We enjoyed a warm sunny day in Gloucester, Massachusetts, with our friends Bob and Nancy. With all the rain, there were flowers everywhere; Nancy and Bob could identify them all for us.
We agreed to rendezvous in the parking lot of the Gloucester Public Library, but such a parking lot turned out to be nonexistent. Victorian-era City Hall Fortunately we found each other across the street in front of the Post Office. This was not one of the brand new post offices that have sprung up all over the country, but was a relic from the first half of the twentieth century, with huge halls and many doors embossed in gold leaf.
Next door was the 1870 City Hall, Parking Office art whose occupants were quick to point out the WPA murals on the walls. "The man who arranged for the murals was a friend of FDR," we were told, "who got more than 80 public projects. There never was a bread line in Gloucester." In City Hall, above the Parking Clerk's door, Winged Victory posed on the prow of a boat. Oars with the names of sunken fishing boats surrounded the balcony overlooking the Council Chambers. On the stairs, plaques bore the names of hundreds of fishermen lost at sea. Notices on the bulletin boards showed the efforts being taken to get fishermen to take up other callings, due to declining stocks of fish. Many of the present-day fishermen are of Portuguese ancestry. Next week the annual blessing of the fleet will take place here.
In many ways Gloucester reminded us of St. John's, Newfoundland, with the central focus on the bustling harbor, and houses on the surrounding hills facing the harbor. Gorton's fish cannery is still there; WPA mural in auditorium we were all old enough to remember eating cod fish cakes made from Gorton's during the War Years. City Hall has a high tower from which ships could be seen for miles. Fishing boats were being repaired, one historic vessel was in drydock being restored, and the water was crisscrossed by pleasure boats and work boats of all shapes and sizes, including a casino cruise boat and the former lightship Nantucket. With all this nautical charm, Gloucester is a popular summer tourist destination, and downtown property is being gentrified.
We should not have chosen a Monday morning; one museum was closed Mondays, Reel of nets on fishing boat and another was closed mornings. But there were plenty of lovely homes, some 18th century salt boxes, some 19th century imposing ship captains' residences, and the lovely old Universalist Church. The minister told us that they like to think of Unitarian as an adjective modifying Universalist, but there are few true Universalist Church buildings left. The Universalist church The stained glass windows had religious scenes depicting a variety of Christian and Jewish traditions, and the sign in front showed a Yin-Yang symbol as well. Once again a high steeple related to the local economy; it once held a signal light to guide the fishermen safely home.
It was lunch time, and Nancy showed us Rocky Neck, which they had only recently discovered on an anniversary outing. It's a small artists' colony, with galleries in all the harborfront buildings. First we found the MadFish Grill where we enjoyed a tasty, talkative, relaxing lunch seated above the water. Gloucester harbor, showing lightship The tide was coming in, so more boats were moving about, and the windows were flung wide open to let the cooling breeze waft in. Later we paid more attention to the galleries. In one, the owner was dozing while we quietly examined his joyous watercolors of New England scenes and events. Soon he woke, in time for some conversation about the rigorous demands of watercolor. He had just finished teaching a class.
As we took A swan in the harbor one last look across the water, two swans glided near us, giving an additional touch of grace and beauty to the harbor scene. The tide was coming in, and boats that had been high and dry before lunch were beginning to float again. One long rickety dock was adorned with a little of everything nautical, plus several pots of flowers -- an artist's home, we were sure.
Gloucester is well worth several visits, we think -- it has its own stories to tell, pleasant people, and some excellent art as an added bonus.