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Dedicated to Henry Beston's literary classic and the
spirit of life on the Great Outer Beach of Cape Cod



Hundreds look on during the dedication ceremony of "The Outermost House"
in Eastham on Oct. 11, 1964. (Photo courtesy Thornton Burgess Society)


The coronation of King Henry

The events of Oct. 11, 1964 meant an awful lot to Henry Beston -- and the nearly 1,000 people in attendance at the ceremony honoring the author and dedicating the site of "The Outermost House" as a national literary landmark.

At the age of 76 and in frail health, Beston traveled to Eastham one last time for the ceremony. In addressing the crowd of admirers, he read from the final paragraphs of his classic book.

Ivan Sandrof, literary editor of The Worcester Telegram and Gazette and chairman of the dedication committee, stayed intent on Beston's words. A few moments later, he realized that something special was happening.

"Dozens of people were weeping," Sandrof


Don by the Sea
By Don Wilding

noted. "Beston's soaring words had reached their hearts and emotions. These were true Cape Codders. They knew the Cape, and they cared ..."

Beston, who had been living with the effects of several small strokes for the previous few years, would live another three and a half years after that day. The event, referred to as "The Coronation" by the Bestons, was truly a special day in his life.

"Then in 1964 came the final honor at the very moment when it could give him most happiness, for even by the next year he could not have gone to Cape Cod, nor spoken publicly," recalled his wife, Elizabeth Coatsworth. "But the honor came in time, so that he lived his final years knowing that his work had been truly recognized."

The dedication first took shape in early September of 1964, when Massachusetts Gov. Endicott Peabody and his wife, Toni, along with Sandrof and Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall, began the task of putting together a major event in a short amount of time.

The Bestons drove from Maine the day before the event, staying with relatives on the South Shore before heading on to the Cape. The big day began with a special luncheon at the Nausett Inn in Orleans at 11:45 a.m. before the 2 p.m. public ceremony at Coast Guard Beach.

Gov. Peabody presided as chairman on this brisk fall day, with Superintendent of of the Cape Cod National Seashore Robert Gibbs, Allen Morgan of the Massachusetts Audubon Society and George Palmer of the National Parks Service speaking. Gov. Peabody then presented a dedication plaque and a picture of the state house to Beston. The Rev. Daniel Weck of the Universalist Church of Eastham gave the invocation and benediction.

Gov. Peabody compared Beston's writing style to the King James version of the Bible with its rhythmic cadences of words in his search for harmony between man and the universe.

"We are here today partly because you have given the American people a heightened awareness of the Outer Beach as part of our way of life," the governor said. "You described the great beach and the ocean which come in up on it, as no one else ever could or ever will.

"The Outermost House' as a testament has had immeasurable influence."

Beston, clad in a brown tweed coat and a black basque cap, began speaking in a feeble voice, but gained strength as he went on. Standing behind a microphone and leaning on his cane, he urged the crowd to "touch the earth, love the earth, honor the earth -- her plains, her her valleys, her hills and her seas."

"I thank all the eminent men and women who have honored me with their presence today," Beston said. "We are all in one joy in knowing that the great beach where we stand has been set aside by our government. You have honored human awareness that perceives the nature about us and attempts to find words to give another kind of harmony, human, as well as that of the elements."

Those in attendance included poet/essayist David McCord, Librarian of Congress L. Quincy Mumford, illustrator Norman Rockwell, and Kenneth McCormick, the editor at Doubleday and Company who accepted Beston's manuscript in the 1920s. Also in attendance that day was an aspiring young author named Robert Finch, who would go on to pen the introduction to the newer editions of "The Outermost House" and write many Cape Cod nature books of his own. "It was the first and only time I ever saw Henry Beston," Finch has recalled on several occasions.

The Eastham contingent of selectmen Maurice Wilvey and Luther Smith, and carpenter Harvey Moore, who built the Fo'castle, and Dartmouth College graphics professor Ray Nash and his wife, Hope, were also on hand. It was Hope Nash who designed the jacket cover for Beston's book.

The guests and others in attendance then climbed into beach buggies for the two-mile ride to Beston's "Fo'castle," which he donated to the Massachusetts Audubon Society only a few years earlier. Many more set out on foot, taking the marsh road that Beston himself had walked so many times before. "All these people will never fit in the house," a small child said.

Lines formed at the little house, and the guests managed to all get a view of how Beston lived during that famous "Year of Life on the Outer Beach" nearly four decades earlier.

While a dedication plaque was presented to Beston that day, the Fo'castle went without one until Jan. 4, 1965, when Mrs. Peabody and her son, Endicott Jr., along with Gibbs and Morgan, dedicated it at the house in 20-degree temperatures. The ceremony had been postponed from Dec. 22, 1964, due to high tides flooding the area around the house.

High tides eventually displaced the plaque during the great storm of February 1978, when the house was carried out into the Atlantic Ocean and crushed in the pounding surf. The plaque was one of the few items recovered and is now in storage at the Massachusetts Audubon Society in Wellfleet.

The house may be gone, but the events of that day -- and the influence of Beston's book -- have lived on.

"Of all the books written about Cape Cod, 'The Outermost House' is considered by many to be THE definitive book, set apart from the others," wrote Nan Turner Waldron in her book "Journey to Outermost House." "It presents the unending journey. It affirms the ceaseless life force and a concept of wholeness which is easy to grasp, and more importantly, holds the reader after the book is closed.

"The people had come to thank him -- all gathered to thank a man who had built a little house and written an uncommon book."


Filed Oct. 7, 2000

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