase “to protect our money” repeatedly espoused,  one can’t help but feel that there has been a real shift in the local demographic.

Lost is the moral imperative for the health of the commonwealth being paramount as the political concern.

Lost is any comprehension of being part of the tribe or that we are all in the same boat.

ernie social contract 2

Spectators at Fiesta- Beach Court Document Photo/Morin


It sounds like we may well be headed in the national direction.

This is not the Gloucester I have known in the past.

But then we are merely a microcosm of the USA now, not an island apart from the mainland.  We are suffering from the same dissolution of the social contract, albeit on a smaller scale.

We are becoming less of a working man’s town each year. The demographic is now bipolar, consisting of rich or working poor.

It’s become far less affordable than a mere six years ago. The fact that St. John’s Church and Action, Inc. are both currently exploring affordable housing projects attest to that.

The failings of the social contract will only become more visible here as time goes on.

Gloucester has always been a place where you had to realize you were all in the same boat, far more than surrounding communities, because of the staggering loss of life yearly, for a century or more,  to fishing.

The wealthy here had investments in the boats, shore facilities and banks and were linked to the local industry and workers. They attended worker weddings, baptisms and funerals.

The wealthy and summer residents now are disconnected from the local banking, industry or businesses by and large. They are no longer interwoven in the community in ways wealth was in the past.

We are no longer in the same boat.

Some have bought up the surrounding houses, which they impeccably maintain empty, as investments, not to have neighbors. Something that was inconceivable growing up here as much as the idea of gated enclaves were or the rocks along the back shore being labeled Private when the city always rebuilds the road and shuffles the rocks back, after hurricane storm damage.

That is not healthy for community or maintaining the social contract.

And a lot of the new people recently moved here with no sense of place nor understanding of what’s made Gloucester the Community it is. And indeed they want to change it. It doesn’t suit them the way it is. Frequently you hear they want it to be more like where they just came from.

I fully agree we have plenty of room to improve various aspects of our town. We tend to let it happen more organically based on need or function more than looks or perceived convenience, which is an old New England Yankee conservative value hold over, that is a strong part of our local character.

There is little understanding from the people pushing beautification schemes like the Harbor Walk or other luxury tourism or gentrification scheme changes, that once that’s accomplished it won’t retain the characteristics they moved here for, if they actually stay long enough to experience that change.

It’s obviously not easy to mend the social fabric once structural changes as such occur and people’s allegiance to the social contract dissolve at a national  level.

One shouldn’t have to wait for another great war to have the body politic realize it’s all in the same boat again.

Or that there is still good reason to maintain the Social Contract.

I should hope locally we want to elect new people to have them protect our quality of life here, protect what we value as a community and elect those who will work to strengthen our community, respect its diversity and try to ensure it remains affordable for young people who want to live, work and raise families here.

I also hope that the local mayoral and council races stay non-partisan and whatever party you’re from or its current platform questions do not matter, nor need to be discussed.

Gloucester has always left partisan politics aside, to its merit, and positions on pressing Gloucester problems were the only matter of importance in local elections.

We’ve always operated as a large New England town meeting, in essence,  despite being a city for a long time.

Otherwise Gloucester will turn into just another anywhere USA by the sea summer tourist town for the aging affluent and be but a shadow of a real place.

It’s always been valued as a very real place, which is something that should not be lost or given up easily.

Electing those who would use our collective resources wisely, for the good of all of the residents, is the place to start for maintaining it as “Gloucester” going forward.

Granted, it’s is a bit more democratic notion.  As such, it better adheres to the social contract.


Ernest Morin is a native of the City and a socially concerned documentary photographer.



Voting My Values

Please make time to vote

next Tuesday, September 29



Winslow Homer, Gloucester Harbor and Dory, 1880

A Letter to the Editor of the Gloucester Daily Times, September 24, 2015:

Romeo Theken reflects voters’ values

I’m a “transplant.” I was not born here. I moved to Gloucester just two years ago from Newburyport because I found a community here that welcomed me even though I don’t have a lot of money. I found in Gloucester a city that is proud of its heritage. I admire the working waterfront, the Fort community, and people such as the Parco family of Ocean Crest and Neptune’s Harvest, who are finding innovative ways to grow their Fort-based business, and help to maintain the focus of the local economy to be primarily about fish and the ocean, and not just about shopping and gourmet dining.

The people of Gloucester work hard to take care of their families and their homes, their small businesses, their boats, and they always find time to help someone in need, teach a skill or share a meal. That kind of humanity just does not happen so much in a tourist-based town. I believe that Gloucester’s people are the way they are not just by chance, but because Gloucester has always been grounded in the unique culture of fishing, where values such as cooperation and sharing, and taking care of the ocean are crucial. Lose that, and Gloucester loses its soul.

This is the kind of community I want to be involved in, and contribute to. When it comes time to choosing our representatives in City Hall, I look for people who reflect my values. In Newburyport, I watched (and objected, often!) as, over the past 35 years, city government blatantly rejected the will of the people in favor of selling public waterfront land to private developers who wanted to turn it into an upscale mall. The “leaders” of that city did not represent me at all, nor did they represent the majority of residents. City officials, without asking voters, were only too happy to hand over public land to private condo and retail developers who had no interest in the town, its history, or its culture as a clipper ship building port, other than to provide them with attractive background images for their marketing efforts. The interest of most developers is fundamentally in building their own wealth. I couldn’t stick around and watch it any more. Newburyport has become, for me, a cautionary tale.

glo city hall

Gloucester City Hall © 2015 Bing McGilvray

Gloucester – the country’s longest operating fishing port — is at an economic turning point, and it has much more at stake than Newburyport does. We do not have to let what is happening in Newburyport, and other places like Newport and Nantucket, happen here. The tourist economy is not inevitable.

City government holds such important power at this point in Gloucester’s development. Because we have no current Master Plan, we rely solely upon the values of the people in City Hall to determine which way Gloucester will go. Will the city accept the challenge to keep seeking innovative and sustainable businesses and projects which support its ocean-based economy and culture, such as Ocean Alliance? And will it materially support its artists who need affordable places to live and work … or will it sell out and become just another banal, anonymous tourist town?

As a new resident, I want Gloucester to remain true to what it is — a proud, creative city embracing the future, not a humbled, defeated city offering its youth nothing but low-wage, dead-end, service industry jobs. In the upcoming mayoral primary, I will vote for Sefatia Romeo Theken because she reflects my values. I trust her to work hard to honor what Gloucester always has been and can still be — a city that is true to itself, too smart to sell out to greedy, selfish developers who come here for all the wrong reasons.





Lois A. McNulty,  Enduring Gloucester’s managing editor, lives in Gloucester. She has made her living on the North Shore over the past 40 years as a public school teacher and newspaper reporter/feature writer.


Humbled by Hoops by Lori Sanborn

sanborn- coach billante

Coach Joe Billante with Lori Sanborn at 2015 GHS Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony

sanborn- fishermen logo

Humbled by Hoops

by Lori Sanborn

I still remember the first drill I did with Lisa Olson my freshman year in the old gym at Gloucester High School.  Coach Olson stood at the baseline and rolled the ball out towards half court.  Battling one another, Erika Brown and I charged for the rock looking to score on the other end.   Junior versus freshman. All was fair game.  I loved that drill.  I loved that gym, with its amazing hardwood floors and local history.  I loved how many people crammed into that small arena to watch our boys and girls play basketball.  Khris Silveria and Paula Ryan were my hometown heroes.

But my love for the game did not start here. In fact, it came much earlier.  Somewhere between having CYO practices in the tiny Magnolia Library and going to open gym with all the boys at the Cape Ann YMCA, I fell in love.  To me there was no better feeling than blocking an opponent, finding a wide open teammate on the opposite block or making an unexpected steal that led to an easy lay-up off the fast break.  Although, my all time favorite feeling was the sound that echoed from the hoop after making a “nothing but net swoosh.” That WHITHTHTHTHPPP.  Some of you know the exact sound that I am referring to.  And hearing a swoosh on a chain net, well forget about it….

Simply put, I felt good playing basketball.  So I played whenever and wherever I could get gym time.  The size of the court did not matter.  Nor did the gender or age of my opponents.  I shot my heart out whenever I could.  But my personal drive could only take my passion for the game so far.  I was blessed to be supported by an extraordinary family and an equally dedicated and diverse group of coaching influences.

My mother and father brought me to every practice, game, and AAU tournament in Massachusetts and beyond.  And they did so with smiles on their faces. They supported my wishes to attend camps all over New England and most importantly, talked me off that ledge when I had an awful game.  Their unwavering support for their daughter, would help number 21 to score 30 points after only netting 3 in the game before.

While there have been countless individuals who influenced me during my basketball career, three definitely stand out for helping me to take my game to the next level. Rich Langan, pushed me to become a better post-player, first as my AAU coach and later here, in the gym of the Benjamin Smith Field House as head coach.  Not all players clicked with Rich, but I am one of the lucky ones who did, and his influence motivated me to play this game far beyond its winter season.  Alex “Pep” Borge had a profound influence on my life.  In 6th grade I played for Pep in the Cape Ann YMCA boys league.  Pep’s positive outlook and joyous attitude were infectious.  He made this game fun for me, a gift that every coach should give its players.  I credit Pep for helping me to become the optimist that I am today.

Anyone that is close to me knows how much I love to get yelled at by “old men.”  Why else would I torture myself with the presence of Joe Billante for so long?  All jokes aside, Joe is one of the greatest coaches I know.  No one knows more about the game than Joe B.  And his philosophy is simple.  Fundamentals first and practice makes perfect.  He values the player that works hard.  He values the player that hustles.  Most importantly, Joe B. gives his heart to every player that he works with.  Joe B. has taught me the true value of passion and that if you love what you do, than life will always be worthwhile.

The confidence and courage I found on the hardwood has transferred over to college classrooms, interviews, and eventually parenthood.  Ball taught me how to think quick, be strong, and trust others.  My parents and coaches, like Joe B., reinforced the value of preparation, practice and positivity.  So having my name hang in this gym, and now on the Hall of Fame Wall means more to me than you can imagine.  I want future generations of girls who have hoop dreams to see the name “Lori Sanborn” and hopefully believe that they can be better than me if they really work hard. This should be the mentality of all aspiring athletes, not to be ‘as good as’ but rather, to be ‘better than.’  And if I am really lucky, maybe my own daughter will be able to out-perform her Mom one day.  We just need her to choose sneaks over heels first.

sanborn - HOF class of 2015

GHS Hall of Fame Class of 2015 at September 20 Induction Ceremony

From the bottom of my heart, thank you to the Hall of Fame Committee for choosing me to be among this talented group of male and female athletes and coaches inducted into the 2015 Hall of Fame class.  I will never forget the four years that I played for the Gloucester Girls Basketball program or the teammates that helped me to reach such an accolade. Once again, I have found myself completely humbled by hoops.

sanborn- bio

lori schaefer

Lori Sanborn was born in Gloucester and returned to live permanently in our seaside community three years ago. She has been a public educator for 12 years,  teaching eighth graders.  Lori is most proud of her role as mother to her children, Emerson and Ryder.

Nightcap Poems by Kent Bowker


Rachel’s Song © 2015 ~ Sandra Kavanaugh



The fresh morning dew glistens in a spider’s cell

our first breath of aborning day  sweet ambrosia

lilt of bird song and response far off in the shell

of woods enclosing us opening onto a calm sea

of thoughts unencumbered by a day’s demands.


These be the blessings we’ll have to carry us

through thorn and thistled ways, this lightness

of well being,  illusions perhaps but also true.

Like a Tarot Fool blithely walking off a cliff’s edge

a flower in one hand eyes lifted to the stars,

we too can float above our disasters to be

remembering the early light, the lilt of bird songs

and the  freshness in a  morning’s  breath.


Kent Bowker 9/16/2015

Nightcap Poem #76



The Marsh Intense


The marsh is intensely green now

flat out to the distant drumlins

the river, tide coming in, barely

covering parts at this moment

at the end of the day.  The sky

beyond is turning yellow

below the darker clouds.

And the half moon will open

through the cloud gaps

late night passages

to the ocean beyond.

We meditate, no wind

even the gulls are silent

at this moment of closure

as sun gives way to the moon

as if all life, ours too

is suspended. The day dies

as we will too in our cycle

our yellow sky the final rest

as it is tonight for the sun,

as we enter the unknown

realm of the moon.


Kent Bowker   7/23/2015

Nightcap poem # 22


Kent Bowker

Kent Bowker  started with poetry at Berkeley in the Fifties, then became a physicist working mainly in optics.  His new book of poems is Katharsis: Sifting Through a Mormon Past.  He lives in Essex, next to the Great Marshes and is treasurer of the Charles Olson Society.


Peter Todd, our Poet Laureate

kueh (2)

Main Street, Gloucester. 1932. Max Kuehne (1880-1968)

My Journey Upon the Sands of Time

by Peter Todd

The Gloucester Train Depot and shoes to shine,
Running in and out of the Depot Cafe,
Nelson’s Candy and Station Lunch to find
The greatest of Fried Dough and Doughnuts to eat.
From the train to City Hall shining Mayor Corliss’s shoes
To moving down onto Duncan street
Meals at The Hesperus or Cape Ann Diner with no time to lose,
Wanting to move along for new customers to greet.
The years passing by like the hourglass sands
With Urban Renewal beckoning fast,
Fishermen’s Institute and all men’s tales
To my heart and soul forever cast.
Growing in years too old for the bars,
Graduating to working at Nat’s Shoe Shine and Repair,
The sands of hourglass now running fast
Finding myself at City Hall and my old boss Freddy Kyrouz there.
I will never forget this journey upon the Sands of Time
For I will share it with our youth the best way that I can
In searching for the right words or expressions I find
It will come to me easy by believing in the Master’s Plan.


Peter Todd (2)Peter Todd is Poet Laureate of the City of Gloucester. 
His poems center around such diverse topics as the Gloucester City Council, the city’s rich history, the fishing boats
 and working waterfront, Gloucester landmarks, and individuals who have made Gloucester great.

Ken Knowles unveils painting at BankGloucester

Ken Knowles unveils "Mayor's Race"

Ken Knowles unveils “Mayor’s Race”

Acclaimed Rockport artist Ken Knowles unveiled his spectacular, mural size painting “Mayor’s Race” this evening at BankGloucester. An enthusiastic crowd cheered on the artist’s son as he pulled the string to reveal the impressive artwork.

Afterwards, Senator Bruce Tarr conducted a live auction to purchase a smaller version of the painting. The winning bid of over $5,000 went to benefit Wellspring House.

“Mayor’s Race” will be permanently on display at the bank and is well worth the trip to see it.

The Value of a House



old postcard 53 western

by Prudence Fish

Since 1923 when the Leonard Kraske statue of the Gloucester Fisherman, the “Man at the Wheel” was dedicated on Gloucester’s newly constructed Stacy Boulevard this iconic portrayal of a fisherman looking out to sea has become part of Gloucester’s identity.  It is a rare visitor to Cape Ann who doesn’t go to the Boulevard to view the landmark listed on the National Register of Historic Places and perhaps have their picture taken in front of it.

In fact, thousands upon thousands of photos, including postcards and even paintings depict this famous statue.  Just look online at sites such as eBay and the endless images of the Man at the Wheel. Its importance is immediately apparent.

In the background of these pictures stands a long row of old houses lining the inland side of the Boulevard.  Some go back to the 18th century; many are from the 19th century.  Over time they have changed as old houses do but all are still standing, forever recorded in these photos.


The Inn at Babson Court, 53 Western Avenue/Stacy Boulevard, is an important element in the iconic streetscape of Gloucester Harbor’s Boulevard


Babson’s History of the Town of Gloucester, 1860, says that at the close of the Revolutionary War there were only three houses between the “Cut” and Tally’s corner.  The “Cut” is the canal connecting the Annisquam River with Gloucester Harbor.  When Babson wrote about this neighborhood in “View of the Town at the Close of the War”, only two of the original three 18th century houses remained. The “close of the war”, by the way, means the Revolutionary War.

One of the two has not been identified but we know that the old house at 53-55 Western Ave. now the Inn at Babson Court, was one of these 18th century houses.  This mid 18th century house had to be one of the two remaining houses. It was owned by Samuel Stevens. Samuel Stevens was the owner of the Pine Tree Tavern built on land purchased by his ancestor, William Stevens.

inn at babson

Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum  (House numbers can change over the years. Now 53 Western Ave.)

In the 18th century it is hard to believe but there were nearly 300 slaves in the Town of Gloucester owned by the wealthiest merchants and sea captains.   Once each year these blacks were given a day off.  They congregated here in this neighborhood at the Pine Tree Tavern on the Boulevard for a day of fun and games and conviviality.  Clearly, the Pine Tree Tavern occupied one of the three houses that were extant at that time.  It is not certain which one was the tavern but there is the distinct possibility that it was the Inn at Babson Court.  The location of the Pine Tree Tavern was some 300 feet from the bridge bringing it into the immediate neighborhood.  It is nice to think that the hospitality given out so generously by the modern day innkeepers at the Inn at Babson Court is a continuation of the hospitality shown by Samuel Stevens at the Pine Tree Tavern so long ago.



The Inn at Babson Court, 53 Western Avenue/Stacy Boulevard, stands directly across from the Fishermen’s Memorial

But now, that familiar backdrop of old houses standing as they have for centuries is in peril of changing.  In the near future that familiar scene on the postcards and souvenirs may never look the same. Why?  After trying to sell the Inn at Babson Court off and on for several years the innkeepers received an offer; the only one the eager sellers have received.  They have long wanted to retire and here was their chance.  There is a catch!  The offer comes with the terrible news that the new buyer’s plan for an eight unit condominium project calls for demolition of the Inn at Babson Court.



This is sad news for all of us and especially the present owners.  I know personally how much of themselves Paul and Donald have put into this house, especially Paul with all his artistic surprises and delightful details that have charmed their guests for many years.

Gloucester has no demolition delay ordinance or demolition review of any kind whatsoever and no historic district covering the Boulevard.  There is nothing to stand in the way of the demolition.  If this happens the view from the Man at the Wheel with the familiar background, will forever be changed.



But that is not all the bad news!

Just a few doors down the street another antique house, a survivor from the 19th century is facing imminent demolition.

This house at 73-75 Western Avenue is a dignified center entrance late Federal period residence.




3. George Davis, brewer

Photo courtesy of Cape Ann Museum. (House numbers can change over the years. Now 73-75 Western Ave.)

I have not been inside and do not know what antique features are left but I know the façade well and have admired the integrity of its exterior and front façade including the long side ell on the left side.  Old photos portray this house painted white with shutters and a tidy fence surrounding the yard, not unlike so many on the Boulevard over one hundred years ago.

The house was built on land owned by Joseph Procter, just one of a long line of Joseph Procters.  It may not have been his homestead but was the homestead of his son, Joseph Johnston Proctor followed by Joseph Osborn Proctor.  The Procters’ role in the history of Gloucester is huge.  They were heavily involved in the fisheries and many local organizations.  Ultimately they owned a number of houses along the Boulevard including the Inn at Babson Court as well as the stately house at 73-75 Western Avenue.

Joseph J. Procter was born in 1802 and married Eliza Ann Gilbert in 1826.  This couple had eleven children before Joseph died unexpectedly in September 2, 1848.  His death was followed by the death of a one year old son just two weeks later.  Eliza Ann lived in the house until her death in 1887.

At this time the house was sold to Hiram Rich, a poet (1832-1901), who worked at the Cape Ann National Bank.  Hiram Rich was widely published in many periodicals including the Atlantic Monthly.  Not too long ago in the Gloucester Times John Ronan called Hiram Rich an underrated poet who was important to Gloucester.

The stories of the people who occupied these two houses and what they meant to Gloucester are extensive.  It is sad to think that soon, in a matter of hours, all traces of these historic houses can be obliterated.


If this bothers you, please attend the Demolition Review Workshop and voice your thoughts.

Regional Demolition Review Workshop

 Open to the public. Free.

Hosted by the Gloucester Historical Commission

Monday, September 28, 7-9 pm

Kyrouz Auditorium, Gloucester City Hall, 9 Dale Ave.


Find out what a Demolition Delay Ordinance would mean for you and your community.
See how demolition review is working in nearby cities and towns.
M. E. Lepionka, Co-Chair, Gloucester Historical Commission


EDITOR’S NOTE:  There is now a lively discussion of this issue on the Enduring Gloucester facebook page.


Pru's photo for book (2)Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses.

Click here to read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.



House Gods

                                                                                               ©Eric Schoonover

I don’t have any house gods—strictly speaking that is. But I do have four garden gods and one car god. My cars have always displayed life-sized lizards on the dashboard; small, alert and attractive creatures, they have kept me company over many thousand miles. My current reptile is a Desert Grassland Whiptail (Aspidoscelis uniparens), mild mannered with a tendency to creep over to my side of the dash where it creates a distracting reflection in the windshield. She (it’s an all-female species, reproduction by parthenogenesis) is probably fifteen years old. Her markings blend in with the dash; passengers rarely comment on her. She is on her second car just now.

Two of the garden gods are also reptiles: small snakes. (One is a baby Yellow-Bellied Water Snake (Nerodia erythrogaster), the other a MadeInChinaSnake.) They’re realistic, so realistic that visitors are often startled:  a tighter breathing, / And zero at the bone, as Miss Dickinson wrote. They make up for the innocuous Whiptail on the dashboard, and I must confess to a somewhat sadistic delight when people respond to them with alarm. They lie atop the cement that encases the two gate posts, so they are most clearly visible. They are the guards of our small urban courtyard; although, save for the startled guests, they are rather ineffectual. I struggle nightly in early summer with a prowling skunk whose malodorous body gives off such pungency that it wakes me. And then there are the cats who are most interested in the soft, cultivated soil of the flower beds that surround the slate courtyard floor.

Last are the other two garden gods. They are the oldest and made an entry into my life as a wedding present many years ago. They were (perhaps) Asian salad utensils, carved from some

house gods

house gods

exotic wood. I never liked them, and they were relegated to bottom drawers and backs of closets. (I suspect that the fate of many wedding gifts.) But then, years later, I thought to stick them in the garden ground. A lovely decorative detail hidden beneath fern fronds, lording it over a quiet herbal world. Years passed, and the fork and then the spoon rotted away, and they were once again retired, this time to a trug, along with trowels and garden gloves.

Over the years I began to develop a liking for these two, male and female. I mounted them on fiberglass rods and urethaned them. They are contemplative, coming perhaps from a Buddhistic world; Burma or Bali—but virtually universal save for their seemingly symbolic postures and attire. Their majesty exudes peace, and although I don’t think that they have much sway with the skunk or the cats, they reassure me and provide continuity to the garden over the years as it wanders, grows differently, and changes its color.

I hadn’t given this matter of house gods much thought until recently, perhaps prompted by my study of a Roman villa. I am neither a spiritual nor a superstitious person, but these familiars bring a feeling of stability that is not always present in my life. People have long touched an object on entering or leaving a house, expecting good fortune. So, too, I view these beings, these non-beings, as objects bringing good fortune.


“House Gods” one of 19 essays in Eric Schoonover’s collection, Telling Tales, to be published later this year.

Our Great Marsh



Plum Island

Plum Island photo by Judith Walcott


Plum Island Revery


Peter Anastas

“Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness…”

plumpannes (2)

Salt Pannes, Plum Island photo by Judith Walcott

Gazing beyond the dunes of Plum Island at the Great Marsh, bronzed in late summer light, I thought of that evocative first line of Keat’s poem, “On Autumn”.

It was the last weekend of August.  Each year at summer’s end I love to walk the barrier beach of the Parker River Wildlife Refuge.  There are no dwellings nearby; and except for those who fish the ocean’s edge for striped bass, few beachgoers after Labor Day.  It’s a place where one is up against nature in the raw.  I make it a point to visit the beach often during the year, observing the seasonal changes—-the piping plovers as they propagate, the redwings that arrive by the end of February, the tree swallows who begin their pre-migratory flocking in mid-August, and the purple martins who leave by summer’s close.

The approaching autumn is a special time for me.  It’s a time for reflection.  It’s also a time when one prepares for the year’s declension into winter, a time of mellowness in the air, the light, as Keats’s poem suggests; a time of actual and spiritual harvest.

Stretching from West Gloucester to the borders of New Hampshire, the Great Marsh is a wonder.  As I contemplate its vast fertility from the silent dunes of Plum Island, I think of those early settlers, who gathered beach plums here (hence its name) and took the shellfish.  I think particularly of Judge Samuel Sewell, who in 1697 gave us this description of Plum Island:

“As long as Plum Island shall faithfully keep the command post, notwithstanding all the hectoring words and hard blows of the boisterous ocean; as long as any salmon and sturgeon shall swim in the streams of Merrimack, or any perch or pickerel in Crane Pond; as long as the sea fowl shall know the time of their coming, and not neglect seasonably to visit the places of their acquaintance; as long as any cattle shall be fed with the grass growing in the meadows, which do humbly bow down themselves before Turkey Hill; as long as any sheep shall walk upon Old Town Hill, and shall from thence pleasantly look down upon the River Parker and the fruitful marshes lying beneath; as long as any free and harmless doves shall find a white oak or other tree within the township to perch or feed or build a careless nest upon, and shall voluntarily present themselves to perform the office of gleaners after barley harvest; as long as nature shall not grow old and dote, but shall constantly remember to give the rows of Indian Corn their education by pairs; so long shall Christians be born there…and shall from thence be translated to be made partakers of the Inheritance of the saints in light.”

Those words were written three-hundred and eighteen years ago, yet they describe with perfect clarity what can still be seen and enjoyed today.  Whether or not we share Judge Sewell’s prophetic religiosity, we can still marvel at the acute sense of place evoked in his description of Plum Island and its surrounding forests, hills and wetlands.  We can marvel at this early ecological vision, at its appreciation of nature’s bounty.

Years pass as if they were days, places change and the people who inhabit them disappear.  Thanks largely to the vision and commitment of organizations like the Essex County Greenbelt Association and the Trustees of Reservations, numerous town land trusts, and preservation-minded property owners, Essex County has retained much of its austere beauty.  There is no present without a past, as Judge Sewell understood.  Yet today’s destroyers act as if they were the only people on earth, as if no one had been here before them, preserving what they cherished for us today.  They act as if their greed were a right, instead of a sin against each of us and the land itself.

Tasteless “trophy” houses and out-of-scale McMansions spring up in fields and meadows once husbanded with meticulous care by our colonial forebears.  Signs dot the oceanside warning natives, who have always had access to the shore, that the property is now “private.”  Gates appear where once we all walked with impunity; and greed reigns.   The sense of Commonwealth our puritan predecessors bequeathed us, the belief that the land and sea were ours to use and enjoy together, to preserve for the next generation, has eroded vastly since Judge Sewell’s time.  More than ever, it is our responsibility to secure this covenant once again.  Otherwise, those who come after us may never enjoy the seasons “of mists and mellow fruitfulness” we have accepted as our birthright.


Peter at Museum (1)

Peter Anastas, EG editorial director, is a Gloucester native and writer. His most recent book, A Walker in the City: Elegy for Gloucester, is a selection from columns that were published in the Gloucester Daily Times.