Beston's "Fo'castle," the 20x16 beach cottage which served as the setting for the book "The Outermost House" was built in June 1925 and then claimed by the sea in February 1978. Beston (born Henry Beston Sheahan in 1888; died 1968) named the cottage "the Fo'castle" because its commanding presence on top of a dune overlooking the open Atlantic Ocean gave one the feeling of being aboard a ship (the house had 10 windows).
The "Fo'castle" was the name of the house; "The Outermost House" was the name of the book. However, over time, the structure also came to be known as "The Outermost House."
Having spent considerable time on the Cape after completing a magazine assignment called "The Wardens of Cape Cod" about the Coast Guard officers of the Outer Cape, Beston drew up floor plans for a house on the dunes two miles south of the Nauset Coast Guard station in Eastham. Carpenter Harvey Moore and his crew were the builders.
Beston intended to use the cottage as a retreat to visit whenever he could, but soon found he didn't want to leave. "As the year lengthened into autumn, the beauty and mystery of this earth and outer sea so possessed and held me that I could not go," he wrote in "The Outermost House."
For the next couple of years, Beston would come and go from his dune refuge, keeping extensive notes on his observations of life on the beach. His meditation on surf ("The Headlong Wave"), experiences on the winter beach, and the overall view he had on life after his beach stay were molded together into one "Year of Life on the Great Beach of Cape Cod."
His passage describing that "We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals" is frequently quoted by wildlife and animal enthusiasts everywhere.
Beston finally left the "Fo'castle" in September 1927 and returned to his native hometown of Quincy, Mass., and proposed marriage to writer Elizabeth Coatsworth. The couple had an extensive courtship period, but when Coatsworth saw that he had many notes but no manuscript from his stay on the beach, she said, "No book, no marriage." The manuscript was completed by April 1928, and "The Outermost House" was published in October 1928. Beston and Coatsworth were married in June 1929 and honeymooned at the Fo'castle for a two-week period, but the couple seldom returned to the beach cottage after that.
The "no book, no marriage" story was recently questioned by the Bestons' daughter, Kate Barnes, who said she never recalled hearing her parents talk about it.
Beston donated the Fo'castle to the Massachusetts Audubon Society in 1959, shortly before the establishment of the Cape Cod National Seashore. Massachusetts Audubon rented out Beston's house to its members, as Beston had requested that it be used as "a refuge and observation station for all good naturalists." One of those members was a woman named Nan Turner Waldron (born 1922, died 2000), who stayed in the house for parts of 17 years. Waldron went on to document her experiences in the book "Journey to Outermost House."
In 1964, less than four years before Beston's death, Massachusetts First Lady Toni Peabody and Ivan Sandrof of The Worcester Telegram and Gazette put together a special dedication ceremony at Coast Guard Beach, where the "Fo'castle" was dedicated as a National Literary Landmark. Hundreds were on hand to watch Beston, now in ill health, receive recognition for his work. "Your book is one of the reasons that the Cape Cod National Seashore exists today," Massachusetts Governor Endicott Peabody declared. It was also revealed during this ceremony that the National Park Service (part of the U.S. Department of the Interior) referred to "The Outermost House" on several occasions in its reports that were filed when making its evaluation of the Outer Cape land for National Park status in the 1950s.
A winter storm in 1933 nearly claimed the Fo'castle and the house had to be moved back on the dune. In 1944, the dune that the house sat on began to hollow out, forcing another move. After replacing the original fireplace with a wood stove and making a few other changes, Beston had the house moved back behind the dune, next to Nauset Marsh. The house remained there until February 1978, when the storm known as "The Blizzard of '78" sent high tides over the barrier beach and swept the Fo'castle away. The original locations of the house have since been covered by the waves of the Atlantic.
Today, there are still "Outermost House" types of structures on the Outer Beach, where occupants live in the same fashion that Beston did in the 1920s. While Beston's original house was claimed by the elements, the Henry Beston Society of Cape Cod has begun a campaign to rebuild the house and is now seeking a suitable location for the new "Fo'castle."
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