P-Town, Where the Mayflower First Landed

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PROVINCETOWN, MASS. — We are standing near the top of the tallest all-granite structure in the United States, looking out into Provincetown Harbor on the tip of Cape Cod, the slim crooked finger of land that curls out and up from Massachusetts, as if to beckon visitors. Below us, as we climbed 252 feet to the top of this narrow tower, lies this picturesque village, whose population swells from about 3,000 year-round residents to 60,000 during the summer.

Below us is Long Point, the end of the crooked finger that forms this peninsula. On Nov. 11, 1620, the Mayflower, with 102 men, women and children, sailed into this harbor, which provided some protection against the elements. The ship landed on solid ground for the first time in two-and-half months.

The Pilgrims had arrived. That day, the men aboard the Mayflower drafted what originally was called the 1620 Agreement. We know it now as the Mayflower Compact. The Pilgrims several weeks later settled in Plymouth.

John Adams, a century-and-a-half later, said the Mayflower Compact was a strong influence on the Declaration of Independence. It said, in part, “for our better ordering and preservation and furtherance of the ends aforesaid; and by virtue hereof to enact, constitute and frame such just and equal Laws, Ordinances, Acts, Constitutions, and Offices from time to time, as shall be thought most meet and convenient for the general good of the Colony, unto which we promise all due submission and obedience…” In other words, the Pilgrims agreed to self-govern themselves and live under a rule of law, a social compact.

My Beautiful Mystery Companion and I have trudged the 116 steps and 60 ramps to the top of the Pilgrim Memorial Monument to take in the view. Built from 1907 to 1910, the interior is dotted with stones donated by cities, towns and clubs from across the country. I stop and take a photo of my favorite: “Boston: 1630.” Teddy Roosevelt laid the cornerstone in 1907, and his successor, William H. Taft, dedicated it upon completion on Aug. 5, 1910, almost exactly 106 years after we arrive to climb it. I don’t know if Taft, who tipped the scales at 335 pounds at his presidential peak, climbed all those steps to take in the view. I suspect not.


We arrived in P-Town, as it is popularly known, on a swift catamaran that traversed the distance from Boston Harbor to the peninsula in 90 minutes. A whale broke the water’s surface about halfway there, too briefly for me to photograph, though my camera was at the ready. On the boat ride, we made our acquaintance with Obi (as in Obi-Wan Kenobi from “Star Wars”, a sweet dog who could be our Rosie’s calmer cousin. Obi’s Food Guy was a friendly young man who we later learned is a civil rights attorney in Boston. We showed the Food Guy a cellphone photo of Rosie, and all agreed they could be kin. Obi was open to petting and compliments, after which he curled up in the seat alongside Food Guy and snoozed.


P-Town’s main street is Commercial Street, New England-narrow and crowded with pedestrians ignoring the sidewalks to walk faster, forcing the delivery trucks to move slower. Sort of like Bourbon Street in the daytime during Mardi Gras.

As I wandered about, having seperated from my BMC and daughter so they could shop in peace while I shot photos and people-watched, it occurred to me that here one saw the real America — a true cross-section of this country.

On Commercial Street, in P-Town on this August afternoon, folks walked beneath an array of rainbow flags hung above. Young married couples, both gay and straight, pushed strollers. Old folks, both gay and straight, carefully picked their way along crowded sidewalks sweetly holding on to each other. Tattooed and pierced teens confidently pushed their way through, cigarettes in hand. (They’ll learn…) Two weathered-skin artists, a man and a woman, were standing in front of easels, painting versions of the lovely P-Town library. An array of skin colors, ages, religious persuasions, body shapes and sizes made their way past picturesque shops and restaurants

P-Town struck me as a happy, welcoming place. Expensive, yes, so out of reach for most folks. We are sort of on the edge, having saved for a year for this New England trip. But it was joyful to spend a day among such a wide variety of folks just out on holiday, as the British say, enjoying the lovely temperatures, bright sunshine and their friends and family.

Obi and his Food Guy were on the return boat to Boston. We talked a while (Obo did not say much) as the nighttime lights of the Beantown skyline came in view, and I snapped away with my camera. It had been a peaceful, lovely day spent with pleasant people — a welcome break from the day-to-day recriminations and ugliness of the current cultural climate.

We enjoyed a day in a beautiful, historical place where Pilgrims landed long ago and signed a compact to get along. It was time and money well-spent. This was America at its best and kindest, at least on this day.

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