By Doreen Leggett
A monument to honor Provincetown and Truro fishermen who lost their lives at sea has been talked about for decades.
“For 47 years. The idea was conceived by Carol Peters, the daughter of a fisherman, in 1976 after the sinking of my father’s boat, the Patricia Marie,” said Lisa King. “It has stalled.”
King, who has the energy of a coiled spring, is determined to make sure the monument happens, and soon. She brought together about a dozen people and created the Fishermen’s Memorial Foundation, which she chairs, because she feels this may be the last chance.
“Provincetown’s been a fishing town. If we don’t honor our fishing heritage then the history is incomplete,” King said.
Fishing built the town and powered the Commonwealth. In the late 1800s, Provincetown was the richest town per capita in Massachusetts, close to 700 boats landing at more than 50 long wharves.
“Many Cape Codders are blessed to have grown up immersed in the fishing community, but the blessing came at a significant cost. The fishing industry, particularly in the Northeast, is one of the most hazardous occupations in the country,” King said. “Provincetown and Truro have lost many hundreds of family and friends to the unforgiving sea for over 300 years.”
The site of a memorial has been chosen and approved by the town, a sculpture placed in the corner of MacMillan Wharf, on the landward side.
The group is hoping to secure $500,000 in grants and donations.
“We need to honor the fishing fleet and families of those lost at sea,” said Mike Chute, a member of the committee. “We don’t want that to get forgotten.”
Chute, an oyster farmer, comes from a family of fishermen. His great grandfather, Captain John Silva, fished on the F/V James M. Burke.
“Keeping the focus on our heritage and those specifically that gave the ultimate sacrifice fishing our waters is truly what this memorial is about,” Chute said. “I consider myself extremely lucky that my family that did fish came home and were able to retire after living long full lives.”
Romolo Del Deo had the winning design, resurrected from when he was only 18. Del Deo, a Provincetown native, is known for his work in bronze. He is the son of painter Salvatore Del Deo who was drawn to town because of the fishing industry, and writer and historian Josephine Couch Del Deo.
The sculpture will be in bronze, 14 feet long and 16 feet high, and depict two fishermen rowing a Grand Banks dory on the crest of a wave. The wave is eight feet high, to be engraved with hundreds of men, women and children who lost their lives in the industry.
“There are families. When they went scalloping sometimes they took the family out to pick the pile and all were lost,” said.
Louis Joaquin “Little Louie” Silva, the son of Louie “Ding” Silva died on July 2, 1959, at nine years old. He was fishing with his father and they fell overboard while pulling pots. Louis tried to save his son, but the boy died of exposure and exhaustion. The father nearly died himself and tied his young son to a nearby fish weir. He went back and got him, because he promised the mother he would bring him home.
King, who has collected and shared the town’s fishing past for seven years on the Facebook page “Provincetown: A Fishing Village,” has already compiled more than 700 names stretching back to 1630. She expects she will find more and, if the list grows too long, they may need to add a plaque.
“Unfortunately, we will need to leave a space,” she said.
The research has been meticulous and time-consuming. “A lot of them weren’t recorded. They died on the other side of the world,” she said.
Chute said King’s tenacity is the committee’s biggest asset.
“Her dedication is to make sure no one is left behind,” he said. “The history she brings forward inspires us to get things done.”
King shared more stories:
On October 3, 1841, Truro suffered the loss of 57 men who were fishing for mackerel on Georges Bank.
On August, 10, 1917 the Schooner Mary C Santos went down 65 miles southeast of Highland Light. Provincetown lost 19 men that day leaving 82 widows and children.
Between September 12 and 14, 1900, the three-masted schooner the Cora S. McKay was lost on the Virgin Rocks, Grand Banks. She was caught in the Galveston Hurricane and disappeared with her crew of 30 men, 21 from Provincetown.
“In 10 years between 1890 and 1900, Provincetown lost 91 fishermen to the sea,” King said.
The sinking of the Cora McKay is the worst maritime disaster to hit Provincetown in the 20th Century.
King’s personal loss, the sinking of the Patricia Marie with seven onboard, is considered the worst modern day maritime loss. Four years later, in 1978, the Cap’n Bill went down with four lives lost and six years later the net of Victory II snagged on the bottom and went down in Cape Cod Bay. In 2012, Capt. Jean Frottier of the F/V Twin Lights died when his boat got hung up and went down two miles north of Race Point Light.
King doesn’t want to think of the waterfront without the memorial sculpture. If it doesn’t happen, “my heart will be done,” she said.
To donate, make checks payable to FRACTURED ATLAS (write Fishermen’s Memorial Foundation in the memo) Mail to: Fishermen’s Memorial Foundation,℅ Chris Lavenets 3 4th Street, Harwich, MA 02645 or click here https://fundraising.fracturedatlas.org/fishermen-s-memorial-foundation