WELLFLEET — Each summer, thousands of people drive down Chequessett Neck Road from the center of town and bear right onto Griffin Island Road. They’re on their way to Duck Harbor to watch the sunset over Cape Cod Bay. Most of them walk straight through the parking lot, fling off their flip flops, and head for the beach.
But some dawdle, and, for those people, there’s a lone bench that sits directly in front of a “No Dogs” sign, facing out towards the cars. A plaque on it is inscribed “For Nancy who loved this place, from Tom who loved her.” Only 11 words, but they pack a punch.
Based on a direct count conducted this week, Wellfleet has 107 benches that have been put up by the town on behalf of people honoring friends and loved ones.
In Wellfleet, Anthony Dellinger’s bench, adjacent to the town basketball court, reads “Like a stay in Wellfleet, your life ended too soon.” Brewster Fox’s, overlooking the boats in the harbor, says, “In this harbor as young teenagers Brewster and his brother Richard Noel swam with the dolphins in the summer of 1950.” No more than 100 meters from Fox’s bench, on the end of the pier, sits Malcolm and Bart Smith’s bench. Bart’s inscription is what the Water Rat said to the Mole in The Wind in the Willows: “There is nothing, absolutely nothing, half so much worth doing as simply messing about in boats.”
Until recently, getting a bench on town property in Wellfleet involved making a $1,250 donation, sending an application to the town administrator, complete with wording for the inscription and a preferred location. For the past couple of years, however, there has been a bench hiatus because the Florida-based company that built the ones the town chose closed down.
Wellfleet is looking into finding a new bench supplier, but it isn’t clear whether the program will return in the foreseeable future, said a woman answering the phone at town hall on Aug. 6. She would not provide her name.
Noelle Scoullar, the executive assistant at Truro Town Hall, said the town has about a dozen memorial benches scattered across several locations, including Corn Hill Beach, Great Hollow Beach, and Pamet Harbor.
In 2017, the Truro Select Board issued a policy memorandum explaining Truro’s guidelines for bench installations. Benches must be placed where they meet a “true need” and not interfere with the existing use of the spot. Similar rules apply in the other Outer Cape towns.
In Eastham, there are memorial benches at various locations. Laurie Barr, the town’s human resources and administrative coordinator, could not be reached because she was on vacation, but her colleagues did not want to offer details: “Laurie is the person to talk to when it comes to benches in Eastham.”
In Provincetown, the public landscape committee handles memorial bench requests. There are dozens of benches in town parks and at MacMillan Pier, at Lopes Square, and at the West End parking lot. Many popular bench locations in Provincetown are filling up, or, in the case of the Pilgrim First Landing Park, are completely full. “There are fewer and fewer opportunities in some locations,” said Bill Docker, chair of the public landscape committee.
Docker added that the East End Waterfront Park, currently undergoing a redesign, is a potential location for future benches. This summer, members of his committee are working on assembling an inventory of all the town benches and their locations. The goal is for the complete inventory to soon be accessible via the town website.
Docker tells the story of Roslyn Garfield, Provincetown’s town moderator for 18 years, and her partner, Phyllis Temple. Every night, after dinner, the pair would take a stroll to the West End and sit on a bench. Temple died in 2007, and, after Garfield died in 2012, a few of the couple’s friends approached the committee asking to place a plaque on the bench the two had shared on so many nights.
“Now all their friends can go down there and remember those two great women,” said Docker.
A bench in Lopes Square was recently dedicated to the memory of Donald Thomas, the police officer who thrilled with his moves while directing traffic at the corner of Commercial and Standish streets. He died in 2019. One obituary read, “his commitment to the job led him to wear out two or three pairs of shoes a summer.” The inscription on his brand-new bench simply reads, “The Dancin’ Cop.”