Gloucester Author Writes about an Endangered Bird

A Review by JoeAnn Hart

The Narrow Edge, by Deborah Cramer, Yale University Press, 2015. $28, 288 pages.  

The Narrow Edge

 “When an extinction occurs, there is no way to know which species will be the next to cling to the hands of time.”

The “narrow edge” in the title of this engaging book by Gloucester resident, Deborah Cramer, evokes the image of comedian Harold Lloyd, in the 1923 film Safety Last!, teetering on a skyscraper ledge, clinging for dear life to the hands of a clock. It is an apt metaphor for the uncertain future of the red knot (“a small sandpiper about the size of a robin and weighing about as much as a coffee cup”), which roams the sliver of sand between land and sea, a precarious place to be these days. This indefatigable bird lives for five months on desolate tidal flats at the tip of South America, then, as if possessed, travels 9,500 miles north, following the coasts of two continents, to breed in the Arctic.,

In The Narrow Edge: A Tiny Bird, an Ancient Crab, and an Epic Journey, Cramer explores this flyway by plane, kayak, helicopter, and foot, feeding on history and science as she goes, wrestling with the consequences of human interaction with the natural world. Her journey ends at a scientists’ field camp in the most northern of Canada’s territories, where the red knot lays its eggs. The birds arrive with just the feathers on their backs, while Cramer is weighted down with supplies, bulky clothes, a GPS, and the requisite twelve-gauge shotgun to ward off polar bears. It was the worst summer for shorebirds in the field camp’s history.

In her travels, Cramer often sustains herself on pilot biscuits, but the red knot needs high protein fuel and lots of it, preferably the eggs of the homely horseshoe crab. Yet this living fossil, which has survived on Earth for half a billion years, is running out of breeding grounds. The beaches on which it lays its eggs are being destroyed from over-development, rising waters, oil spills, and industrial run-off. As if the crab didn’t have enough to worry about, it is also of considerable value to humans: Aside from its historical use as fertilizer and bait, the crab’s blue blood is used to ensure the safety of intravenous medical procedures. In theory, the blood harvest should not kill the crab, or at least not many, but Cramer’s research suggests another story—and so the red knot’s fortunes rise and fall with the crab’s.

Cramer walks and talks with a wide band of scientists and naturalists who are working against the clock to save the red knot, because if this shorebird disappears, it won’t be the only one, and we cannot predict the consequences. “The foundation of food webs may not be apparent until they fray,” she writes, citing the disappearance of the passenger pigeon with the rise of Lyme disease. (Read the book to discover the connection.) When an extinction occurs, there is no way to know which species will be the next to cling to the hands of time.

—JoeAnn Hart

Orion Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2015

JoeAnn Hart

 JoeAnn Hart, a long time Gloucester resident, is the author of the novels Float and Addled.  Her review first appeared in Orion, September/October, 2015.   

Photo by Brendan Pike, Gloucester.

Sophie the Bull (1928—2015)


copyright Document / Morin 2010

copyright Document / Morin 2010

I walked to the wake at Greeley’s Funeral. Same set-up as all the Sicilian wakes.  Carlo’s—the Captain who counted on Sophie’s gang to unload his F/V  Holy Family’s trips of fresh fish,  at Empire, or Star Fisheries., usually, all those years… Mary’s—Carlo’s wife, who described fishing as “one hell of a  stinkin’ way to make a living”  and now Sophie the Bull,  their Boss Lumper.  I look around.  Who do I know?  The audience chairs, full, lined up in back. Who’s left? Sign-in,  scan the family photos, pass the casket on the right. Should I kneel at the casket, like the woman, crossing herself, before me? Sophie—laid out, in a  neat  dark, suit, tie, blue rosary beads on  delicate gold chain twined just so, in the fingers of his big hands, folded.  Still  rust “tanned”, but what’s THIS?!  WHITE hair! Last time I saw him, a few years’ back,  in the passenger seat of his car,  his wife driving, outside Giovanni’s for a haircut, his hair was still jet black.  As always.  He seemed to remember me. Then moving toward the reception line of relatives, daughters? Nieces?  Didn’t know, any,  but needed to ask for the son. There, they pointed. End of the line. I turned to him. Kind of recognizable. Forty or so years does make a difference…. I could still picture his teenaged, handsome face under the mask of his current age. ”Are you the one who was lumpin’ with your Dad the time you got the Red Fish spine stuck through your boot and he got down on his hands and knees and pulled it out with his teeth?” I asked. “I dunno, long time ago…” he answered.  Made eye contact, tho’ and it stuck, I hope.

And I’m still looking down, in memory,  from the Hatchway,  seeing his Dad,  scrambling, forking , loading my bushels,  gliding up and down the aluminum ladder I placed  down into the hatchway of  the Fish hold for them.  I’d see Sophie, then, lithe, in jeans, boots, carrying his modified, short tined  pitchfork,  wearing a brown paper bag, rolled to fit his head, protecting it from the gurry-fish slime drip below. Sophie was elegant,  and economical—no wasted effort–in all his moves.  And attuned to his crew’s. You had to be, to fit into  the routine of “the lumpin’ racket”, as he called it. As he did, expertly.  Despite his deprecation, of their sense of  their own peculiar qualifications, ie: “Strong back and very small brain…” Sophie The Bull was the epitome of DUENDE—fluid, elegant, graceful, balletic, even.  Not a ounce of fat on his sinuous, frame—like the  braided steel cables that towed, or dragged the net, coiled tight  on the winch. “Indian Muscles.” “How do you think he got the name “BULL”?! How else to make a living whose wages depended on moving vast  TONNAGE of slippery, iced fish from the confinement of narrow fish holds’ pens to bushel containers, hoisted by rope, and winch through hatch,  guided by the hatchman, steadily, to the Dumper  up on the dock as fast and efficiently as possible, as part, usually, of a perfectly choreographed team?  The faster the better. The WEIGHT was the object—as much, or little, as the hold held for that trip. If the trip was small, or a “broker”, maybe it could be handled by one lumper, and the hatchman and winchman from the boat’s crew.

Big trips kept every one busy.  Starting at dawn.  Straddling and forking fish into the bushels, sending them up as fast as possible, so you might have time to catch another boat.  Sophie’s crew were tight, and trustworthy, too. The Boston lumpers, not so much. Rumor had it that in Boston—the guys tried  to kill each other off for a chance to break in. Watching “Cowboy”— the infamous Boss Lumper,  on Atlantic Wharf —swathed in his Leopard skin poncho, standing defiantly astride the edge of the dock, dumping, swearing a Blue Streak,  you had to believe it. Cowboy, face flattened, punchy, would fling the empty bushels back AT the hatch man (me!) from long practice dodging the empties, and curses, heaved back at him. Carlo, the Captain, and I, even developed certain hand signals, to indicate that the Boston lumpers down the hold had “round and firm and fully packed “ the last bushels with  selected “money fish” for themselves.  Thievin’..! But the Gloucester Empire and Star Wharves’  lumpers  were “kinder and gentler”.  And trustworthy.  And funny.

The work itself was esteemed and rewarded for what it was. HARD. They BROKE THEIR ASSES!  And other body parts.  As Kenny, Sophie’s other partner, shyly disclosed. “I broke my back, and was back lumpin’ right after the surgery.” Kelly, Sophie’s Uncle and third partner, told me of having “cherries”—mysterious calluses that were surgically removed, for medical research, from his, and other lumpers’ knees. “From kneeling on, and forking’ the iced fish, packed in the holds…” Their hands, were deformed, too, from gripping the pitchforks, bushels,  and penboards, and often “artha-rittik..”. It was painful work, and compensated by good, well-earned, enviable pay, if you broke in, and survived it. Everyone knew, and excused whatever their predictable, “excesses”—“self- medication”, the horses—Rockingham Park…Vegas!  Nothing, no scuttlebutt, on Kenny though.  Nothing  on Sophie, either.  He lived to 87, predeceased by Kenny, who also had his own lobster boat,   and Kelly, who’d secured his own personal “legend” as a gill net fisherman, and  “everything” on the waterfront.

As I left Greeley’s, it all came back, ghostly, with a great melancholy. Walking back home, I realized we’re all in their wake. Sophie, his crew, their “racket”, their brutal work, the industry itself they served, are awash, sinking, or sunk,  like The Holy Family—burned and sunk.  By  mistake.  Years ago. Men whose lives were sustained, nobly, by  brute labor that stressed, strained and broke their bodies, but provided security and sanctity for them, their families and  the working waterfront of The Most Famous Fishing City by the Sea, “A helluva stinkin’ way to make a living”?! Or icons and avatars, attesting to our indigenous ingenuity and resilience?

I wonder. How many workers can now claim nicknames or any  resolute identity that attest to the style of their physical work skills’ excellence, worth, and competence? Identities bestowed by the esteem of their peers?  Whose work literally fed us, and ensured our survival?  Our own current work lives, jobs, and identities are relatively diminished by such AWESOME men. Our “lives of quiet desperation”, as Thoreau admonished.  Men, like Sophie The Bull, in whose wake we and our City, follow. To  what purpose? To what end?  I wish to Hell…

Peter Parsons



Peter Parsons is a Gloucester native and Social Worker, who has fished out-of-Gloucester and lives in town. He is co-author with Peter Anastas of When Gloucester Was Gloucester: Toward an Oral History of the City.

Nightcap Poem from Kent Bowker


The Virgin Spring. © Gabrielle Barzaghi


Breakfast at Lobsta Land


On the sunlit side away from the marsh another scene

harsh in comparison as an endless stream of cars

impinge the ear and sight at the entrance to the bridge

gateway to Gloucester narrow to impede the hoard stream

but it doesn’t quite work the way it used to do

when everyone worked in the town, or went fishing.


The marsh view seems fixed, season and tidal modulation

from year to year comforting knowable and unchanging.

Not so on the highway, a little denser and faster every year.

fishing slowly dying, tourists coming, commuters, in and out.

On one side the beauty, on the other the sign of change

destruction of the unique you don’t see; it’s incremental,

one old building down, one condo built

iconic reminders of the old slower ways replaced.


The once upon a time of amiable ways, backyard conversations

the regularity of a walking postman who might be a great poet,

when we all knew each other, the artist could be your plumber.

Few now accompany St Peter on festival days.

Our memories short get used to the erosive growth

hardly notice what it does as the town, marsh and shore

irretrievably change, we don’t see the loss.



Kent Bowker 10/6/2015

Nightcap poem # 96


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.

Tear It Down or Save It- A Tale of Two Cities

pru 2


Leading by Example

We accept the fact that Gloucester is America’s oldest seaport but it is easy to take this distinction somewhat for granted.  In addition Gloucester has a rich history in the art world.  The list of painters who came to Gloucester, drawn by the scenery and the special light, is a who’s who in art. Throw into the mix the history of the granite industry, the uniquely ethnic neighborhoods and last, but not least, the architecture.

What are we doing to respect and preserve our eroding collection of old buildings?  Not enough!

We do not have a much needed demolition delay that would slow down the demolition of old buildings with a shot at saving them even if it’s a long shot.  In the most historic and oldest towns in eastern Massachusetts most have long since embraced this tool.  Gloucester has rejected this process several times since the late 80s.

There is a small historic district including part of Middle Street, Pleasant Street and the West End of Main Street.   Those who buy property in this area are aware of the restriction imposed upon the district.  If the guidelines for an historic district bother a potential buyer and they find the rules too restrictive, perhaps they should invest in another neighborhood.  If a buyer does purchase in this neighborhood they enter into the deal with eyes wide open.  However, it is almost inevitable that sooner or later there will be changes that a new owner might like to make to the property and a good chance that the changes will be contrary to basic preservation guidelines.  Unless there is a serious hardship the commission involved must stand their ground and uphold the preservation guidelines.

Just last week it was shocking to see what appeared would be the total demolition of a stately house on Pleasant Street in progress.  Known locally as the Blatchford house it is located in the historic district.

pru- 1

This dignified house in recent days. Known as the Blatchford House, it is on Pleasant Street, on the same block as City Hall.


This extensive demolition to the building was allowed to happen legally because the façade and the gable ends were preserved saving the streetscape but the back of the house is gone and the interior is gutted.  All of the approvals are in order.  But it sure looks like serious demolition to me!

pru 2

The house has no back and the interior is gutted.


At the present time two antique houses on the Boulevard are threatened with demolition,  with no way other than perhaps public pressure to prevent the action that will permanently alter this scenic stretch of roadway overlooking our beautiful harbor.  The Man at the Wheel is an iconic feature of this neighborhood.   (Please see story in Gloucester Daily times here: )

Switching gears, let’s talk about the City of Peabody.  Peabody?  Of all the town and cities on the North Shore what’s historic about Peabody?

The City of Peabody was separated from Danvers and was the scene of leather workers and tanneries.  The tanneries are mostly gone and although that city is proud of its history few would compare it to Gloucester on any level.  It is the city of malls, old factories, busy highways and a central square that is sometimes under water.  Above all it doesn’t have a harbor and any comparison to Gloucester, Le Beauport, would seem to be ludicrous.

Although Peabody doesn’t have much going for it compared to Gloucester,  in one respect it has Gloucester beat hands down!  Here’s why.

In the late 1890s J. B. Thomas built a house for his grandson.  He spared nothing to create a beautiful house smack dab in the middle of the city on the corner of Main Street and Washington Street.  It also had a fabulous carriage house in the rear not to mention an enormous and beautiful beech tree in the front.

pru 3

The J. B. Thomas-O’Shea house in Peabody


The Thomas family lived in the house for 15 or 20 years before selling it to the O’Sheas.  It then became known as the O’Shea house until sold around 1970 and converted into a furniture store.  After the furniture store owners retired the house was sold to a social agency.

In recent years the house has fallen on hard times and was foreclosed.  Bank owned, it was available for sale.

In a scenario that is far too familiar,  a developer from our own City of Gloucester eyed this high visibility site for redevelopment and negotiated to purchase it.  He made it known that his intent was to demolish the old house. He was so taken with the site he had not initially looked at its wonderful interior. This is when the story takes a remarkable turn.

Unlike Gloucester, this community, Peabody, has a demolition delay ordinance and has had one since 1986, almost thirty years.  It was invoked in an attempt to save the O’Shea house.  But when the City realized that the delay was not long enough to be effective the city council boldly extended the ordinance from 90 days to one year, 365 days, to buy more time; a lease on life for the old house in question.

The trend is for longer delay periods as towns where demolition delay has been tested understand that in order to be effective, longer delays must be enacted and are addressing this finding.  (Meanwhile, remember, Gloucester doesn’t even have a demolition delay ordinance, still rolling out the red carpet for developers who care little for the historical value of the properties they would demolish.)

Determined not to lose this historic house, the City of Peabody, led by the mayor and supported by the Peabody City Council, made a second bold move.  They announced they would take the house by eminent domain!  The house will be saved and it will be interesting to see what happens next.  The City can potentially recover their fair market value purchase price and will have the option to sell it with preservation covenants or easements to protect it into the future.  That is what anyone caring about the house hopes will happen.

Perhaps eminent domain is a tool that Gloucester should invoke from time to time when a historic building is in jeopardy.  How is it that Peabody can take such a decisive step while Gloucester languishes, totally vulnerable with no demolition delay and only a tiny historic district?

Who would think that Peabody would have the foresight and courage to act so decisively?  Why is Gloucester so indifferent?

Is it because Peabody has so much less to save that they are galvanized in making such a bold move?

Regardless of what motivated them,  I say “Kudos to Peabody”.  May they lead by example!


Pru's photo for book (2)


Prudence Fish, of Lanesville, is a published author and expert on antique New England houses.

Read Prudence Fish’s blog, Antique Houses of Gloucester and Beyond.

Please see this related story from the Gloucester Daily Times:

Private residence proposed for the ocean side of the Back Shore











Heroic Voyagers to Niles Pond

john sullivan swans

Swan Family (detail) John Sullivan, Gloucester, 2015

The swans glide across the pond as a family all dressed in white. The two chaperone three fluff balls. The swan woman who wants to guard the young like their parents do tells me their incredible story.

Born not long ago in pond by Pebble Beach they traveled miles across the open Atlantic before coming to Brace Cove and Niles Pond. Just getting the cygnets across the sea of angry waves was puzzling till I learned they climb on the parents’ backs and ride safely there.  Nature has a way. The journey from Cove Beach dividing mass of salt and fresh water to pond must have been easy compared to ocean voyage. They appeared secure but I have heard the coyote calls in the brush, seen the snapping turtles as they laid eggs, and watched hawks soar round.

I too keep a weather eye on the cygnets as I walk by the pond seeing how vigilant the parents are as they stare at me. I could watch the stamping of feet on shallow bottom of pond to raise food but do not move close.  The large wings open aggressively. These wings powerful enough to raise a large swan into flight can also be a weapon to avoid.
My short vigils did not help this family. Whether by predator of nature or disease all three were lost outside my view. The parents, staid, in the pond,  more removed than when they had young.  Heroic voyagers across the ocean to a safe harbor that proved anything but a pond of growth and joy.
John Sullivan

john sullivan (2)John Sullivan “I was born and raised in Maine, got a degree in chemistry before setting anchor in Gloucester some twenty five odd years ago. Got to know town by running two plants on fish pier.”

New Poetry from Melissa deHaan Cummings

patti sullivan solstice

Solstice, 2013, Patti Sullivan, Gloucester (Courtesy Trident Gallery, Gloucester)


A shadow could be
dark and flat 
could be a root
A light spot 
could be sand
or ledge
Watch for rocks
hidden in the grass

Two feet of smooth rock
Put the bike in low
pedal as fast as

You were trying 
to have no man
And you got two!
Full moon
Somebody spilled glue
on the rug
A guy?
Whaddya think!
They rushed for
a wet sponge
Nah!  Need solvent 

Didja have a dog before?
O yah
I got him off Margie Jewell
Thirteen pounds 
Thirteen years
He had heart failure
I spent twenty five hundred
Cardiologist Woburn Everything
At some point you have to let go
Like people
Remember Dr Babson?
Six dollars
Yah I used to let the dogs out
Remember he had them cages
in the back
I lived there
Once Brutus was gone
I said to my wife
You gotta get another one
Jax don't let me out of his sight
You're lucky 

Was that a gun?
Fish tote

How's the boy?
Is he changing?
He has learned
to scream louder
and if he's loud enough
I take him home 
where he wants to be

Grandma's first rule is
That's their problem 
I trust them
It doesn't matter
whether you trust them or not
It has occurred to me
that there's a whole world
out there with millions of people 
who don't need my help
I'm taking my whipped cream
and going home!
So long as you leave your ball!

Melissa de Haan Cummings
27 August 2015

74bdd-melissa2bcummingsMelissa de Haan Cummings majored in French and English Literature at 
Bryn Mawr. She has published poetry in a number of journals. 
 She describes her interests as including, “much small boating around Cape
 Ann, love of Charles Olson, Hatha yoga practice since 1969."

Dogtown College-The Learning Endures

by Martin Ray


My recent reminiscences on Dogtown College stemmed from recollections of a field tutorial on Tree Identification that I enjoyed under the auspices of the College, back in the early days of my landscape gardening career about 1979. Currently I am engaged in discoveries of natural and social history  that I present in a blog series  Notes from Halibut Point

The idea for this endeavor came to me after seeing Cape Ann Museum’s 2013 retrospective on Marsden Hartley that combined his writings and paintings of Dogtown. I thought, I know a nearby place to get to know and share….Halibut Point.  My weekly blog series in this place, Halibut Point, now numbers over one hundred.  I  would like to share this post from the blog, April 23, 2015, on the topic of Dogtown College:


Dogtown College


In the last posting I remarked on taking an eye-opening class through Dogtown College. Three Board members of the group have helped me this week to recall its flavor and direction: Peter Anastas, Nancy Goodman, and my (now) wife Kay,  who was treasurer.


Besides Tree Identification I remember participating in Natural History with Ivy LeMon – “the butterfly lady” – and Life Drawing at Jane Robbins’ Thousand Hands Gallery in East Gloucester Square. The cost was $24 for 8 sessions.

. . .

Dogtown College shimmered and pulsed on Cape Ann for a few years, beginning in 1979. It drew on many of the same community strengths, aspirations, and talents that energized other innovations of the period, such as the Cape Ann Cooperative School, the Food Coop, and the Gloucester Folklife Festival. All these expressed themes from the Sixties rooted in American arts and enterprise. They resolved to reach for the best and not wait for established institutions.

dogtown 1

Steve Heims Alicia Quintano photo

Physicist Steve Heims resided here then, pondering a more rewarding teaching environment than he customarily found as a college professor. He explored possibilities with his friend Jonathan Bayliss, a corporate and government administrator with deep literary interests. The conversation drew on discussions that Jonathan had had with Charles Olson and Peter Anastas on creating free universities based on Olson’s years as rector of Black Mountain College. Olson imagined a local center of learning called Dogtown College, the geographic and mythic Dogtown from which Maximus emerged in his epic poem, Dogtown the protean core of Cape Ann.


Dogtown College: a word-pairing delicious with ironies.

dogtown 2

Gloucester Daily Times, April 4, 1979 Courtesy of Catherine Bayliss



Mention of Steve Heims’ name these days invariably brings an affectionate response. Nancy Goodman recalls a brilliant man who “introduced me to the concept that advances in technology aren’t without consequences….I think of Steve as the visionary, more than the person to carry things out.”


A core of organizers got to work. Says Peter Anastas, “We never expected that we’d have a bricks-and-mortar operation. It was going to be like the free universities of the Sixties that were kind of floating, that never had physical locations. Josh Brackett jumped in. He was a terrific organizer. The first thing Josh did was put together a curriculum as a newsletter. We had a public meeting, a sign-up. Dozens and dozens of people came. It was amazing. People wanted to learn, and they wanted to teach.”


dogtown 3

Josh Brackett standing, second from right. Cover photo of literary publication, courtesy of Peter Anastas



Nancy Goodman brought “a faith in people’s natural curiosity and desire to learn, if they’re given a rich environment to explore.” She had met Josh in the Clamshell Alliance opposing the Seabrook nuclear power plant. “Josh was the playful one, compared to Jonathan who was intellectual and very sincere. Josh was able to see the humor in things. He didn’t take it quite as seriously, though he was equally passionate.”


Peter Anastas: We felt that there were incredible resources in Gloucester. Why go out of town when you had somebody like Steve Heims, a theoretical physicist who worked at the highest levels of physics, to sit down with people, explain to us particle physics and relativity? People loved it. Jonathan Bayliss had been reading Melville for 25 years. He had been yearning to share everything he was thinking about. He’d been Leo Alper’s mayoral assistant. He gave a course on City government. I wanted to teach writing.

dogtown 5

Peter Anastas North Shore Magazine, May 19, 1979 Sawyer Free Library files




I had an incredible experience working with all these folks who were interested in writing. The course I taught – but I didn’t really teach it, I was a facilitator – we called it The Writing Voice. The attempt was to have people find their own voice on the page. Almost everyone who was involved in it came through saying they learned something about themselves and about writing.


At other times we had seminars on Jack Kerouac and Henry David Thoreau. Joe Garland was involved, talking about Gloucester history.


Coming from the academic world, we really had to learn a new way of being. I had been in graduate school where the professor was king. His opinions were the received opinions. In Dogtown we opened ourselves to being challenged, and it was a terrific learning experience.


Writing seminar


We did a twenty-four-hour Charles Olson marathon at Hartley Ferguson’s apartment. We read Olson at different times. We left the apartment to go out and actually look at places in Gloucester that he had written about. People were exhausted, but they came away saying they had an understanding of Olson they’d never had before.


We got a lot of support from the newspaper. The newspaper seemed to be very interested in what we were doing. The kinds of people who became involved went beyond the arts, or writing. A lot of folks came and took courses who were never involved in the artistic community.


We raised money by having dinners, in the basement of the Unitarian-Universalist church. Chris Barton did the cooking. A wonderful person. She was running a vegetarian restaurant, The Garden of Eatin’. She cooked these enormous dinners. People would come and pay a  small amount. We would have entertainment. It was a way to keep the community alive.


Eventually it wound down. We knew it was time. We knew we’d done what we set out to do. Like a lot of post-Sixties kinds of enterprises, the attempt wasn’t to try to create something to last forever. The attempt was to bring people together. When people felt the time had come to move on to something else, that’s what we did. And that’s how it ended. 


MHR at Halibut Point (2)

 Martin Ray, of Lanesville, is the creator of the blog Notes From Halibut Point.


Nice Place to Visit, But…


Photo courtesy of Document Photo/Morin

Well, my first week or so back in the city was an event filled one – not the least of which was the close race between Sefatia Romeo-Theken and Paul McGeary, as they vied to prevail as the two final mayoral candidates in November.

On September, 29, the voters went to the polls and decided it would, indeed, be a Romeo-Theken/McGeary mayoral contest on the first Tuesday in November.

The city and its people are fortunate in that both candidates have a lot of experience, and they both have demonstrated a deep commitment to, and love for this wonderful but rapidly changing city by the sea.

They may differ on some of  the details on how to best help the city and its people navigate the changes that are coming, but nobody, whether you support Romeo-Theken or McGeary, should doubt the commitment both these capable candidates have to the city and its future.

That said, having just returned from working the summer tourist season in Provincetown, something that would not have been economically feasible had it not been that I rented at a reasonable rate from an old friend; I worry that, as the fishing industry continues to be regulated to near extinction, there are too many people in Gloucester who believe that waterfront related tourism in the form of high end marinas,  ever more chic restaurants and bars, and luxurious accommodations of one form or another, will somehow offset the loss of the relatively good paying jobs the fishing industry and related businesses so long generated here in Fish City.

If the economic focus in relation to how best to use the waterfront in the wake of fishing’s decline is too heavily dependent on that high end tourism, Gloucester is setting the stage for another economic crisis a few years down the road from now. That crisis will revolve around the harsh reality that the people employed in those almost strictly seasonal, tourism and service industries will not be able to afford to live here any longer.


gifts- ernie morin, jeff weaver

Ernest Morin photo of Jeff Weaver mural at Harbor Loop, courtesy Document Photo/Morin

That is because as the waterfront is gentrified, the term is a bit of a cliché but I use it for lack of a better one, one can be sure the gentrification will spread out from the waterfront and up into what are still working class neighborhoods like “Portagee Hill”, the area in and around Middle Street, and all around and above Washington Street heading out toward Grant Circle.

As the gentrification spreads, already rising rents in the city will spike still higher.  It is all but guaranteed, yet the wages most of the jobs in tourism, even high end tourism, pay will not be enough to compensate for the ever increasing costs of housing .

Now, I know Provincetown and Gloucester are very different communities. But they share numerous demographic traits that, when looked at holistically and historically, make it clear that Gloucester can learn some lessons from Provincetown and, hopefully, not make the same mistakes Provincetown did as high end tourism replaced the once vibrant fishing economy there. As the fishing industry declined in Provincetown, old local Portuguese fishing families sold their multifamily  homes and moved away. Investors from Boston, New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco bought up those homes and transformed those once reasonably priced apartments into luxurious condominiums that are rented out by the week for two, three, even four thousand dollars during the high tourist season, only to be left vacant through the winter months – despite the fact Provincetown is experiencing a genuine housing crisis.

So acute is the housing shortage in Provincetown, people my age who have lived and worked there for years in the arts, in galleries, shops, and restaurants are leaving in droves. Even those who were fortunate enough to have bought something before prices went into the stratosphere about fifteen years ago are leaving. Why? Because their property taxes and assorted other fees have been raised to levels they can no longer afford.

The housing crisis is so severe that, increasingly, the employees in the shops, restaurants and galleries are Jamaican or Eastern European migrant workers who live four and five people to a room in bunk house style conditions for which each person pays two hundred dollars a week for the bunk – and little else.

Now, some will say such a development could never happen here in Gloucester, I beg to differ. In fact, a year ago this past summer I overheard two members of the management team at the establishment I worked at for two seasons talking about the need for the owners to start thinking about building dormitory style housing on the property because they understood that, as the economy of Gloucester changes and the city gentrifies, it is going to become ever harder for workers in the tourism and service industries to find housing here.

Gloucester, as Newburyport did twenty five years ago, is at great risk, especially in the wake of fishing’s decline, of becoming little more than a chic, coastal, bedroom community of Boston where most residents work off island for good wages; of seeing multi-family homes bought up and converted into high end condominiums, perhaps even to be rented out only in  the peak summer months at exorbitant rates as has happened in Provincetown, while the jobs created on island in the tourism and service sector industries  don’t pay enough to allow a single person, let alone someone trying to raise a family, to live here anymore.

People who don’t think that could really happen are kidding themselves.

That is why, as this municipal election cycle plays out, it is important for voters to find out where all the candidates stand on these all- important issues pertaining to the city, its people, and the future that awaits both.

Because the future is coming to the city, the only question to be answered is “What kind of future will it be?”

Michael Cook


mike_cookMike Cook  is a long time liberal and gay rights activist who saw the uniqueness of Gloucester from the first moment he drove over the bridge during his move from Cambridge to Cape Ann in 1991 to run NUVA’s AIDS education and services programs.