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From Pilgrim Landing to Gay Resort

Karen Krahulik

Publication Year: 2005

How did a sleepy New England fishing village become a gay mecca? In this dynamic history, Karen Christel Krahulik explains why Provincetown, Massachusetts—alternately known as “Land's End,” “Cape-tip,” “Cape-end,” and, to some, “Queersville, U.S.A”—has meant many things to many people.

Provincetown tells the story of this beguiling coastal town, from its early history as a mid-nineteenth century colonial village to its current stature as a bustling gay tourist destination. It details the many cultures and groups—Yankee artists, Portuguese fishermen, tourists—that have comprised and influenced Provincetown, and explains how all of them, in conjunction with larger economic and political forces, come together to create a gay and lesbian mecca.

Through personal stories and historical accounts, Provincetown reveals the fascinating features that have made Provincetown such a textured and colorful destination: its fame as the landfall of the Mayflower Pilgrims, charm as an eccentric artists’ colony, and allure as a Dionysian playground. It also hints at one of Provincetown’s most dramatic economic changes: its turn from fishing village to resort town. From a history of fishing economies to a history of tourism, Provincetown, in the end, is as eclectic and vibrant as the city itself.

Published by: NYU Press


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pp. vii

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pp. ix-xii

...their stories with me in oral history interviews, I owe my deepest re-spect and appreciation. I know that my book will please some of yous ome of the time, and I hope that each of you sees how our conversations about Provincetown’s past have brought this book to life. I am especially grateful for the day I met Gaby Kleykamp. An artist and vol-...

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pp. 1-16

...“PROVINCETOWN IS a caring town. And I’m proud of it,” Portuguese native Amelia Carlos declared in February 1998, just months before her lifelong tenure as a Provincetown resident came to an unexpected but peaceful end.1 Amelia had the kind of Provincetown charm that caught the attention of visitors from a far and made them want to...

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PART I Inventing Provincetown, 1859–1928

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pp. 17-22

IN 1873, Provincetown resident James Gifford joined Yankee businessmen from numerous northeastern seaports in an attempt to place Provincetown in its proper “colonial” context. Fourteen years earlier the discovery of petroleum oil had sent the whaling industry into a dismal downward spiral, and people along the Atlantic’s northeastern...

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1 Colonial Outpost

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pp. 23-45

AT THE TURN of the twentieth century, when Portuguese and artistic communities were becoming increasingly visible in Provincetown, Yankees set out to clarify that they were the best citizens and the rightful owners of Land’s End. They did this by highlighting the town’s significance in what came to be known as the “Age of Discovery,” when Europeans...

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2 “The Perfect Compromise”:Provincetown’s Portuguese Pilgrims

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pp. 46-68

WALLACE NUTTING’S POPULAR TRAVELOGUE, Massachusetts Beautiful, enhanced the colonial revival project.1 Its portraits of New England life described the area in such detail that tourists could easily find villages by train, steamer, and, later, automobile, and they encouraged Americans to take pride in their homeland by promoting the historic...

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3 “Paradise of Artists”

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pp. 69-106

THE STRATEGIES for marketing Provincetown shifted in 1899 when the renowned painter Charles Webster Hawthorne founded the Cape Cod School of Art (CCSA) at Land’s End. In the mid-1800s the arts in New England had assumed new meaning as Americans began to shape and appreciate their regional histories and cultures in new ways....

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PART II Surviving Provincetown, 1929–1969

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pp. 107-112

IN THE LATE AFTERNOON on Saturday, December 17, 1927, Provincetown’s streets were deserted; its shops had been boarded up since Labor Day; tourists were sparse; and artists were few and far between. It was a quintessential “off-season” day like that described by one writer a few years later: when it’s “dusk . . . and the light is almost...

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4 Weathering the Depression

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pp. 113-131

CAPTAIN C APTIVA was not alone in believing that even during the Depression, the economic situation in Provincetown was better than the best times in Portugal or the Azores. In a recent oral history interview, resident Margaret Roberts agreed, stating that the Depression “was not at all depressing to us because we didn’t know anything much different....

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5 “Provincetown Tells the Gayflower Set: Scram”

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pp. 132-154

“BUDDY-BUDDY-SHIPMAT E ! (This is a navy term of endearment which I have just picked up),” was the salutation that Tennessee Williams used in 1944 in one of many letters to his longtime friend Donald Windham. “I have just returned from a most extraordinary all night party on Captain Jack’s Wharf, as a matter [of fact] the third consecutive...

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PART III Gentrifying Provincetown, 1970–2000

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pp. 155-161

DIANE CORBO began her “love affair” with Provincetown in 1970. From her desk as the director of Provincetown’s Council on Aging, she recalled in 1997: “In the seventies it was definitely hippies, a lot of flower children, a lot of sleeping right downtown and camping. . . . The predominant people were artists and ‘beatniks’ of the sixties and hippies...

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6 “Sexism in Paradise”

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pp. 162-186

THE WOMEN OF PROVINCETOWN have been critical to the success of the town’s unpredictable seaport economy. From the early 1800s through the Great Depression, women introduced a number of cottage industries, including Provincetown’s shoreline of seventy-eight saltworks. From the mid- to the late nineteenth century they oversaw tables...

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7 “Gay World”

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pp. 187-214

IN 1971 the Provincetown selectmen removed the town hall benches one week before Independence Day. The benches, or “meat rack” as some referred to them, lined the entrance to town hall and offered a clear view of Commercial Street.1 Portuguese townspeople rested on them, children played behind them, gay and straight visitors and residents...

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Conclusion: Cape Queer?

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pp. 215-224

ONE OF THE CHALLENGES of writing this book has not been figuring out where to begin but deciding when to end. In no way have Provincetown’s shifting landscapes and seascapes settled. Real estate and rental prices continue to soar, and working-class residents of all ethnic, sexual, and gender backgrounds continue to seek more affordable housing elsewhere. As a consequence, residents have responded...


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pp. 225-264


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pp. 265-275

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About the Author

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pp. 276

...ligion from Princeton University in 1991 and her doctorate in Americanhistory from New York University in 2000. She has received grants fromNew York University, Harvard University, the Massachusetts Founda-tion for the Humanities, and the Bay State Historical League. After liv-ing in Provincetown for three years, she moved to Duke University,...

E-ISBN-13: 9780814749067
E-ISBN-10: 0814749062
Print-ISBN-13: 9780814747612
Print-ISBN-10: 0814747612

Page Count: 288
Publication Year: 2005