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Background photo by Greg Hinson

I was a high school principal in Easton for 21 years, but before that I was a history teacher. I had been president of the historical society in Easton and helped write one of its history books. While we were moving in to our new house, the woman across the street from us handed me an application to join the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth—we hadn’t even unpacked. They invited us to their annual meeting. I remember Jack Braginton-Smith was speaking. This was a guy who didn’t comb his hair, didn’t wear socks, and wore sneakers with a suit, but he really had a love of the history of Bass Hole and was looking for someone to do some research on shipbuilding. I got started on that and we became close friends. It was kind of like Tuesdays with Jack. He had a great collection of Cape Cod documents—probably the best collection I’ve ever seen anywhere . . . He became a frequent guest at our house during the last two years of his life, and he really gave me a love of Cape Cod. When Jack died, I knew I had to keep going with the historical society.

• • •

Barbara Milligan, who’s now at Highfield Hall, used to be executive director here, and wanted us to do a newspaper column once a month. Starting in 2001, Jack and I and a couple of others agreed to do an article in The Register about what life was like 50, 100, 150 years ago. Since 2001, we haven’t missed a month. It’s all new articles—nothing re-published. This isn’t just simply about taking three or four books and just putting that information together. I hate that kind of history. That isn’t new history—that’s rewriting and copying the mistakes that others have made.

You’ve got to have humor while you’re doing this or else you can put people to sleep. The only way you can keep people listening is to look for the humorous and fun things. I love Thoreau because he buried Cape Cod—he said awful things about the people of Cape Cod. But it’s a different side of history that people will attach to, and this historical society has done a lot in trying to bring out this other side of history.

Prohibition was not well received on the Cape. By the 1920s, things had declined. You had wharfs that weren’t being used, and those were easy places for the rumrunners to come in. A whole lot of people were involved in it—even the Coast Guard was sometimes called Hooligan’s Navy because they’d chase the rumrunners during the day and help them bring the booze in at night.

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Jeff is the Managing Editor for Cape Cod Life Publications.

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Main Street, South Yarmouth, Mass

Main Street, South Yarmouth, Mass