Friday, January 22, 2010

Dancing With The Lighthouses

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

The first time I laid my eyes on “Old Nauset Lights”, was in 1961. I was 14 years old, and I had come to Eastham, Cape Cod with my ballet teacher, Irine Fokine, and 16 other ballet students for six weeks of ballet and the beach.

It was my first time away from home, for more then a few days, and I felt like I was on an adventure. I can remember being very excited, after a six hour drive from Ridgewood, NJ, driving down Cable Road for the first time. We turned into a woodsy driveway that ended in a perfect circle in front of the “coolest” house I had ever seen. I couldn’t believe my eyes.....this house had 2 wooden lighthouses attached to it on each side.

Miss Fokine had rented this house, “Old Nauset Lights” (all the houses had names) to run a summer ballet school. Mr. & Mrs. Kingsland owned it, and they were both artists. We only saw them the day we arrived and the day we left. Back then, you may have called them beatnik types......that was pre-hippie time. They were both very nice.

Between these two lighthouses, there was a rectangular structure that formed a large living room connecting the two lighthouses. In each lighthouse, there were 2 bedrooms. Doors, from the living room, took you into these bedrooms. Each one had a curved wooden staircase that went up to a small bedroom in the top and there was a larger bedroom in the bottom. That’s where all the female students slept.

There was one other bedroom built off the living room near the kitchen.
That was Miss Fokine’s bedroom.

The kitchen was very antiquated. It looked like something out of a 1940s movie, with a large beat up sink and very old refrigerator. There was only ONE bathroom that was also an shower, just an old tub with feet, one small sink and a toilet with the tank overhead. There was a chain attached to this tank, to pull for flushing. That bathroom was for 16 people. How did we do it?

In the back of the grounds, there was a small building where we had our ballet classes. This building also served as the living quarters for the two male students.

There was a strange wooden structure off to the right of the front lawn which was used for storage and it also had two OUT HOUSES, which unfortunately or fortunately had to be used from time to time.....remember 16 people and ONE bathroom.

Miss Fokine picked this picturesque spot to run a summer ballet school. We were all very serious about ballet. We took ballet classes twice a day (morning and afternoon), and somehow we would managed to get to the beach between classes. This ballet school continued from 1961 until 1965.

We all became very friendly with the local people that lived on Cable Road. The Meads lived next door and the Mathersons lived across the street. Both of these families had children and friendships were formed. I know that my friendship with the Mead family has lasted over 40 years.

Bob Whiting had an Hot Dog and Ice Cream shack on top of the Dunes, on the beach, just left of the parking lot. He sold the best “soft ice cream”, vanilla and chocolate. It was quite delicious.

All these people became part of our Ballet family and because of them, we learned about the history of these lighthouses. The house was actually built with two of original “Three Sisters Lighthouses” that were on Nauset Beach before the Red and White “Nauset Lighthouse” replaced them.

I was instantly fascinated by all of the lighthouse history and was always asking questions. No one was allowed to go anywhere near the Nauset Lighthouse back then because it was run by the Coast Guard. There was a wire fence around it and many warning signs to Keep Out.

As with anything, the ballet school evolved. It turned into a performance space, as well. The following year an outdoor platform was build, in the back, and used for the ballet classes. It had a ballet barre made with a thin metal pike that went all the way around. The platform was high enough to also be used as a stage. Miss Fokine decided to give performances on Wednesday and Thursday nights for the locals and tourists. Benches were made for an audience and a sign hung on the fence on Cable Road reading, “Irine Fokine Ballet in the Pines.”

I didn’t go back to the Cape, officially as one of the students, until 1964, the year I graduated high school. I did, however, go up every year in between, just to visit. I was completely hooked on Nauset Light Beach.

By 1966, I had become a professional ballet dancer and working at Radio City Music Hall in the Ballet Company. Yes, there was a Ballet Company that was a separate group of dancers from the Rockettes.

I had a picture of the Nauset Lighthouse on my mirror in the dressing room at the Music Hall and everyone heard about this wonderful beach that I loved so much.

Thanks to my friendship with the Meads, Norma Mead was very good about sending me information about the Lighthouse. She sent me all the articles about the move that it made in 1996.

I continued to come up to the Cape. I came up with friends that were dancers at the Music Hall and then later with my husband, who I met at Radio City Music Hall.

My first trip to Eastham with my husband, Bill, was in 1985. I so wanted him to see “My Beach” and “My Lighthouse.” I remember driving down Cable Road and getting excited because he was about to see this “Cool” house that I lived in, and ,of course, talked so much about. As we approached the driveway, my heart sunk. The two lighthouses were there, looking very beat up, but the house was gone. We parked the car and ran over to the area to find that only the foundation of the house remained. I couldn’t believe my eyes. I quickly called Mrs. Mead to find out what had happened.

It seems that the Kingslands abandoned the house and it started to fall apart. The Parks Department, very wisely, had the house dismantled, but saved the two lighthouses.

They built a lovely park in that area and managed to find the third “Sister Lighthouse” and rejoin all “The Three Sisters”, again.

This past November, my husband and I decided to take a quite week off from New York City and come up to Eastham to relax. As we were packing, I said to Bill, “You know, I’m 62 years old now and for 48 yeas I have had a passion to go inside “Nauset Beach Lighthouse. Let’s see if they have a web site and tours are available.”

We looked it up on the computer and there it was, in all IT’S beauty, but the tours ended in October. My disappointment was huge and then I had an idea. If they had an e-mail address, I could write to them. We frantically started looking for an e-mail address and there it was.

So I sat there for a moment, and started to write to: Dear Lighthouse Keeper .............I briefly told my story and passionately asked if there was any chance to visit the Lighthouse. This was just a couple of days before we left.

The next morning, I was frustrated because there was no reply. By that afternoon..... still nothing. Then, around 4pm, our phone rang and a woman named Shirley Sabin introduced herself as a member of the Nauset Light Preservation essence..........”My Lighthouse Keeper.” I couldn’t believe my ears. I tried to keep my excitement under control, so she didn’t think that she was dealing with some New York City “Nut Job.” She sounded very nice, but she told me that the tours were over. She also informed me that the Coast Guard no longer controlled the Lighthouse and I could go up to it and touch it without being arrested.

We continued to talk, and she asked me some question about the house that the ballet school used. She hadn’t lived on the Cape back then, but she had some knowledge of a ballet school. We talked some more and then finally, out of the Goodness of Her Huge Heart, she said that she and her husband would met Bill and me and give us a tour. You would have thought I had won the lottery. I was SO happy and excited. She gave me exact instruction about where to meet them in the parking lot on Monday afternoon at 1:30 and they would be wearing their uniforms. That night, I actually had trouble sleeping because I was so excited. I was like a kid on Christmas Eve.

The sun was shining brightly over All My Lighthouses that November afternoon, and Bill and I made sure we were there by 1:15, fifteen minutes early. I really didn’t want to be late for this date. Around 1:25 a car pulled up with two people in green uniforms. It was as if we all knew each other right away, and the tour started.

We walked down to the sight of the house first and Shirley pulled out a key. I said, “Oh my God, are we really going to be able to go inside one of the Sisters?” “Yes you are,” she replied. In we went and there was a picture of the ballet school inside as part of the history of this place. Ed Sabin asked me if I knew any of the dancers. As I walked over to the picture, to my Wonderful of the pictures was of me, doing a Pas De Duex, at one of the performances in 1964. I was beside myself with joy that I had personally become a part of the “LIGHTHOUSE” history on Nauset Beach.

Shirley and Ed asked me where the house actually stood and where the platform was were we took class and gave performances. We walked all around the area and I gave them all information I could.

They opened all three of the “Three Sister Lighthouses” for us and we were able to go up to the top of one of them. The stairs were still in good working condition.

I couldn’t believe how small the space in the top was. I lived on the top of one of the lighthouse with two other girls for six weeks. There were 3 of us on the top and 4 girls in the bottom bedroom. Kids will do anything.

I felt like I was floating on air as we walked back up Cable Road to finally go into Nauset Lighthouse. I was impressed that there is an actual Path to walk on now. We use to walk in the road.

Now we were walking up the small hill where that majestic Red and White symbol stood so proud. As Shirley took out a key put it into the lock, my heart was pounding.
Remember, this was a 43 year old Dream of mine about to come true. The door slowly opened and I was actually standing inside this magnificent structure looking up at all those steps surrounded by a beautiful array of hundreds of bricks lining the interior wall.

Up the stairs we went with our camera clicking madly. The echo of my laughter and joy bounced all over the place. We took pictures going up the stairs and pictures going down…pictures looking out of the windows and pictures outside looking in.

Shirley and Ed Sabin, spent the whole afternoon with us. They were both more then patient, and I believe they could see how sincerely thrilled we were with the generosity of their time. They are so sincere about the preservation of all this history, and both so knowledgeable about all these lighthouses that have lived on Nauset Light Beach.

This may seem strange or dramatic to those of you that live in Eastham because the “Lighthouse” belongs to all of you. Those of us who live elsewhere, and come there for a visit, can only borrow “The Nauset Lighthouse” for a short time.Thank you, to all of you that worked so hard to preserve All Four of these fabulous Lighthouses. It takes a lot of work and a great deal of effort to save something historical, and we must never stop struggling for preservation. Bravo!

Rosemary Novellino-Mearns
President of “The Showpeople’s Committee To Save
Radio City Music Hall”
A Proud Member of Nauset Light Preservation Society

Copyright 2009

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Rosemary Novellino-Mearns

There was a black and white, 8 by 10 picture, with a red frame, hanging in the basement of my childhood home in Glen Rock, New Jersey. This picture depicts an event that happened in the autumn of 1952. I was only six years old, but I do remember this occasion. It’s a story in the lives of my Mother and Father and Eleanor Roosevelt.

My parents were both Italian immigrants that came to the United States when they were babies. My father, Lt. Colonel Joseph J Novellino (Ret.), looked like Prince Reiner of Monaco, and was a Civil Engineer. He was head engineer for a man named Anthony Cucolo in Rockland County, New York. My mother, Mary Novellino, who looked like a combination of Loretta Young and Ava Gardner, was a housewife of the 1950’s, raising three children, in a pretty little suburban town, Glen Rock, New Jersey. They were a stunning couple, but it would have been improbable that they would ever entertain a First Lady.

Mr. Cuccolo looked like an Italian Maurice Chavale’. He was very wealthy and even more flamboyant. He always wore double breasted suits and drove a black Cadillac. He too was an Italian immigrant. His thick Italian accent made it hard for us, kids, to understand him sometimes, but we all liked him and much to our surprise, he liked us, too. He was a widower who didn’t like to go anywhere alone. My parents were young, beautiful, charming and fun to be with, so they were his constant companion.

The memories I have of my parents, 53 years ago, are vividly seeing them all dressed up and going off to places like the Waldorf Astoria in New York City with my Mr. Cucolo. My older brother, Nino, was given the job of baby sitter for my younger sister, Tina and me. Around six in the evening, after we were fed, I remember my mother coming down the stairs in our living room, looking like a movie star in a cocktail dress. My father would whistle and say, “Pet (which was his pet name for her) you look like a million bucks”. She’d give him a kiss and off they would go with the rustle of her petty coats and the smell of perfume and cologne lingering in the air. Because my brother was the baby sitter, after they left, we got to stay up and watch TV which we thought was very cool.

One September evening, we were all relaxing after dinner, when Mr. Cucolo called and asked my parents to come up to his home in Sufferen, New York. He had something that he needed to discuss with them.

As my mother tells the story.......when they got to his house, he was standing in the living room, looking rather pompous, and there was an envelope in the center of the floor. They brought the envelope to his attention. Mr. Cuccolo said, with a mischievous expression on his face, “pick it up and open it”. They both found this strange but they picked up the envelope and read the contents. Much to their surprise, it was an acceptance note from Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to a luncheon at Mr. Cucolo’s home in October. He was impressed with the wealthy, powerful and political people of the world, and wanted, very much, to be accepted in their circles.

Back to the mother and father looked at him and asked the obvious question about this strange envelope “on the floor”. He had decided to donate some money to the Democratic Party and had invited Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt to his, beautiful, sprawling mansion on 150 acres of land, with a private lake, swimming pool and tennis court, for lunch. He looked at my mother and said, “you organized the whole thing. I’ll give you the guest list” Very much like Ana and the King of Siam.

Still standing in the middle of his living room, she heard him mandate her orders. She was to do everything. This included the menu, the seating, the table arrangements. He wanted her to give the servants her receipts for the meal. My mother was and still is an amazing cook. Mr. Cucolo thought it would be only right to have a true Italian meal served and he was crazy about my mother’s cooking. My mother’s homemade manicotti was to be the main course.

Remember, my mother, had three kids to raise which involves, piano lesson, ballet lessons, art lesson, PTA meetings, Women’s Club, Alter Guild and a husband. In her mind that would leave very little time to organize such an event, in less than a month, but it was my father’s boss and she was, from time to time, a wonder woman.

A few weeks into this whole affair, Mr. Cucolo called my mother with a brainstorm of an idea. In her mind, she didn’t need any more responsibilities added to her already growing list for this luncheon. He had come up with a “Brilliant idea”, he informed her. He wanted my mother to find small individual, Sterling Silver Cheese Graters, have them engraved and use them as Place Cards. He was convinced that Eleanor Roosevelt had never grated her own cheese and this would be a different experience for her. Now, even though this was completely annoying, she did think that it was rather cleaver.

To the telephone my mother went. To the city my mother went. She contacted Macy’s, Gimbel’s, B Altman’s, Lord & Taylor. She asked about tiny cheese graters at every Department Store that she could think of and got nowhere. Finally, she called Tiffany’s. Alas, they and they alone had just what she was looking for.

The next day, my mother and Mr. Cucolo headed into Manhattan to Tiffany. Yes, indeed, they had them, but they were $150.00 a piece and this was 1952. Mr. Cucolo was wealthy but not stupid when it came to money.

In the middle of Tiffany’s, he had another idea. He’s said to my mother, “Maria, from Tiffany we go to Mulberry Street”. As if God was saying, “I don’t think so,” the sky opened up and torrential rain started to fall from the heavens. One of those storms when it gets really dark and the rain comes straight down, so hard that even if you have an umbrella, which they did not have, it does no good.

To add to the adventure......a bit of history........even in 1952 it was hard to find a cab, in New York City, in the rain. After an absolute soaking, they finally got a cab and headed to Mulberry Street, in Little Italy, downtown Manhattan. When they got there, still wet, his orders were that he would take one side of the street, and she would take the other side, towards their quest. It was still raining. Now, remember.......another little piece of history........ in those days, ladies wore high heel shoes and white gloves when they went into the city...........and this my mother did.

Still, not one small cheese grater was to be found in all of Little Italy. Their spirits were turning as grim as the weather. How can such a clever idea turn into such a hassle?

Despite the cheese grater problem, the menu was going to be flawless. Mr. Cucolo wanted this luncheon to be perfect, so my mother cooked that meal seven times and seven times my mother, father and Mr. Cucolo rehearsed how that luncheon was to go. They actually ate antipasto, manicotti, wine, fruit and dessert seven time, in Suffern, with their host.

Then, a week or so later, my father, was in Paterson, New Jersey, and went into Quackenbush’s Department Store to pick something up, unrelated to this luncheon. As he was walking through the store, much to his surprise, he saw Tin Nutmeg Graters, which looked just like a small cheese grater. He couldn’t believe his eyes and to top it off, they were only ten cent apiece. He quickly ran to a phone to call my mother with the Grater news. My mother, always a fast thinker told my father to buy all of them and she called a jeweler in Ridgewood, New Jersey (the next town over from us) to ask if they could Gold Plate and Engrave these Tin Graters. With a resounding yes from the jeweler, my mother and father were the true heroes of that day.

The day of the luncheon arrives and my mother, dress in her 1950’s afternoon luncheon attire, went directly into the bustling Cucolo kitchen to instruct the servants on how to prepare these dishes. Mr. Cucolo, in his black Cadillac, went into New York City to pick up Eleanor Roosevelt. He rented a Mink Blanket for Mrs. Roosevelt to put over her legs, just in case she got cold and presented her with a double Orchard Corsage.

There were 11 people total for lunch that afternoon of October 4, 1952 . When those 11 people, including Mrs. Roosevelt, walked into that grand dinning room with it’s long formal table, and high backed leather studded chairs, the table was set perfectly. There was a huge arrangement of flowers and fruit cascading through the center of the table. The long stemmed crystal wine goblets sparkled in the afternoon sunlight, and on everyone's place was a Gold Cheese Grater. They were engraved with their name, the date and also “Guest of Honor Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, First Lady of the World.”

My mother was seated directly opposite from Mrs. Roosevelt and found her to be, needless to say, very intelligent with a wonderful sense of humor. She seemed to be having a great deal of fun with her Cheese grater, which made the three grater hunters very happy. At one point, she had such a hugh pile of cheese on her pasta that my mother leaned over and asked, “Mrs. Roosevelt, are you having some cheese with your pasta or some pasta with your cheese”? Mrs. Roosevelt found that very funny and continued to grate. I guess it was true that she never had grated her own cheese before, especially with a Gold Grater.

After the dinner the servants washed all the Cheese Graters and put them in boxes with a beautiful ribbon wrapped around them. They were then presented to each guest as a gift.

There was also a professional photographer there to take a picture of this major event in Suffern, New York. No press, just one photographer was present.

About a week later, every guest received a copy of that photograph. That picture has been hanging in my mother’s basement for fifty four years. My mother, who passed away at age 98, was always willing to tell the story of this event, if asked about it, but never seems to have any particular pride or excitement about that day, which probably explains why the picture is in the basement. She was always coming to Mr. Cucolo social rescue and considered this event another in the long line of adventures with this man.

I was home to visit my mother and went down to the basement for something and there was that picture. It was hanging on the same wall that it hung when I was a kid, a teenager and now an adult. We didn’t give much thought to it, either. It was just always hanging there.

All of a sudden I found myself starring at this picture. I also found myself thinking, how many people do I know who can say that their mother or father arranged a luncheon for Mrs. Eleanor Roosevelt, one of the most important women of our time. I found myself, alone in the basement, puffing up with pride at what my mother had accomplished.

I brought the picture back up stairs and hung it in the living room where it should be. My mother, still just shrugs the whole ordeal off as an event that she did because she was asked to do it. Her children think it was very impressive, and she should be proud of the story. So, I decided to put it on paper as a tiny piece of history. It may be no bigger then a crumb of cheese but my mother and father were part of it.

That Gold Cheese Grater, though, was always been kept behind glass in a special place in our dinning room in Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Copyright 2006