A Puritan Would Have Hated It

“There’s a party going on right here

A celebration to last throughout the years

So bring your good times, and your laughter, too

We gonna celebrate your party with you

Come on now

Celebration

Let’s all celebrate and have a good time

Celebration

We gonna celebrate and have a good time.”

 

Kool and the Gang recorded their anthem to good times in late 1980 and it reached number one on the Billboard charts in February 1981. The song, which celebrates all things fun, is still played continually at weddings and graduations and other events. “Celebration” kept playing in my head during the afternoon of First Night as hundreds of happy people enjoyed being in Chatham. I have been the gorilla at the Carnival Caper road race sponsored by The Chatham Squire for the past 26 years. Admittedly, it is not much of a road race, with the emphasis being on the runners’ costumes. The entire street area in front of The Squire is packed with runners in costume and folks looking on. The mood is joyful for all. Several years ago, the late Tom Patton had the idea that each year before the race there should be a little surprise. Elvis has been here; last year King Tut appeared and this year it was the Duke of Earl’s turn. Richard Costello makes clam chowder for all the runners to enjoy after the race. Overall, a great way to get First Night off to a joyous start.

The other thought that kept recurring in my mind was the famous quotation by H.L. Mencken, “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” Well, as my title says, a Puritan at First Night would have been despondent. This year there was a full schedule of over 70 performances in venues all over town. Ron Clarke and his First Night Committee put on a great celebration. Incredibly, the entire event is staged by volunteers. First Night is big business for Chatham, with inns and restaurants full and lots of activity for the merchants on Main Street. The Chatham Police Department did a wonderful job ensuring that First Night was safe for families. And First Night has become a “can’t miss” event for so many families with young children. It presents Chatham in its best light and supports the arts at the same time. First Night was a tremendous success this year. We owe sincere thanks to so many who volunteered.

2017 promises to be a most interesting year in Chatham. But before we think about 2017, I want to note a fantastic achievement from 2016. The Turkey Trot was founded by Mary Parsons and Linda Redding. It is a 5K walk-run held on Thanksgiving morning at 8 a.m. The Turkey Trot has been growing every year but the money and food raised this year was incredible. Masses of people gathered in the parking area behind the Orpheum Theater. Each entrant was asked to pay $20 plus bring a bag of non-perishable food as part of their entry fee. Volunteers were there to place the bags of food in trucks for transport to Lower Cape Outreach. The route is beautiful. It goes past the Oyster Pond, down Cedar Street to Battlefield and Champlain Road and back to town on Stage Harbor Road. The views of Stage Harbor are spectacular and the entire mass of walkers and runners moved along at a good pace. The mood is definitely positive and the feeling that you were doing something good for your community as well as for your body was terrific. About 2,600 people participated. For a town with only 6,000 residents, that is an incredible turnout. Now we know that Chatham swells with visitors during Thanksgiving and that many of the participants were from surrounding towns, but it was still an impressive number.

I spoke with Linda Redding about the Turkey Trot. She and Mary have been putting on the walk for 12 years. She said they had very modest expectations when they started. The first event took place on a Thanksgiving morning with bad weather and 250 people showed up. Linda and Mary were surprised by the turnout and gratified. Well, it certainly has grown, and the proceeds this year totaled $40,000 and 1,200 bags of food. Linda Redding said that the community of Chatham has taken ownership of the walk. This year, individuals and businesses actually volunteered to act as sponsors. Larry Marsland, CEO of Lower Cape Outreach Council, said he was stunned by the growth of the Turkey Trot. He said that it was a “brilliant example of someone starting with a good idea and allowing it to grow.” The idea that Mary and Linda did this on their own to benefit Lower Cape Outreach was just wonderful. It represents a major contribution to Lower Cape Outreach, an organization that needs to raise great amounts of money each year. I’ve always liked the concept of “doing well by doing good.” It doesn’t happen nearly enough in our world today, but with the Turkey Trot, it is happening in Chatham.

I have one more 2016 effort that has a chance of “doing well by doing good.” That effort concerns the Eldredge Garage and what I call the “last, best hope” for improving the parking problem in downtown Chatham. David Oppenheim and a number of concerned Chatham citizens have stepped in to help the Eldredge family prepare their property for a possible sale to the town of Chatham. Bill Eldredge apparently hoped the town would buy the property rather than some individual planning its development. The property, originally a livery stable founded in 1880, has been a garage for about 100 years. The possibility of industrial pollution is real and it is understandable that the selectman were reticent to consider a property with potentially expensive remediation. David and his group have an agreement with the Eldredge family and are acting as a placeholder for the town.

Meanwhile, the gas tanks have been removed and the area where oil changes took place has been excavated. Core testings have been taken and a final report is pending. The effort is a serious attempt to reduce the uncertainties and make it possible for the citizens of Chatham to make an informed decision at the special town meeting on Jan. 23. I don’t have any idea what the core testings will tell, and I have no idea how the vote at the special town meeting will go. Chatham has missed prior opportunities to improve parking. If there are no serious problems, Chatham should not miss this one.

The idea that local people do what they can to make Chatham better is a powerful concept. First Night, The Turkey Trot and the attempt to increase understanding of the issues regarding the Eldredge Garage are just three such examples. I’m sure there are more. Happy New Year.