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The Cape’s Best Public Relations Officer

When Lincoln was just 10 months of age, his father, Captain Joseph Lincoln, died of a fever. At the age of 13, Lincoln and his mother, Emily Crosby Lincoln, moved to Chelsea, just north of Boston proper; there, he attended the Williams Grammar School through the ninth grade. “I think this had an impact on the outcome of his life,” says Priscilla Dalrymple, a docent at the Chatham Historical Society and a big fan of Lincoln’s writing. “He got a much better education, served as editor of his high school’s newspaper, but still had a firsthand, native viewpoint of the Cape.”

Joseph Lincoln

Photo courtesy of the Chatham Historical Society

William Moore, a professor of American Studies at Boston University, says the move north did even more for Lincoln; it instilled in him a nostalgic outlook for his childhood home, and the sentiment is reflected throughout his writing. “Joe Lincoln’s Cape Cod is of New England, not in New England,” Moore wrote in a presentation for the Chatham Historical Society’s conference on Lincoln in 2004. In an interview, Moore elaborates: The Cape Cod described in Lincoln’s books was not reality, but rather a selective portrayal of the region. “Lincoln’s novels represent the culture of the time, but he doesn’t evaluate [or critique] it,” says Moore. “His writing is for a reader’s pleasure, for a pastime.”

During the early 20th century, Americans were struggling with the trials of war, the Great Depression, and the pains of modernization. According to Moore, Lincoln’s readers welcomed the opportunity he offered them to escape to another place.

Joseph Lincoln

Artwork by Marcus Dalpe

Inspired by Lincoln’s work, many traveled beyond the pages of his stories and sought out the Cape as a real-life getaway. “People came to the Cape because of his books,” Moore says. “He was the Cape’s best public relations officer. People traveled to the Cape with his books in hand, searching for characters. He codified what the Cape Cod experience would be like for tourists.” In 1916, Lincoln built a summer home in Chatham, which he called “Crosstrees.” Still located just down Shore Road from the Chatham Bars Inn, Crosstrees soon became a tourist destination itself. Coogan says the home epitomizes the Cape Cod that Lincoln wrote about: shingle-style, with gambrel roofs and porches to take in the water views.

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