Monday, November 09, 2009

In Which We Look For Jenny and Find Joan

Sven and I journeyed up to Truro in search of Jenny Lind.

“Jenny had the most marvelous voice,” he told me as we parked close by the Highland Light, re-constructed in 1857 and one of the oldest lighthouse sites in the country.

Called “the Swedish Nightingale,” Jenny was booked to sing by PT Barnum, who oversold her 1850 performance in Boston. Not about to disappoint her fans, she climbed a nearby tower, which was part of the Fitchburg railroad station, and sang to the crowd below. (Can you make out the tower in the middle of the photo above, flanked by a radar dome?)

There's a wonderfully romantic story, told about this tower, a tale that shows how far a fan will go to immortalize an idol. A member of the Aldrich family, captivated by Jenny's voice, is said to have transported the tower here from Boston, stone by stone, during the 1927 demolition of the railroad station. (Since the fan was a lawyer, I doubt he carried the stones himself.) We had hoped to be able to reach the tower by walking around the nearby golf course. Unfortunately, No Trespassing signs, indicating golfer access only, defeated this plan. The land on the other side of the fairway belongs to the Air Force now and is not accessible. So, we chatted with a few locals and explored the area around the Highland Light instead. The gift shop was closed, with a display of postcards jammed up against a back window.

Artist Joan Pereira had paused to admire the reflection of the lighthouse in a puddle. Sven struck up a conversation and learned she had studied art in France. Joan said she has lived in Truro for most of her life. (Later I discovered online what a special place the Highland Light must be for the artist, who gave a painting demonstration there every weekend during the summer of 2008, rain or shine.)

How amazing the view of blue sea from the Highland Light platform! The curve of the tip of Cape Cod was visible even to the naked eye. To the northwest rose the sand dunes of High Head and, further west, the outline of the Pilgrim Monument in P-town. The land seems much flatter here than in Wellfleet, and quite barren. A stiff breeze started blowing. We could not see the beach below and inferred there was a steep drop. Sure enough: a sign warned people to keep back. Another sign explained how erosion has changed the landscape. In 1996, Highland Light was moved to its present location from a perilous perch above the ocean. According to the sign, the original lot was ten acres. Now four remain.

We met another professional living from the arts, a photographer this time, who claimed to have won a recent prize for photos of Vermont barns in Yankee Magazine. The fellow leaped from his car and gestured around the empty parking lot.

“Where is everybody?” he exclaimed. “Got a condo here. But won’t come over the bridge in summer.” With a salute, he was off to take a few photographs.

A barn-like structure, in need of new shingles, proved to be the Truro Historical Museum, formerly a hotel, also closed for the weekend.

We headed home, not having visited the Jenny Lind tower but happy with our adventures.