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

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful story, Rosemary! Thanks for writing it down so we can remember what Nauset was like back then.