Cape Cod – Fact Check

Where you'll get Thoreau and imagine Marconi

The Mayflower II, seen here at sunrise moored off State Pier in Plymouth, is a replica of the 17th century ship that brought the Pilgrims from England to the New World in 1620. Their first sight of land was Cape Cod and they anchored in what is now Provincetown Harbor.

Photo by Terry Mathews / Alamy

Cape Cod – Fact Check

Where you'll get Thoreau and imagine Marconi

The Kennedy’s are just some of the illustrious names who lived on or visited Cape Cod.

Michael Schuman
Michael Schuman Travel Writer

The Pilgrims docked in Provincetown, at the tip of Cape Cod, in 1620, before sailing on to Plymouth. And it was in P’town (call it “Provincetown” and people will know you’re a visitor), not in Plymouth, where the noteworthy Mayflower Compact, the first written agreement of self-government in the New World, was written and signed. The document established the rule of law for the new land, stating that the colonists would follow just laws passed by a majority.

The occasion is memorialized by the towering Pilgrim Monument, sitting atop High Pole Hill and poking its head into the salt-laden air. I climb the 116 steps to the top, to enjoy a view of wharves and water to the south and the rambling dunes to the east. Fog slow dances in now and then but I understand why Henry David Thoreau wrote in the 1860s: “Cape Cod is the bared and bended arm of Massachusetts: the shoulder is at Buzzard’s Bay; the elbow, or crazy-bone, at Cape Mallebarre [the present-day town of Chatham]; the wrist at Truro; and the sandy fist at Provincetown…”

One early 20th century visitor, Guglielmo Marconi, became a household name after transmitting the first wireless trans-Atlantic message from South Wellfleet in 1903. A small scale model of Marconi’s wireless station with displays about the radio pioneer and his feat mark the spot, part of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

Do not expect to see Marconi’s original station. Some insignificant ruins of it spill out from the sand but most of the station was dismantled and abandoned after being deemed obsolete following World War I. And as I read about Marconi’s excitement on witnessing the initial success of his machine, I cannot help but think of him sitting here and beaming like a proud father.

Standing on the beach, I watch the wind blow grains of sand to smooth out my footprints, just as it has smoothed the traces of Marconi’s presence.

Take me there!