In yarmouthport, Finn Maguire can predict the reaction he’ll get when he leads people under the 70-foot canopy of the European weeping beech tree behind the Captain Bangs Hallett House. Speechlessness. Awe. Then a sort of reverence for the sprawling 160-year-old tree that rises like a cathedral from inside a sheltered hollow on the historic Strawberry Lane site.
Under a tight thatch of branches, the tree’s massive limbs swoop along the ground and then back up into the air, serving as anchors for the elephantine gray trunk carved with a century of lovers’ names. “It is a very spiritual place,’’ says Maguire, a docent of the Historical Society of Old Yarmouth, which oversees the 40-acre property.
The woodsy site is a favorite for engagements and weddings, and even serves as a tender memorial for a young mother who loved to nurse her baby in the peaceful shade. Maguire says his respect for the old tree has become personal. “To me, this tree and others are like living links to the past,” he says.
Lawrence Perera agrees. He lives next door to the historic home built by his great grand-uncle Thomas Thatcher in 1840. The property only passed out of his family’s ownership for the time the sea captain lived there. Then the family donated it in 1956 to the historical society.
Perera’s great-grandfather Henry C. Thatcher, a well-to-do merchant in shipping, planted the tree along with other varieties including what is now an enormous copper beech a little deeper in the woods. Taking it a step further, Thatcher and others took on the job of replanting the Cape in the 1850s after the region was laid bare by generations of shipbuilding and other endeavors. That effort isn’t lost on Thatcher’s proud descendant.
“They wanted to live for the future,’’ Perera says. “I can’t think of anything that was a more visible sign of posterity than planting a tree that would not only outlive you, but outlive your children.”