By Doreen Leggett
George Morton moved to Orleans from Central Massachusetts when he was in his 30s. Before he purchased the Rock Harbor Coffee Shop in the 1960s, he became part of the cast of characters who fished out of the port.
Their camaraderie is why Morton became “Cass a Boo Boo” and the restaurant “Cap’n Cass.” It’s also why Michelle Lamy is painstakingly striving to keep the unique personality of the place alive.
“It’s an iconic establishment needing preservation. I’m into preservation,” she said.
Lamy was at the restaurant on a recent sunny spring day. She owns Lamy’s Painters, and bought Cap’n Cass – Rock Harbor Seafood last October. She has spent months making sure everything is done as authentically as possible.
She motioned to the walls (all antique beadboard), the flooring and woodwork throughout is old growth, hard red pine, the floors will be painted in a spattered fashion, similar to Provincetown lobstermen’s shacks and the old Chatham fishing village. The center chimney is original West Barnstable Brick. The front doors are original and restored. All the old tables and chairs were taken to her shop and she did a driftwood faux finish. The cushions of the seventeen stools in the 35-seat restaurant are marine blue, a color she feels is perfect.
All the lights she recovered from a ship.
“Cass was a Navy guy. I feel like it is just another way to honor him and keep the tradition,” she said.
Lamy also has ship wheels she salvaged from a wreck, which she will use to decorate the space.
She grabs a porthole commandeered off a sailboat and puts it on the wall. Portholes will hold big lobster claws that Cass kept – an 18-pound lobster from 1983, an even heavier one from 1972. She has glazed them so they are protected.
“I am really happy about the lobster claw installation, it’s fun,” she said with a grin.
As she works, she thinks of Cap’n Cass and also her grandfather, Clovis Lamy, who owned Lamy’s Diner, now memorialized in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
“I know he is shining down on me, along with Captain Cass,” she said.
The exterior showcase of Cap’n Cass’s may be what moves her the most: Scores of multi-colored buoys that face Rock Harbor.
Many are original, but she has also asked people to drop off their buoys, which they have done with relish. Lamy thinks the buoy wall is the most photographed spot on the Cape, maybe the state.
“I think it’s the true Motif #1, the most photographed and painted building. It’s not in Rockport. It’s in Rock Harbor,” she said.
Captain Cass’s buoys are up there as well.
“The lobster community is tight. They know the (permit) numbers. I put Cass at the top right and the bottom left for balance,” she said. “Those are his buoys right there. You can see the green and the red.”
Her buoy is up there as well, Number 1423. Next to hers is a donated golden buoy inscribed, “Keep Captain Cass golden.”
Lamy started recreational lobstering when she around 11. She spent summers on Town Cove in Orleans and would tend her father’s traps.
“I had a little boat that I would have to stop and bail,” Lamy said. “My dad would come down on Thursday and he baited the traps for me.”
Lamy even lobstered with Cap’n Cass a time or two.
“I sort of hounded him enough to go lobstering,” she said. “I got to experience his artistry as he worked the tide going through Nauset inlet.”
She also worked at the restaurant and has fond memories of Morton, aka Cass.
“He had this red buffalo plaid hat that he never took off,” she said. “He was jovial; he was a tyrant. He was one of a kind.”
Rock Harbor is a big part of her past, and the past of many locals, she says. She sees restoring Cap’n Cass’s as a responsibility, almost a thank you to the harbor that made her who she is.
To get a better sense of the man, and to augment memories, she reached out to family and friends.
Morton and his wife, Betty, had five children. The youngest daughter, Sue, ran Capt’n Cass’s after her dad passed away in 2012. Lamy said Sue did a great job, but COVID made it too difficult. When the restaurant went on the market Lamy didn’t think too long before purchasing it with a partner.
“Everybody grew up here. There are so many great stories,” said Lamy, who has had a berth at the harbor since 1984. “There is so much nostalgia here.”
Charlie Miller, a former charter boat captain who grew up summers near Rock Harbor, knew the story of how George Morton became Cass a Boo Boo.
Morton had recently moved to the Cape, and after a stint bullraking quahogs, he got a job on a quahog dragger in the 1960s. There was a lot happening on the world stage, including the battle over the Congo. On television was the first president of the Democratic Republic of Congo – Joseph Kasa-Vubu.
A fisherman (who happened to be nicknamed Bubbles) thought Morton looked like the general, and dubbed him Cass a Boo Boo. The nickname caught on.
Shortly after that, Miller took Capt’n Cass’s place on a quahogger, F/V Old Glory, because Morton bought a lobster boat.
“It was short, short money,” said Miller. “I would have done it for nothing.”
Morton was lobstering in the morning and baiting his traps in the afternoon, while Cap’n Cass teemed with visitors. He also ran a marine shop next door to the restaurant, which his family lived above.
“When the Mortons took it over it was my job to fill the Coke machine (which Lamy has salvaged). I’d get a hamburger and a chocolate frappe for my pay,” Miller said.
Lamy wants to keep the close connection between the restaurant and the Rock Harbor fishing fleet’s personality and catch. She is hoping to open by the fall and recently chatted with some quahoggers. They talked about the fish chowders and stews she should and would be serving up, where she could buy local sea clams, how to add in sauteed calamari pesto.
“Not many places you can go in the world and have what we have,” Lamy said. “I’m grateful for so much and to be a part of this.
I can feel the angels here.”