Defining Cape Codders

By: Debra Lawless

Author John Whelan and photographer Kim Roderiques collaborated on the next book “I Am of Cape Cod.” DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO


New Book Profiles 139 Local Residents

What makes a Cape Codder?

A new book, “I Am of Cape Cod: People and Their Stories,” sets out to answer that question. From Native American Wampanoags to 12th generation descendants of colonists to recent washashores, 139 people across the Cape tell their stories using what author Anne LeClaire of South Chatham calls, in her introduction, “a collage of voices.”

The book, by Chatham resident and Chronicle columnist John Whelan, is illustrated with stunning black and white portraits and color land and seascapes by Kim Roderiques of Chatham. Whelan and Roderiques met for a recent interview in the Wayside Inn’s Wild Goose Tavern.

“I wanted to show the diversity of the people living on Cape Cod,” Whelan says. “I believe so many people only see Cape Cod as a vacation destination.”

And what an interesting mix the people of Cape Cod are. Through both his mother and his father, Dana Eldridge of Orleans is a 12th generation descendant of Cape Cod’s earliest settlers. “If it were physically possible, I believe my DNA would be entwined with Cape Cod,” Eldridge writes.

While the family of former State Rep. Shirley Gomes of Harwich originally hailed from Cape Verde, Jill Meyer of Chatham, co-owner of the Captain’s House Inn on Old Harbor Road, grew up in Wyckoff, N. J. Aqela Yousuf, owner of Perfect Fit in Orleans, emigrated from Afghanistan in 1986.

Whether they were born here or washed up here, why did people stay? Clearly, something in the Cape’s distinctive and sometimes quirky atmosphere appealed to them.

“Way out here, nobody blinked twice when we posted our opening time as 9:17 a.m.,” writes Mike O’Connor, owner of the Birdwatchers’ General Store in Orleans.

Tom Cronin, owner of American Heritage Realty in Orleans, was drawn here on the spur of the moment after hearing Patti Page sing “Old Cape Cod.” Feeling a kinship with the place, he became a Cape Codder.

LeClaire, who came to the Cape for a summer job, fell in love with a native and stayed, explains it like this: “In ways both mysterious and practical the physical imprints itself on the nature of its people.”

Whelan’s family arrived here in 1913 when his grandfather, a plumbing contractor, was hired to install the plumbing in Chatham Bars Inn. Whelan, now 77, raised his own children in Chatham. His inspiration for creating a book about the variety of people who call the Cape home was a book called “I Am of Kerry” by Valerie O’Sullivan. Whelan came across the book during a trip to Ireland in 2015. After conversing with O’Sullivan, Whelan copyrighted the title “I Am of Cape Cod” when he got home. That summer Roderiques had released her own photography book, “Dogs On Cape Cod,” and Whelan invited her to photograph the subjects for “I Am of Cape Cod.”

In choosing subjects for his book, Whelan’s goal was to incorporate a cross-section of Cape Codders in all 15 towns from Sandwich to Provincetown.

“I emphasized folks involved in non-profits performing needed services for our community,” he says. He initially approached 200 people before settling on the 139 in the book. Whelan then asked his subjects to write a passage or a poem explaining “what they felt about their life and connection with Cape Cod or your feelings about Cape Cod,” he says. In the end, the 139 voices reflect what LeClair calls “a strong sense of the essential character of this narrow peninsula.”

Whelan and Roderiques got to work in May 2016 setting up 139 appointments to photograph their subjects. In May and June the pair might photograph six or seven on Roderiques’s day off from work. (Roderiques owns and runs the Trading Company on Main Street.) On other days Whelan would pick up Roderiques after work, and off they’d go.

“You had to appeal to them and get in with them right away,” Roderiques says of her subjects. “If dogs came out John would say, ‘oh, no,’ because that meant we were going to be there longer because I’d have to bond with the dogs.”

“The dogs were terrific,” Whelan adds. Dog lovers should note that Roderiques photographed many subjects with their dogs.

In the style of the legendary portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh, many of Roderiques’s photographs tell, at a glance, the story of what a person does. For example, Dan Wolf of Harwich, a pilot and the owner of Cape Air, poses in front of one of his airplanes. Don St. Pierre of Chatham poses with the CG-36500, the famous boat used in the 1952 Pendleton rescue off Chatham. St. Pierre has been instrumental in the vessel’s restoration.

Naomi Turner, owner of the Chatham Candy Manor and the founding president of the Chatham Orpheum Theater, appeared for her photo shoot early on a spring morning in a tangerine-colored ruffled dress and full makeup. Roderiques posed Turner high up on the front of the Orpheum, by the sign.

“Everyone was driving by open-mouthed,” Roderiques recalls. “I was euphoric.”

Reading through the book, one realizes that today the definition of a “Cape Codder” means a broad “palette of individuals,” as LeClaire writes.

“I Am of Cape Cod” will be released next week. A signing and reception will be held on Friday, July 28 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Gallery Antonia in Chatham, and Whelan and Roderiques will be on hand to sign copies of their book. Other receptions will be held at the Cultural Center of Cape Cod in South Yarmouth July 26, and at Orleans Camera and Video, the Nines Art Gallery, Sandwich Town Hall and the Truro Vineyards on dates to be announced. Visit www.iamofcapecod.come for schedules.