This month, our feature highlighting unique businesses on the Cape and around Plymouth County, focuses on a former journalist’s endeavor focusing on Cape Cod history, through his guided walks, talks and books.
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What do you do?
I operate under the name of “Don Wilding’s Cape Cod.” It includes my writing (such as my books and articles for magazines and newspapers), speaking engagements, occasional tour guide work, and leading history walks on Cape Cod. I’ve presented nearly 300 lectures on Cape Cod and across New England. I’ve also taught local history courses for Open University of Wellfleet and Nauset Community Education. I refer to myself as a Cape Cod storyteller, but Rhoda Flaxman, a retired Professor of Literature at Brown University and the founder of Open University of Wellfleet, adds that I’m also “somewhat of a scholar,” and “a very dynamic man who pulls you into the stories of Cape Cod.”
What is it about Henry Beston and Cape Cod that captivated you and led you to found this endeavor?
I first read Henry Beston’s 1928 book, “The Outermost House,” in 1996 and haven’t put it down since. I think that Yolande Murphy described it best in the October 12, 1964, edition of The Attleboro Sun of Attleboro, MA: “To the ornithologist, it is a veritable encyclopedia; to the biographer, a treasure trove of Cape Cod lore; to the seafarer, a great adventure story; to the poet, a masterpiece of cadence; to the anti-preservers, a profound warning of the dire consequences.” I’ve always said that, when it comes to Cape Cod, Beston GETS IT.
What is your career background?
I retired two years ago after working as an editor, writer, designer, and photographer for newspapers (and occasional articles for magazines) in southeastern Massachusetts and on Cape Cod (including the Cape Codder and the Cape Cod Times) over a 36-year period. I began my career as a sports writer in 1985, and spent 20 years covering mostly high school sports.
Tell us about the books you have written.
My first book was “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod: How ‘The Outermost House’ Inspired A National Seashore.” It was self-published in 2003, followed by a second edition in 2013. In 2017, I wrote the first of three books for History Press — “A Brief History of Eastham,” which covers various subjects from the Pilgrims to the Cape Cod National Seashore’s birth. In 2021, “Shipwrecks of Cape Cod: Stories of Tragedy and Triumph” washed ashore, focusing on 43 of the several thousand maritime disasters along the Cape’s Outer Beach. My newest book, “Cape Cod and the Portland Gale of 1898,” tells the story of how the region’s citizenry dealt with one of the worst storms in New England’s history. Nearly 200 people perished aboard the steamer Portland, with dozens of bodies washing ashore along the Outer Cape. Provincetown Harbor and the Sandwich waterfront were hit particularly hard. Some of the stories in the last three books grew out of history columns that I wrote for Cape Cod newspapers from 2015 to 2021.
My next book, “Cape Cod and the Portland Gale of 1898,” will be published on May 22. My upcoming events will include this and topics from my previous books. My walks, held at the Cape Cod National Seashore and co-sponsored by the Harwich Conservation Trust and Eastham Conservation Foundation, are held once a month through November. These include “Cape Cod Rescues, Wrecks, and Storms” on May 20 and July 8, and “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod” on June 10. I have several “Portland Gale” talks set for the Eastham Senior Center (June 21), Tales of Cape Cod (June 26), the Brewster Book Store (June 27), and the Eastham Historical Society (July 13), along with a “Henry Beston’s Cape Cod” talk at the Brewster Ladies Library on June 14. A complete schedule is listed at dwCapeCod.com/events.
As for what my next book will be, there are three or four different subjects that I’ve gathered substantial material on, and, after deciding which route to go, will start that project later this year.