From Jim Crow to George Floyd – a street view of US policing

MARK PATTON takes a personal view of the sad trajectory of US race relations

I was five. It was 1957. My recently divorced father had custody of me for the weekend. What I can recall from such a distant time, is that we had been traveling down a rural state road outside of Toledo, Ohio. It was late, I was sleepy and I had no idea of where we were headed to. Suddenly a white station wagon veered into the road from out of a farmer’s driveway. I woke up quickly as I careened into the dashboard and on to the floor as my father slammed the brakes of his faded navy blue, 1952, Chevy. The station wagon passed across the front of our car, then crashed into the rear quarter of another car that had been heading towards us in the opposite lane — instantly ejecting the operator of this vehicle out onto the roadway.

My father jumped out of our car, as did several other motorists. The station wagon then backed off the roadway to the front of the driveway it had come from. Two young men came out of it and leaned against the hood of their car. My father, as well as other witnesses to the accident, went to the aid of a man who had been injured by being catapulted onto the highway. He was sitting in the middle of the roadway and they attempted to get him up onto his feet. But this didn’t work. He kept falling back onto the ground. I later learned that both of his knees had been broken. There he sat, as my father went about collecting papers blowing about from a snapped open briefcase. I could see, from all of the headlights illuminating the scene, that the man was wearing a suit and he was a negro. I had been recently taught to call black people negroes, though coloured people was also acceptable.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol were soon on the scene, and the accident scene was further illuminated by the twirling red bubblegum lights on top of their cruisers. At this point my father reentered our car and attended to me. He felt that this was all a teachable moment for his young son. I gathered from his instruction that the black man was a businessman and an ambulance was on its way to help him to a hospital. My father then pointed to the two teenage farm boys, “See them?” I nodded compliantly, “They are drunk. Watch, the police will soon arrest them.” I then attentively watched the farm boys as they catcalled to the man sitting on the highway, shouting words that I had been taught never to use. The ambulance arrived, but it did not come for the black man. Instead, the ambulance crew persuaded the drunken farm boys to lie upon some stretchers and be carried into the back of the ambulance. Flummoxed, my father assured me that there was another ambulance coming for the man in the street. The police, who had been questioning the black businessman, now pulled him to his feet. Placing handcuffs on him, they loaded him into the back of one of their cruisers to take him off to jail. Shocked, my father went out to argue with them but was soon sent back to our car. Later on, he testified on behalf of the injured black man at his trial, but this did little good. The man received 90 days for reckless driving. To a boy of five, who hero-worshipped his dad, the most astonishing thing that had happened that night was how wrong my father was.
 

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By 1959 I was living in a newly constructed lower middleclass housing development south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. It neighboured Wendel, a small mining town that had seen better days. From our small yellow brick house, you could see hilltop orchards, steep pasture for beef cattle and a mountainous slag dump that towered over all. Our slag dump view diminished over the years as it was excavated to make ‘red dog’ driveways. Everyone in our neighborhood had one of those driveways made from heated waste coal and shale tailings. Next to the repetitive brick homes, the orange, pink and metallic purple crushed stone made the neighbourhood more interesting, as did the people who were living in those homes. Most of the children with whom I played in the street had fathers who had been combat veterans in World War II. Mr. Fisher, who lived near us, was in two navy vessels that sank in the Pacific. Despite his ordeals of so frequently treading water, he was perhaps the nicest person in the neighbourhood. There were also several Jewish families on the road. Across from us was a Jewish engineer, his wife and four boys. He too had served in the navy and had seen combat. Next to his house was a Jewish family whose matriarch was a concentration camp survivor. She slept all the time due to depression, and her husband would come out and scold the local children for waking her as they played in the street. Oddly, next to their house lived a German family, the Graffins. The local story concerning Mr. Graffin was that he had deserted the German army by stealing a boat and rowing across a lake to Switzerland. Again, befitting the idiosyncratic nature of the mixing in this neighborhood, the Graffins were bookended on their other side by a pretty young Jewish woman. Her rather incomprehensible story was that at age three she was smuggled out of Germany in a wagon driven by her mother, disguised as a Gypsy. As she told it, they were stopped and interrogated by soldiers, but since they pretended to be Gypsies, they were allowed to cross. Somehow, they managed to squeak through the Germans, even though the Germans were in the habit of rounding up Romani as well as Jews.

Several houses up from her house was another Navy man. He was big, doughy and bald and always wore a white T-shirt, sleeve rolled up to house his Camel Cigarettes, and cutoffs. However, the main reason for this excessive display of flesh was not to be comfortable on a hot day. It was to proudly display all of his maritime sexual conquests. He was tattooed all over his legs and arms with Betty Boop-like women, each bearing a name under them. These women had been memorialized in an assembly line production on his skin, all very similar, more like stamps than tattoos. Perhaps during a bout of nostalgia, he had consumed enough beer to dump his savings on having the job done all at once? He was not shy.  Once while I was playing outside with his son, stepped out of his house, and upon my request, he lifted up his shirt and showed me the continuation of his love life, which lay beneath his T-shirt, inked there on his back and his chest for the duration of his life.

Our neighbourhood seemed to coexist rather well. Of course, there were occasional spats between children and housewives. There was no antagonism between ethnic groups, and the men got on quite well — finding time after their mill work to play a movable game of pinochle — going from one front door stoop to the next, up and down the street. However, two things happened to disrupt the quietude. The first was the night when the man at the top of the hill chased his wife down to the bottom of the hill. The chasing came to an end right in front of our house. I was in bed at the time and heard my playmates shouting,” Daddy! Daddy! Don’t shoot Mommy!” Then there was a bang. Daddy had arrived home earlier than expected from his nightshift, and found Mommy in bed with another man. This was my second encounter with law enforcement. The Westmoreland County Sheriff’s Department arrived, and once again, everything was lit up with flashing lights, this time. However, unlike the black man in the accident, Daddy wasn’t seriously prosecuted, if at all. Domestic bliss soon returned between Daddy and Mommy after the shooting. A few months later, as I was walking up the hill, I met Mommy coming down. I was very excited to see her. For a young boy back then, a bullet wound was about as neat a thing that you could have. So, I asked her if I could see it. There must have been some strange compulsion to lift clothing in this family, for she sheepishly complied, raising her skirt to her knee to display the scar.

About a year after the shooting, the second major local event took place. A Jewish engineer, directly across the street, had put his house on the market and sold it quickly. I remember the day the details of this sale got out. You could see all of the street’s menfolk congregating on the hill to the east of our house and also the hill to the west of our house. They soon came marching down from both directions and were very angry. Puzzled, my stepfather went out to find out what was going on. He too became angry. Then there was shouting for our neighbour across the street to come out and join them. He was very brave, for he did come out. Things became highly animated with cursing and shoving, but the demonstration ended almost as quickly as it had erupted. When my stepfather returned, he announced that our neighbour had sold his house to a mixed-race couple, and that property values were going to plummet, which did turn out to be the case.

Mrs. Brown, our new neighbour, was a huge white woman. She towered over all the men in the neighborhood. Her husband was a tall black man who owned and operated an eighteen-wheeler. They had only one child, a son, who also towered over a normal boy his age. Not long after their moving van pulled up, the Ku Klux Klan was summoned to help do something about the street’s ‘predicament’. One night, while the Brown family was enjoying an outing at the local drive-in theatre, the Klan showed up. They painted their garage door “N—-g—- Go Home, KKK”, and then they set up the traditional blazing fiery cross on their front lawn. When Mr. and Mrs. Brown drove into their driveway in their new shiny black Cadillac, stuffed full of their numerous children, they were quite shaken to see what had happened to their home. The sheriff’s department was called and they were puzzled as to the motivation for this crime. Why would a white family from Kentucky, by the name of Brown, be the object of the wrath of the Ku Klux Klan? Apparently, the Klan had gotten it wrong. They had attacked another Brown family house two streets up. After that, things quieted down. The Browns lived in their house for many decades till they passed away from old age. Mrs. Brown became the Sunday school teacher at the local Presbyterian church, and soon began complaining to my mother about my irreligiosity. The neighbourhood remained quiet for the next eight years we lived in it – and we did have a hard time selling our house.

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I was 15 in 1967 and visiting my grandfather back in Toledo. At the time, I had a crush on the girl next door to his house. One day I worked up enough nerve to ask her out. To my surprise she said yes.  This was to be the first date for both of us. My grandfather volunteered to drive the two of us to a theatre in downtown Toledo to see the movie Doctor Zhivago. After the picture was over, he was out front in his station wagon waiting to return us home. Initially, it was an uneventful trip. However, as we passed through the black neighborhood on Dorr Street, traffic slowed to a crawl. We had no idea as to what the problem was and assumed that there was a bad accident up ahead. Through the smoke, we saw that there was some kind of road block. The date was July 24th, the evening when the black riots in Detroit spilled over into Toledo. The day before, the Detroit Police had arrested all of the patrons of an after-hours night club welcoming home some Vietnam War veterans. Eighty-four blacks were included in the arrests. The subsequent riot required Michigan’s governor to mobilize nine thousand National Guard. Over 10,000 people participated in this riot, which left 43 people dead. 
At the road block on Dorr Street, a mob of black men was surrounding cars as they tried to pass. Each vehicle was inspected and white men were being pulled out for a beating, before being allowed to move on. I thought we were all goners. We were stuck in line inching our way forward to receive a beating. When we got to where the barricade had been set up, my grandfather was told to roll down his window. A black man then poked his head through. He took a quick look at an old man in his mid-70s and a pair of 15 year-olds in the back seat, and elected not to hand out any beatings. We drove on.

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Later that year, my family moved to Cape Cod. After graduating from high school in 1971, I became a member of the Research Vessel Chain. After leaving the Chain in 1973, I was offered a job as a summer police officer. I spent the next year pounding a beat and directing traffic. The political climate was similar to what we have today. Cars slowed down, as they passed me standing in the middle of an intersection – making pig noises, grunting, squealing, oinking, saying pig slowly and occasionally spitting. I had never dreamt of being a cop, but suddenly here I was in a blue suit carrying a gun and with one week’s training. I stayed on at the end of the summer as a provisional police officer. The next year, I enrolled in a degree program at Northeastern University’s College of Criminal Justice, graduating in 1979. I worked my way through school, not only as a cop, but also as a Federal fisheries enforcement officer.

Unfortunately, I was handed my degree during a recession when jobs were scarce. But fortunately, I had taken the Massachusetts Civil Service exam for patrolman back in 1978. The scores were slow to be announced. Consequently, I went to Texas and worked in the oil patch until of the results finally came out. What a strange exam. With police racism in mind, the Commonwealth sought to diversify the racial composition of the state’s police departments. To this end, it came up with an interesting multiple-choice exam. Many of the questions had two right answers. The questions were scored one way or another dependent upon which question the majority of minorities chose. However, this scheme didn’t work; not enough minorities had passed the exam, so the final score for passing was lowered to a 65.

By the late 1980s, the Falmouth Police Department was notified by the Massachusetts Civil Service Commission that it was out of compliance with their racial quotas for the composition of its staff. Officially, we had one black. He was my good friend, Percy Kennedy, who went to high school with me. Unofficially, and in reality, the department was close to one third black. The explanation for this was that when individual black officers took the civil service exam, they did not check the black ethnicity box but filled in a blank space entitled other. For them, the other was Cape Verdean. Cape Cod has a significant Cape Verdean population. They came as sailors or cranberry bog workers in the late 19th century. Being from African Islands off of Mauritania and Senegal, Massachusetts Civil Service had no category for them. So, they were not counted as being of African heritage. So, our black chief, of Cape Verdean ancestry, had to go out and recruit two official civil service blacks for our department to be in compliance. He sent the recruited cadets off to a Massachusetts Criminal Justice Training Council police academy. Upon graduating, they were assigned a training officer for three months of hands-on patrol training. Regrettably, one of the trainees was just not meant for the job. After two years of effort, she was still in training. Our chief became fed up, and fired her. This wasn’t an easy thing to do with both civil service protection and police union protection. But that was not the end of it; she turned around and sued our chief through the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination for discriminating against her due to the fact that she was black. We had a black officer suing a black chief for racial discrimination. She received a settlement. Law suits weren’t uncommon in the Falmouth Police Department, and the Town frequently gave plaintiffs $50,000 to go away. It was cheaper that way.

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I was on duty the night Percy’s brother was shot to death by the Yarmouth Police Department. Percy was called out of his sector and sent to the nearby Cape town to identify his brother, Michael. Michael had been allegedly involved in a burglary. He was pursued by two units and lost control when his vehicle hit sand and skidded into a tree.  He was attempting to back out when the two officers who had been pursuing him approached his car on foot. During the inquest, it was articulated that the two white officers felt their lives were threatened — so they unloaded their revolvers into the car, reloaded and fired again.

I went to the police academy with one of these officers. He was a nice personable kid, who knew an awful lot about guns (maybe too much) and had been out of the academy for about a year when this shooting took place. Oddly, of the fourteen cadets in my class, two of my classmates had shot and killed someone during their first year on the road. No one else from this class shot anyone during the remaining years of their careers. Younger and freshly minted officers are the most aggressive. They have frequently had the ambition of joining a police force from an early age and have had a steady diet of police procedural movies and television series to fire their enthusiasm.

Young officers begin to take notice of the long, layered rap sheets with multiple felony convictions and no significant prison time. That’s when going to court becomes a farce.  It dawns on them that only the judges take the courtroom seriously. Police work becomes a job and ceases to be a calling. Most veteran cops have as a goal getting through their shift with the least amount of trouble. Confrontations, racial or otherwise, are the last thing they want during a patrol.

 Police see the best people at their worst and the worst people at their worst. Everyday contact with the meanest of our species eventually leaves its mark. Memories become choked, not with the names and events of great people and noble deeds but with the rap sheets of local felons and their crimes. Officers soon can recite criminal histories the way David Starkey can discuss the life stories of the monarchs of Britain. When the station dispatcher keys his radio microphone, blood pressure rises through all the department’s patrolling units. No one knows who is going to get the next call or what it will be. For those whose number isn’t called, there is relief. For those who receive a serious call, their minds race through possible scenarios and how they have dealt with similar events in the past, in hopes they will be up to the task.

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Two years after Officer Kennedy’s brother had been killed, I was on patrol in East Falmouth. The base station microphone was keyed and I got a radio call that kept my blood pressure up for some time. A Golden Gloves boxing champion, who happened to be a black man, was going door to door ringing doorbells and punching out whomever answered. The radio dispatcher said he had fled the scene in a car. He was to be regarded as highly dangerous. My colleagues began piping up on the radio about what a good boxer he was, and that I should be very careful.

I asked the dispatcher for the boxer’s home address and headed there to find him. His mother and sister greeted me at the door, stating he was not there. They asked if they could come with me to look for their relative. Today’s policy and procedures manuals would have forbidden taking civilians for a ride in pursuit of a criminal, but back then you had much more latitude for independent thought. I let the two women into the rear lockdown area of my cruiser. Only a few minutes had past when the station advised me that the man I was looking for was now attacking people at a local supermarket. As we pulled up, the boxer was punching out a tenacious store manager. I took the time to unlock the doors for my passengers, then ran towards him. At this time, an officer in a dispatched backup unit arrived. He did the same thing that I was doing, but then checked himself, and cheerily announced his name while extending his hand. He went down, one two, out cold, with a broken jaw.
I anticipated his throwing a punch. His eyes moved to the right and a right hook came my way. I moved just in time to receive a glancing blow to my head, but still managed to get behind him and place a sleeper hold on his neck. This was a version of what was recently applied to George Floyd – taught in police academies as a way of stopping blood flow to the brain and causing someone to pass out. It is not a choke hold. I had used that hold a lot, with blacks and whites, and it saved me from being the recipient of a beating on many an occasion. However, this time it wasn’t needed. His mother and sister had left my cruiser and were now staring at him in horror.  Suddenly the boxer appeared somewhat sane: “My ladies are here. You got me”. Now subdued, I handcuffed him and then had his ladies transported to the station. He relapsed into delusions as I transported him to the station’s prisoner drive-thru. It was a memorable ride. He was shouting about the devil, and yelling “Michael Kennedy”! Michael Kennedy, my friend Percy Kennedy’s brother. Back then, we had only a cage screen shielding the front seat from the back. The boxer took advantage of this and began spitting through the cage as he kicked at the front driver seat. I still can feel his saliva going down my back.

The shift commander was there to meet us in the drive-thru. He opened my cruiser’s back door and began talking to the boxer. They knew each other, and I could see that now a black officer was there, the raving lunatic went away and the boxer seemingly became normal and complacent.

I was told not to bother to book him but to drive him straight to the Taunton State Mental Hospital, about an hour away. The raving began as soon as I left. When I arrived at admissions, it was nearing 2 AM. The receptionist was in a sour mood. I was incredulous when she told me that, though beds were available, Cape Cod was assigned only five beds, which were all filled. I then had to return to the station, book my devil- talking prisoner, and place him in a cell. By 10 A.M. the next morning, he had been arraigned in court and released on bail.

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Melvin Reine

For over three decades the Falmouth Police Department and the Town of Falmouth was terrorized by a short, spindly, Cape Verdean garbage contractor with snaps embedded in his scalp for the attachment of his toupee. Melvin Reine, the owner of Five Star Enterprises Garbage Collection, was not physically imposing, but willing to do anything to maintain people’s fear of him. They knew he’d run the risks, commit whatever crime it took to maintain control over the town. They also knew that no one seemed to care.  Melvin was from a large family living off a small strawberry farm. He did not come from money. But he did do a stint in prison, and when he came out he was loaded.
Shortly after I moved to Falmouth, there were a series of fires reported as being due to arson. Eventually, these fires were attributed to Melvin Reine. He was successfully prosecuted for them and did two years in the Massachusetts Correctional Institution at Cedar Junction. Not long after his release, he quarreled with his wife Wanda. She disappeared. No one has ever heard from her since then, including their two boys, which Reine raised. Around this time, Melvin had been frequenting the company of an 18-year-old girlfriend, Shirley Souza. Coincidentally, her boyfriend, 16-year old Jeffrey Flanagan, was found dead in a cranberry bog just across the street from Melvin’s house. Jeffrey had been executed while on his knees by someone using a twelve-gauge shotgun. Melvin was never charged with this murder. I have seen the initial police report; an auto accident investigation would have had more detail.

The fires started up again, but now mostly for insurance fraud. In 1977, a 17-year-old boy, Paul Alwardt, had been implicated in some of these arsons and was to testify against Melvin before the Barnstable County Grand Jury. Then, like Wanda, he went missing, and like Wanda was never heard from again.

In 1979, Patrolman John Busby was on his way to work when a station wagon operated by Melvin’s brother, John Reine, cut him off.  Shirley was in the passenger seat, and Melvin in the back with the window rolled down. A shotgun was again the choice of weapon. Busby was hit in the face, and his jaw was shattered. None of his assailants were ever arrested for this shooting, but Patrolman Busby was given a new identity and went into hiding for the next seven years.

I was not working for the department at this time, but pursing my degree. By October of 1980, I was again working for the Falmouth Police Department. Though I had not been there for the shooting of Officer Busby, I did talk to a lot of officers who were.  Most felt, as with the Flanagan murder, that there was no serious attempt to investigate the crime. One asserted that Melvin was never questioned, though he was considered a prime suspect for threatening John’s life during an altercation a few days before the ambush took place.

Emboldened by shooting a cop and getting away with it, Melvin got into the habit of lighting a match and saying, “I smell smoke”, whenever he was stopped by a cop for a motor vehicle violation. Though I never had the occasion to stop Melvin, I once stopped his son Todd for illegally driving a garbage truck with no plate or proper license. I hadn’t been out of my cruiser for more than five minutes when Melvin appeared out of the blue. Evidently his car had a police scanner, so he heard me radio the station that I was stopping his son. Now that he was conveniently on scene, I decided to cite him, as the owner of the company that had allowed these violations.

Oddly, as I cleared the scene, I couldn’t get the station on my radio. This wasn’t normal, especially for anyone who was in the process of citing Melvin Reine. Five-minute status checks were mandated for all motor vehicle stops. I kept calling in to say that I had cleared my stop, but there was absolute silence. I began to think that my cruiser radio had failed, when an officer in a neighboring unit responded to my radio traffic. He informed me that the desk officer had announced that he was going to the bathroom. I never had heard an officer make such a declaration on the air. Interestingly enough, this officer had recently volunteered to work the desk radio. His desire to get out of his cruiser and behind a desk was due to the fact that he had had a motor vehicle stop involving Melvin and felt his life might be in jeopardy.

That evening, I ignored regulations and did not file my report and citation concerning Melvin with our station’s court officer.  Instead, I and two other officers who had recently written similar citations for Melvin had our citations hand-carried to the court house by a State Police Captain. This State Police Captain was no fan of the garbage magnate, so made sure our paperwork wasn’t thrown in a convenient court waste basket.

Apparently, Melvin laboured under the misapprehension that the fix was in. He ignored the court house paperwork coming to him through the mail.  Three separate cases and he disregarded them all. Subsequently, the court issued an arrest warrant for him. This was the first time since his release from Cedar Junction that Melvin had been arrested. The flabbergasted Reine was arrested at his house, taken to the station and booked (snap-on toupee removed for photographic purposes) and then arraigned at the Barnstable County District Court.

By 1986, I was the head of a division of the department that was responsible for records, gun permit licensing and press releases. Since the statute of limitations was about to expire on the Busby shooting, I thought I might get the press to do a major story about it and the unsolved murders in hopes of getting some new information that might bring about a prosecution. The editor of the Cape Cod Times agreed to do the story and was taken to North Carolina, where John Busby was in hiding by the State Police. We did not have the chief of police’s consent to do this. We did it on the sly. Only a few people knew about it and they were all necessary to make it happen.

The Cape Cod Times did a full length front page Sunday exclusive. This was the first time that the paper had ever used a colour photo. A bearded John Busby (due to the destruction of his jaw) told the Times in detail about the day he was headed to work and shot in the face. However, the result of all of this effort was the silence of crickets. Nothing happened. No one came forward. However, I did get an angry call back from the editor of the paper. Before going down to North Carolina to interview John, he received a death threat concerning going forward with the upcoming interview. Then the tyres to his car were flattened while he was in his office. Someone had alerted Reine.

By July 1990, I was no longer working for the Falmouth Police Department. I had become the director of the Falmouth Department of Natural Resources. Now there wasn’t any reason for me to have contact with Melvin Reine and I was glad of this. For the next ten years, I heard little about him. Then, on the 27th of October 2000, Falmouth Police Department’s Detective Captain Roman Medeiros (younger brother of the missing Wanda Reine) called to discuss a landfill operation off of Old Barnstable Road. I had no idea that there was such a thing, so we went to the site. It was the old strawberry farm that Reine’s parents had willed to their children.  It was now surrounded by a ten-foot-high earthen berm, which totally masked the mounds of garbage within. We approached the land through a neighboring cranberry bog. When we crested the berm, I was amazed. There were acres of trash, a compound built for Melvin’s garbage trucks, and numerous thirty and one hundred cubic yard waste containers. It was such a flagrant violation of state laws that I felt sure that it must have been recently permitted and I just didn’t know about it. So, I pulled out my cellphone and started calling up officials. First, I called the Board of Health. The Board of Health refused to comment but told me to contact the Town’s engineering department. The Engineering staff would not comment due to their boss being away on vacation. The Building Department did comment, stating that the buildings there were for agricultural purposes, like a strawberry farm.

Soon, I learned that Melvin had been in a fight with his neighbour over the use of this land. The neighbour had called a group of town officials to complain. On the 28th of September, 2000, a mysterious 75-gallon drum of oil was dumped on this neighbour’s property. Of course, this criminal act was witnessed by good citizen Reine, who had promptly reported the spill. The Falmouth Fire Department, the Falmouth Health Department, and the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection were alerted. Again, no one notified me. Officials assembled at the scene and received a vague description of the vehicle and perpetrator of this ecological disaster. However, there was no way around it; the assembled officials could plainly see the piles of trash on Reine’s property from the site of the oil spill. They decided to work with him. He could be polite and assuaging when he wanted to, and promised to clean it up…but didn’t. And no one did check back on him. As for the woman on whose land the oil was dumped, she was forced to hire an eco-cleanup firm at her own expense. In desperation, another neighbour called the police, who in turn got hold of me. A search warrant was obtained, which discovered a solid mass of garbage to a depth of fourteen feet. The Massachusetts State Police brought their corpse sniffing dogs to the site. No bodies were found.

I called the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection, who permitted all of the state’s landfills. They had no permits for the landfill, so they opened an investigation. However, they soon became spooked and sent the hot potato off to the investigation off to the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Environmental Protection Division. I then arranged for several interviews between the AG’s office and Melvin’s two estranged sons in my office. Melvin’s sons were happy to fill them in. They were upset with their father because of a recent argument. After the argument, one of their houses caught fire.

My department then began developing a second case against Reine. Somehow, an industrial scale town dock from Martha’s Vineyard had been transported across Vineyard Sound, and dumped on private property. Guess who collected the disposal fee?

By now, you can imagine that Melvin was getting a bit peeved with us. Yes, death threats began coming in. A detective called me at home one Sunday to say that Melvin Reine was heard boasting that he was going to hire some boys in Boston to come down to put a man in greensix feet under. Melvin was supposed to have strong connections with the Boston Winter Hill Gang.

It should be noted that Whitey Bulger, the head of the Winter Hill Gang, was the brother of Billy Bulger, the then President of the Massachusetts Senate, and also an active informant for the F.B.I. He too was literally getting away with murder as the F.B.I. protected him from prosecution. This threat seemed plausible. I did ask the detective to put it in writing but he never found the time to do it. I found out about a second threat when an officer working a road detail stopped me and inquired about the death threats that were coming in concerning myself and a reporter with whom I was working. Apparently someone had called the Barnstable District Attorney’s Office Crime Prevention and Control Unit and made another threat. I called up the reporter, who told me that she had been recently warned by the District Attorney’s Office. Naturally I called up the District Attorney’s Crime Prevention and Control Unit and asked the state trooper who received the call why he hadn’t bothered to contact me? He said he’d forgotten. He played stupid, but did promise to write a report, which took him six months.

In 2002, all of the drama finally came to a head. A Ryder rental truck had parked in front of a kickboxing club in East Falmouth. The operator had foolishly parked in front of one of Melvin Reine’s dumpsters. When Melvin drove up to empty his dumpster, he became enraged. He expressed his displeasure by lifting the parked rental truck up and down with the lift tines on his garbage truck — slamming it down with each repetition. After his anger had passed, Melvin realized he might be charged with the assault on the truck. He and his lawyer went to the front desk of the Falmouth Police Department to discuss the matter.  The duty sergeant promptly placed him under arrest. The judge presiding over Melvin’s arraignment became alarmed over the defendant’s preoccupation with how hard the courtroom benches were and remanded to the Bridgewater State Mental Hospital for psychiatric evaluation, then off to the Taunton State Mental Hospital. This time they found a bed. Twelve years later, while being held as criminally insane, Melvin died of Pick’s Disease.

The saga continued. In 2005, Shirley was found shot to death, ambushed in her garage. Melvin’s two sons were under investigation for the crime. No one has yet been charged. Around the time of her murder there was this revelation in the Cape Cod Times:


In a 2003 police report, Reine family members say Falmouth police officer Arthur Monteiro, who died in 1990, provided Reine with information about Busby’s routine before the shooting. He also gave Reine updates about the department’s investigation into the shooting, according to the report, which consists of Falmouth and state police interviews with Melvin Reine’s sons, Todd and Melvin Reine Jr., and his brother, John Reine

Arthur Monteiro was called Monty. He was a large Cape Verdean officer, whose eyes had the puffiness of being in the ring. I was told that the reason he was initially hired was that officers were sick of fighting him and wanted him on their side. He was also a Golden Gloves champion and our Cape Verdean chief of police’s brother-in-law.

Falmouth Police Department pays tribute to one undeserving officer

On May 17th, 2020, a commemorative service was held at a newly created memorial garden in front of the Falmouth Police Department. This garden features four monuments celebrating officers who have been singled out for their “Honor”, “Integrity”, “Commitment” and “Dedication”. You can see how things have changed since the night of that accident, when I was five years old and seated in my father’s faded navy blue,1952, Chevy.

When gentlemen adventurers step ashore

Cape Cod

MARK PATTON traces cultural, ecological and personal histories on Cape Cod

I have lived on Cape Cod for 53 years. During much of this time, I served as the Falmouth and Woods Hole area’s director of Natural Resources. My other jobs included helmsman on the research vessel Chain, enforcement officer for the U.S. Fisheries – Fisheries and Marine Mammal Protection and local police officer. My conception of what Cape Cod is, or should be, my starting point so to speak, on this peninsula began in 1967. That was when I moved to Falmouth, Massachusetts from a small town south of Pittsburgh that had a mining and steel mill-based economy.

After leaving behind our slag dump mountain view, and houses that quickly turned orange after painting due to the perpetual smog of the mills, Cape Cod seemed like a seaside paradise. It was simply breathtaking – blue skies – blue seas – sailboats off in the distance cruising along wooded island chains – and of course, for a 15-year-old, cute girl in bikinis. I suspect a similar conceptualization of the area is still why people come here. I also suspect that they haven’t a clue that all of the planning boards on the Cape anticipate that in a few years every available lot on Cape Cod will have a house on it.

Newcomers don’t notice that the water quality of the harbours and coastal ponds has gone sour. They see a blue expanse ready for postcards. They don’t see the shellfish suffocating below as oxygen is stripped from the water column by dense layers of algae that thrive on nitrogen plumes of septic leachate. Nor do the newcomers understand that not long ago the large woodland tracts disappeared, leaving behind scraps of intensely used public open space. The forested lands had been exchanged for pocket parks. They see what I saw in ‘67. Give them a few years, and they too will fret over the changes happening around them.

Gosnold at Smoking Rocks, by William Allen Wall

I’ll start with the first written description of Cape Cod.

The fifteenth day we had again sight of the land, which made ahead, being as we thought an island, by reason of a large sound that appeared westward between it and the main, for coming to the west end thereof, we did perceive a large opening, we called it Shoal Hope. Near this cape we came to fathom anchor in fifteen fathoms, where we took great store of codfish, for which we altered the name, and called it Cape Cod. Here we saw sculls of herring, mackerel, and other small fish, in great abundance.

So wrote Gabriel Archer in his 1602 chronicle of the discoveries made by the crew of the bark Dartmouth, captained by the early English explorer, privateer and barrister, Bartholomew Gosnold. The peninsula Gosnold had named after the codfish was a deposit of debris that had been left 15,000 years before by the retreating Laurentide Ice Sheet.  It was back then what it is today, about 339 square miles (880 km2) in size, situated in southern New England, and sticking out into the North Atlantic like a giant arm flexing its muscle. Cape Cod is where the tropical waters of the Gulf Stream begin to angle towards the British Isles.

It should be mentioned that five years after this discovery Archer and Gosnold were on their way further south to establish Britain’s first settlement in North America, Jamestown, Virginia. However, their navigating about Cape Cod was not about colonization. It was about sassafras, which at that time it was believed to be a cure for syphilis. Their enterprise was blessed, for sassafras was, and still is, in great abundance on Cape Cod. Soon, the Dartmouth was loaded up with it and other New World exotica, including sealskins that they had traded for with the resident Wampanoag tribe.  

Some 200 years later, Henry David Thoreau made his own discoveries of the area. He wrote a book about it which he named…Cape Cod. This writing concerned Thoreau’s meanderings through the dunes and beaches of Gosnold’s now distant discovery. Starting in 1849, he made a total of four trips to the Cape. I wonder if it was during one of his coach rides to the peninsula that it first occurred to him that,

The time must come when this coast will be a place of resort for those New-Englanders who really wish to visit the sea-side. At present, it is wholly unknown to the fashionable world, and probably it will never be agreeable to them.

Indeed, this time came and, contrary to Thoreau’s speculations, Cape Cod proved to be very agreeable to the fashionable world. It was all in the works before Thoreau took his near-legendary 30-mile beach walk from his lodgings in Wellfleet up to Provincetown, the very tip of Cape Cod. One year before, the Cape Cod Railroad Company had completed track from Boston to Wareham, Cape Cod. By 1854, the train had moved further into the peninsula to Hyannis Port, where you could catch a ferry to the two large and very posh islands of Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket. By 1872, train tracks had joined the fishing port of Woods Hole to this network of rail. If Thoreau had postponed his 1849 trip to the summer of 1873, he could have gone from Wellfleet to Provincetown seated in a first-class compartment.

In 1916, the Cape Cod Canal was constructed, connecting Buzzards Bay with Cape Cod Bay. This created a shorter route for shipping between America’s cities. Even though the town’s folk of Wareham still insist they are part of Cape Cod, the canal effectively cut them off and turned the Cape’s peninsula into an island. The world’s widest sea level canal now made the town of Wareham’s posturing a bit hard to believe.

Then came the automobile, and something had to be done to get all of those cars across the 480 feet of ocean that now separated Wareham from the towns of Bourne and Sagamore on the other side. Two large bridges were erected to span the gap for the motoring public. Ma and Pa could now leave Boston with the kids and be sunning themselves on a beach in less than an hour and a half.

Nobska Light, Woods Hole

By 1957, Patti Page had commemorated this mobility in her hit recording, Old Cape Cod. Is it surprising that it went to number three on the pop charts?

If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there
(You’re sure)
You’re sure to fall in love with old Cape Cod
(Cape Cod, that old Cape Cod)

Of course, Patti Page had never set foot on Cape Cod. However, her hit tune did herald in the tourist season, with the Cape’s population doubling between Memorial Day (last Monday in May) and Labor Day (first Monday in September). The current population rises from 250,000 people in the winter to about half a million by mid-summer. Mind you, the population was just shy of 5,000 when Thoreau first engaged upon his speculations.

It was the well-heeled who first took advantage of summering on Cape Cod. They would be met at the stations by local residents who were learning that by driving tourists to their summer homes or seaside inns that they could make more money off of them than by pursuing fishing, whaling, working at the salt works, raising merino sheep, or working in the guano processing plant. They also discovered that by selling off their coastal lands, they could unload what they saw as unbuildable land upon gullible rich people. No sensible Cape Codder would build a home right where the hurricanes and nor’easters made landfall. That was scrap land that could provide a tidy profit if sold. And though the strawberry fields were great sources of revenue, developing them into quarter acre housing projects for summer people would make you rich.

Ever accelerating environmental fragmentation was in full swing. Of course, it had been going on for centuries when the railroads took the gentler routes, laying track upon earthen dikes that cut through the centre of the salt marshes. This had the effect of restricting and choking the natural tidal flow into the marshes.

With the new service-oriented economy, grass lands were abandoned. This started a succession of pioneering species of trees that began to occupy the pasture lands; pin oak, and pitch pine, followed by white oak and white pine and, more recently, beeches. Back in the days of the Pilgrims, the now endangered Atlantic white cedar swamps had been timbered for durable fence posts. Red maple swamps were dug out to make room for the planting of cranberries. By the middle of the 20th century, almost every creek and rivulet on Cape Cod had a succession of cranberry bogs with agricultural earthen dikes to capture and retain the streams’ waters so as to protect the frost-sensitive vines in winter. However, the control over these waterways had always been contentious. River herring, blueback and alewife, are anadromous fish. Like salmon, they are spawned in fresh water and then return to the ocean to mature. As long as there has been a Cape Cod, herring have worked their way up the rivulets to spawn in lakes as far as four miles from the coast. These fish have always been prized as a food, as bait, and for their iridescent scales which were once ground into a paste for the nineteenth century faux pearl industry.

Mills, both grist and woolen, had been constructed along the herring routes well before George III was king of the area. By 1806, the free passage of herring became a cause célèbre in the town of Falmouth. Angry men congregated upon the town green to protest the restriction of herring. To show their collective disapproval, they took hold of one of two cannons stationed there, which had formerly been used on British troops that had attempted a landing in 1779, filled it with gunpowder, loaded it with herring, and then fired to the fuse. Lamentably, the cannon burst, killing one of the gunners. However, by the time of the American Civil War, a by-law was established restricting the times the mills could operate, allowing herring passage during the mill’s down time.

First days of the U. S. Fisheries Commission

Before the railroad had arrived in Woods Hole, the Secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, Spencer Fullerton Baird, had launched the nation’s first national conservation agency there, the United States Fisheries Commission. This sleepy little fishing village soon featured a large complex of research buildings, research vessels and fish pens for the purpose of studying and replenishing the ocean’s depleted fish stocks. The United States Fisheries Commission eventually would become the National Marine Fisheries Service. Baird’s commission soon was engaged in hatching and distributing over 200 billion commercial fish species, including the illustrious cod. Regrettably, despite these pioneering efforts, cod landed poundage continued to drop, from 300 million pounds to 70 million pounds by 1941. Overfishing and natural predation had taken its toll.

With the arrival of the Fish Commission, marine-based research facilitates established themselves in Woods Hole. In 1888 came the Marine Biological Laboratory, which now boasts 58 Nobel laureates.  In 1930, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution was established. Its deep-sea submersible, Alvin, is now world famous.

Aerial view of Woods Hole today

Perhaps the two biggest impacts on Cape Cod’s environment were the establishments of the U.S. Army’s Camp Edwards in 1911, followed by Otis Air Force base in 1938. The joint military reservations still cover 21,000 acres. These bases provided training for troops deployed during World War II, and served as a forward air base on New England’s east coast. They also contained a Bomarc base (guided surface-to-air missiles, in service 1959-1972, named by combining Boeing with Michigan Air Research Center), and a Cold War early warning system, known as PAVE Paws (Precision Acquisition Vehicle Entry Phased Array Warning System, in service 1980-1995). In later years, the United States Coast Guard air wing was established there, and used for fisheries surveillance, drug interdiction and search and rescue.

Unfortunately, the military practices on the bases caused extreme environmental degradation: jet fuel fire training for fire departments (pouring jet fuel about and setting it off), onsite burial of discarded military weaponry, and a very large fuel leak that was known about and ignored for decades. The military’s reaction to their pipeline leak was to increase the fuel budget to offset the loss due to leakage. Fuel was received from tankers tied up along the Cape Cod Canal. They pumped their holds full of petrol products into a pipeline that went to the base. Somewhere there was a leak, but who knew where? Around 1989, National Geographic featured a photo illustrating the damage due to these practices. Water from a private well in Falmouth was placed into a cigarette lighter and then set alight. Falmouth’s private wells and municipal water systems were soon discovered to be impacted by dozens of underground rivers carrying toxic plumes. Elevated levels of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, dementia, and various types of cancer were more prevalent in people who used this water.

Cranberry bogs were impacted. Flooding and irrigating bogs with contaminated water was not good for the marketability of the product. The base and surrounding area were declared a federal superfund site. Since the mid-1990s, 6.7 million gallons of ground water a day from numerous locations have been extracted and filtered through activated charcoal and reinjected into the aquifer.

As fuel was being secreted into the Cape’s soils, its shores were also being assaulted. Fuel spills from wrecked and holed barges in Buzzards Bay, on the west side of Cape Cod, became common. In 1969, the barge Florida disgorged 189,000 gallons of number 2 bunker fuel onto the shores of West Falmouth. It was followed by the barge TB/ST-85, Bouchard 65, the liner Bermuda Star, and finally by the Bouchard 120. In total, about a half million gallons spilled over fifty years. This made West Falmouth’s  140-acre Great Sippewissett Salt Marsh, where so much of this came ashore, the most intensively researched saltmarsh in the world.

At the time of the Florida grounding I had been living in Falmouth for about two years. I could smell the oil on the winds that came off of Buzzards Bay. The Cape was all a-bustle, not with concern over the spill since little was known about such things back then, but because the tourist season was about to end. The locals were looking forward to their well-deserved rest.

Falmouth church, which Quakers were expected to attend (on pain of forfeiting a cow)

There was a time when West Falmouth Quakers were required to attend the Puritan services in the big white church on the village green. If they didn’t they would have to forfeit a cow. However, by the summer of 1969 things had gotten more relaxed. This was the year of the Woodstock Festival, the Summer of Love. Like the farmer’s field in Woodstock, New York, Falmouth was full to capacity. Tourists wearing bellbottom trousers and apple-seed necklaces, with kerchiefs tied about their foreheads, sauntered down the sidewalks to investigate the numerous headshops the town had to offer. There were also tailored Nehru jackets available for those who had left their sports coats and ties back in New York City.

The Vietnam War was in full swing. In the evening hours, servicemen from the bases would be bused in by the hundreds and left outside the discothèques and bars that ran from Main Street Falmouth to the seaside community of Falmouth Heights.

For the year-round resident, selling trinkets to the tourists, feeding them, helping them to get drunk, renting them houses was where the money was at. Cheap summer bungalows were being quickly nailed up and rented out at outrageous prices. The bartenders, waiters and waitresses were mostly college students, who would be crammed into these bungalows, and work the summer to pay their rent, and to afford their parties at night. Partying was what the whole town did. The Falmouth Police Department doubled with part-time police officers, mostly school teachers and college students. Those assigned the evening shift beats would often walk two abreast with long wooden clubs in front of the biker-bars and the rougher saloons.

At one o’clock all came to a close. In Falmouth Heights over a thousand drunks would be ejected onto the neighbouring beaches. There were two vehicles specifically assigned to break up parties. Mass arrests for revelling could reach as high as 300 people. A fleet of school buses would drive the arrestees to the police department’s underground drive-thru, where there would be officials seated to set their bail.

At this time, I was a young man of 17, who was happier cruising about Waquoit Bay, fishing and quahoging (quahogs are hard-shell clams) with my friend whose family owned a large chunk of Seconsett Island.  They were Norwegian merchant mariners and had been living there for three generations. Considering where I had grown up, you can imagine my surprise when they announced that they had purchased a cabin in Alaska and were contemplating moving there. Why would they want to do that? “Too crowded” was their response. “The Cape isn’t what it used to be.” I had no idea what they were talking about, but I soon learned.

On April 12, 1977, I was dockside at the Boston Naval Yard with an excellent view of three impressive ships. One was Old Ironsides, the U.S.S. Constitution, which had defeated five British during the War of 1812. The other two were large Soviet fishing vessels, a 270-foot super trawler, Taras Shevchenko, and the 503-foot refrigerator-transport vessel, Antanas Snechkus. At the time, I was working my way through college by doing law enforcement for Spencer Fullerton Baird’s National Marine Fisheries Service. My job was the inspection of fishing boats as they landed in the port of New Bedford, and flying out of Otis Air Force Base to inspect the fishing grounds from the coast of Virginia to the Bay of Fundy. A lot was going on back then. Not only were hundreds of American boats from New Bedford, Gloucester and various Cape Cod ports out there, but also much larger fishing boats from Romania, Cuba, Bulgaria, East Germany, Poland and the Soviet Union. Foreign fleets with factory freezing motherships nearly the size of aircraft carriers scoured the ocean for fish that would be immediately turned into meal, and then into bread. It was a mammoth undertaking.

Soviet factory mothership and trawler, photographed by the author

I remember coming upon a fleet such as this at night. It was 1972 and I was a 19-year-old helmsman on the research vessel Chain out of Woods Hole. We were well off New Jersey and I didn’t expect to see city lights. The second mate explained to me that we were going to be passing through the Soviet fleet and to be careful of my helm. Soon, their nets were slowly crisscrossing ahead of our bow. I was amazed by the size of it, well over 100 ships, stacks illuminated with flood lights to show off their large golden hammer and sickles against Bolshevik red fields. The impact that this enormous fleet had had on the fishing stocks would have made Spencer Baird weep. At that time, the United States had a three-mile coastal limit, but by 1976 that limit became a presidential campaign issue. New England fishermen demanded a two-hundred-mile limit and newly elected President Jimmy Carter gave it to them. The United States control over the fishing grounds was extended out 200 miles. This meant international treaties were no longer in effect, and newly crafted U.S. laws would prevail. Within hours of the official extension of U.S. territorial waters, Coast Guard cutters on Georges Bank were getting radio calls from American fishermen about perceived foreign violations. There were careers to be made here, and Coast Guard captains scampered about to be the first to seize a Soviet vessel. Those two Soviet vessels I saw on the dock had just been seized by Coast Guard cutters.

The captain’s log of the Taras Shevchenko indicated that the captain was over his allotted bycatch of river herring by about a ton. The Antanas Snechkus was alleged to have prohibited ocean perch aboard. My job was to go through all of the frozen boxes on the Taras Shevchenko and tabulate the catch of river herring. The ship had a dead weight exceeding 1,000 tons for its boxed fish. It took me and another enforcement officer two days, without a break, to find that the vessel was over by a little more than a ton.

The Antanas Snechkus was released the next day. The alleged ocean perch was red hake, which they were allowed. The vessel left unfurling a large red flag with a hammer and sickle, to the tune of the Communist Internationale – while Taras Shevchenko’s captain sat in his stateroom crying. His boat was being seized, and there would be additional fines. When he returned home he would be charged with larceny from the Soviet Union for the amount of the cost of the boat and the fines. While all of this was going on, three American fishing boats were in the haddock and cod spawning grounds off Provincetown. Unfortunately, all available enforcement units were out chasing Russians. Even with a 200-mile limit, by the 1990s, the U.S. Northeast fisheries had collapsed.

But at the time there was some good news. I was on a Coast Guard Albatross flying a fishing patrol, not very far from the island of Nantucket, when we saw a pod of sperm whales. We sent in our report and it was confirmed by a second sighting. I was later told that this was the first time sperm whales had been seen in the area since the 1840s, when they were all fished out and American whalers from Cape Cod, New Bedford and Nantucket had to go as far as the Pacific to find them.

After I graduated from Northeastern University, I worked for a time as a roughneck in the Texas oil patch. By 1980, I was a police officer in Falmouth. Then, starting in 1990, I became the director of the Falmouth Department of Natural Resources. This was when I began to see in detail the environmental changes going on around me. For the next twenty-one years I was responsible for the management of a 54.5 square mile area of Cape Cod. This included 68 miles of coastline, fourteen coastal ponds, and harbors, numerous streams and inland lakes and forests.

With the 1990’s, there came a new change to the economic character of Falmouth. The discotheques and bars failed. Restaurants became more upscale. The summer rentals started to dry up as an older generation, many of whom had come to party here in the Sixties, Seventies and Eighties, came back to retire. Small coastal homes, known as saltboxes, started to be knocked down to make room for what became derisively known as McMansions. They were two-and-a-half storey homes which occupied most of their postage stamp size lots and blocked out the ocean views of the smaller homes behind them. Docks went in everywhere, not only to add to the seaside ambience, but also to add significantly to the property retail value.

People coming from an urban or suburban environment normally wanted to replicate their suburban back yards on their new coastal frontage. So, native coastal vegetation had to be replaced with chemically enhanced, vividly green, lawns that extended to the ocean’s edge. Stone armouring was then demanded to prevent the surf from damaging the newly acquired turf. Cape Cod towns had and still have conservation departments charged with mitigating the negative aspects of coastal construction. It was considered axiomatic that if you had enough money to appeal their decisions, and time to go judge shopping, you would eventually get your way. Up until the 1970s, jetties had been a common fixture for oceanfront homes. However, following the Massachusetts Wetland Protection Act, their new construction was forbidden. Built out into the ocean to catch the tidal flow of sand, these jetties were constructed to nourish private beaches. They would catch, then funnel, suspended sand back to an exclusive location. Of course, next door neighbours’ private beaches were now being deprived of naturally deposited sand. In defence of their beaches, they built jetties a little further out to catch their fair share. The process would work itself from neighbour to neighbour, becoming an aggregate known as groyne fields.

Among my department’s duties was protecting the ever-controversial herring. Come early spring they would make their way out of the ocean and up the small streams as far as four miles, to interior lakes where they would spawn and then drop back to the ocean. In the fall, the fry would follow their parents into the sea. Sounds simple, but theirs was a torturous route full of hazards that required our constant vigilance and shepherding. Many of the runs had been paved over, requiring the fish to move through culverts, down the storm drains of municipal streets, and under parking lots. Muskrat soon learned to regard the storm drains as excellent habitat for catching herring. Even a ferry employee was discovered fishing at work by lifting a manhole cover and dipping his net into the water.

Once in the open country, they would have to navigate through the numerous cranberry bogs. There they would be subject to pesticide misapplications, or to being chewed up by the thousands as they were sucked into large irrigation pumps and then spat back upon the bogs. Large municipal wells and big volume golf course irrigation systems would draw down on the water table and maroon them in their (now) dried out rivulets.

Just like in 1806, there were competing interests with different commercial and municipal demands. People still fished for herring. Not till the mid-1990s was there an inshore limit on herring. Today, there is a complete ban; a moratorium intended to replenish their stocks has been extended year after year for fifteen years.

The reverse of the anadromous herring is the catadromous Atlantic eel. They spawn out at sea, the Sargasso Sea to be specific. The young eels drift with the currents until they come to the same streams that the adult herring had followed. Working their way up the streams, in a juvenile translucent gooey state known as glass eels, they head to the lakes to mature into elvers. Then, like the herring, they drop back to the harbours, becoming silver sides before heading out into the open ocean as mature eels. The wrinkle within this reproductive equation is that Japanese cuisine prizes glass eels. Their aquaculture grows them in lightless environments to produce translucent sushi and sashimi. The price per kilo for glass eels is a staggering amount, and catching them is illegal. Consequently, monitoring the runs at night, when glass eels are on the move, is imperative. Fishermen from as far away as coastal Maine would come down and set up illegal fyke bag-nets to trap them.

Hunting and freshwater fishing in Falmouth became primarily put and take. The Massachusetts Division of Fish and Game would grow out trout of various species and stock our rivers and ponds monthly. The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries had a scheme that still exists today. They dredge up quahogs from coastal waters where there is a high level of contamination and then sell them to Cape communities at bargain prices to be replanted in their coastal ponds.

The idea, in theory, was that in a year’s time the clams would flush out any contaminants. The law enforcement of the various Cape communities could keep an eye on them till they were ready for consumption. New Bedford was the main source for these shell fish. However, New Bedford was and still is a superfund federal clean-up site. It is one of the worst due to its abundance of polychlorinated biphenyl, a carcinogen. Though the state gave its assurances that meat samples would be taken and tested, we opted to grow our own shellfish. Bacteria does depurate, but not heavy metals and PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls, once used as insulating materials in electrical and industrial equipment, banned in the US in 1979). Under the state’s plan, shellfish was thrown into closed areas for depuration. Even so, many commercial shell fishermen would sneak in at night and dig them up. Sharing New Bedford’s contaminated quahogs devolved into an aquatic version of an Easter egg hunt. To grow our own quahogs, we started with microscopic seed which we placed in what are called “upwellers” (ocean water is pumped through a series of chambers supplying food and oxygen). Once the quahogs are the size of your little fingernail, they are scattered about viable clam flats.

By far, the most unusual of these put and take operations is the Crane Wildlife Management Area’s upland game season hunt. The Crane Wildlife Management Area is a 2,000-acre state owned and operated hunting preserve. It is maintained much like a golf course for hunters, with multiple fields surrounded by a matrix of forest. There are numerous gates leading into the section dedicated to pheasant as well as a 400-acre area dedicated to quail. For six weeks, three times a week, farm-raised pheasant and quail are brought up from New Jersey. The quail come in boxed coveys, packed much like Christmas tree bulbs. No one knows which fields contain the birds or on what days they would arrive. There is always quite a free-for-all at official sunrise. Everyone wants to be the first hunter to have at them. Some hunters would sneak in early to hide. Hundreds of hunters and their dogs, most of whom had come over the bridges of the Cape Cod Canal, would dash through the gates when official time was called. Generally, by noon, all the birds had been killed as well as much of what was flying about. Often there were heated disputes over who shot the birds, and occasionally hunters were badly injured by birdshot.

On a positive note, there have been some impressive changes to the area’s environment. The deer population has been growing, and is much larger than when Bartholomew Gosnold first visited these shores. In 1698, an official deer season had been enacted by the Massachusetts Bay Colony and by 1718 there was a three-year prohibition on hunting deer. Now that so much of the state has been suburbanized, the network of roads and houses makes deer hunting in densely packed communities difficult. Laws prohibit the discharging of shotguns within 500 feet of an occupied dwelling, or within 150 feet of a road. The broken landscape of lawns and ornamental bushes with nearby woodland cover provides an excellent habitat for deer and many midsize mammals, like raccoons, opossums, skunks and rabbits. Moose and bear have been drifting down from northern New England. In 2012 a bear walked over the Sagamore Bridge and made its way all the way out to the Cape’s tip, before it was captured and sent packing. In 2008 a manatee came nosing into Quissett Harbor. Another one came to the Cape the following year. Otters, which hadn’t been seen in Falmouth since the 1940s, swam the four-mile-wide sound between Martha’s Vineyard and Falmouth, and according to some old fur trappers, reoccupied the exact same lakes that they had been trapped in decades before.

The eastern coyote, a cross between the smaller western coyote and the red wolf, began drifting south and appeared in Falmouth in the late 1980s. Within a few short years, the population increased so that mother coyotes were giving birth under garden sheds, crawl spaces of summer homes and beneath pool houses. Falmouth had the dubious distinction of having the first suburban denning coyotes. Unfortunately for the coyote, their omnivorous feeding activities includes free range domestic cats. That created a public demand for their extirpation. Laws were soon put in place to allow the hunting of coyotes up to midnight. Please note that going out into the woods at night on a “shots fired possible hunter” call is a source of dyspepsia for most natural resource officers. In one case, a man who had lost his cat to a coyote, set out to make himself a coyote fur bed throw and had up to twenty-one pelts at last count. The litter size of coyotes is dependent upon the availability of food. If you reduce their numbers that means more food and larger spring litters. About half a million coyotes have been killed yearly in the U.S. This culling project has been going on since 1931 and their numbers have only increased. In 2019, the Massachusetts Fish and Game Department banned coyote hunting competitions offering prizes.

Ospreys have come back in great abundance. The Falmouth Department of Natural Resources erected its first osprey nesting platform in the late 1980s. It soon had a nesting pair. In less than a decade, Falmouth had over fifty nesting pairs. Soon it became fashionable for seaside residences to erect their own. Today, ospreys nest on scores of platforms, athletic field light stands, telephone poles and harbour spindles. Bald eagles, not to be outdone by their osprey cousins, just nested in the neighbouring town of Mashpee. It is the first eagle’s nest on Cape Cod in a century.

The author (left) shopping on Main Street, Falmouth

Wild turkeys were reestablished by Fisheries and Wildlife at Camp Edwards in 1985. Absent since 1851, they quickly fanned throughout Falmouth. Now habituated to suburbia, our turkeys chase postal officials on their appointed rounds, or block traffic to a standstill in the centre of town. Mink and marten, not seen in recent memory, are now showing up as roadkill. In the area of the Cape Cod Bay, the 842-square mile Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary, has been up and running for decades, preserving and enhancing the once depleted whale populations.

Laws have been enacted requiring double hulled oil barges in Buzzards Bay. Most of the railroad tracks have been paved over and converted to municipal bike paths. The National Marine Life Center in Bourne now provides medical treatment for our local sea turtles and injured or sick marine mammals. Before their creation, seals and whales were carted into a special marine mammal ambulance, then whisked away to the New England Aquarium in Boston. On a similar note, the Humane Society of the United States has a wildlife treatment centre in the town of Barnstable, where they routinely receive, treat and release injured wildlife.

Grampus whale being rescued, Quissett Harbor

The governmental body, the Cape Cod Commission, has been able to secure a 1% sales tax on real estate transactions, much of which is dedicated to acquiring woodland. The town of Falmouth has met its goal of 25% of the town to be held in public open space. Through the work of private land protection charities, more land is being acquired.

Waquoit Bay has become a protected National Estuarine Research Reserve. The 1972 prohibition on killing marine mammals created a dramatic increase in seals throughout the Cape. With an abundance of seal meat, great white sharks have returned and now cruise along the beaches populated by beachgoers. Falmouth Natural Resources had the distinction of being involved in the relocation of the area’s first great white, trapped in an estuary just off Woods Hole.

In an attempt to improve coastal water quality, the town of Falmouth has started a pilot project in Little Pond, Falmouth. It was once described by a shellfish constable as a coastal pond that might be better off filled in. Today a successful operation, using aquaculture to remove nitrogen from the water, has dramatically improved the health of the pond. Last year, 750,000 oysters, suspended in bags, were raised there, and later relayed to other waters. In addition, 1.7 million quahogs were grown in upwellers and field planted, as well as 150,000 bay scallops.

Oysters in Little Pond

Still, as I read that the two bridges spanning Cape Cod are to be replaced because they cannot support the level of seasonal traffic, and as I look out my back door where there used to be a woodland and see seven new homes, I wonder what my newcomer neighbours will be thinking about Cape Cod 53 years from now.

I weep for you,” the Walrus said: 
“I deeply sympathize.” 
With sobs and tears he sorted out 
Those of the largest size, 
Holding his pocket-handkerchief 
Before his streaming eyes. 
“O Oysters,” said the Carpenter, 
“You've had a pleasant run! 
Shall we be trotting home again?”
But answer came there none— 
And this was scarcely odd, because 
 They’d eaten every one”. (Lewis Carroll)