Henry Beston and The Outermost House
The Cape Cod National Seashore has drawn millions of visitors since it
was first established by a decree from President John F. Kennedy in 1961. One of the great
influences on the parks establishment was the Cape Cod nature classic, The
Outermost House, by Henry Beston.
Today, 80 years after the
book was first published, Beston is widely acknowledged as the spiritual father of the
park. When the outer beaches of Cape Cod were under consideration for National Park status
in the 1950s, the Department of the Interior sent representatives to evaluate the area.
Quotations from The Outermost House were used repeatedly in their reports.
Influenced by the text of the King
James Bible, the poetry of Longfellow, and the nature writing style of Richard Jefferies,
Beston, as Vanity Fairs John Riddell wrote, captured in prose the very sound
of the sea in the pages of The Outermost House.
A native of Quincy, Massachusetts,
the author was born Henry Beston Sheahan on June 1, 1888. A graduate of Harvard, his
experiences in World War I left him scarred, and upon returning to the U.S., began writing
books of fairy tales to cleanse the horrors of war from his soul.
A writing assignment for The World's Work magazine about the
Coast Guard brought him to the Cape, where he walked the beach with the officers on their
rounds. These outer beach experiences, combined with extended visits with Navajo Indians
in New Mexico, sharpened his senses for the natural world. Eventually, he had a 20-foot by
16-foot house, called the Focastle, built on the dunes of Eastham in
1925, came to visit his shanty for a two-week vacation, and decided to stay.
Beston meditated on the rhythms of
waves, observed the migrations of birds, and braved the brutal elements in severe winter
weather, all while using his dune top cottage as a base in his quest for spiritual peace
of mind. At the end of his year on the beach, he decided that it was
time to close my door, and returned to his native Quincy, and less than a year
later, married the writer Elizabeth Coatsworth.
Since The Outermost House
was published in 1928, it has never been out of print, and the Focastle became an
icon of Cape Cod. With an ailing Beston present, the house was dedicated as National
Literary Landmark on October 11, 1964.
Beston died on April 15, 1968 in
his Nobleboro, Maine farmhouse. His beloved Focastle, donated to the Massachusetts
Audubon Society in 1959, was swept away by high tides during the storm known as the
Blizzard of 78 on February 6-7, 1978.
P.O. Box 407, North Eastham, MA 02651.
Phone: (508) 246-7242.
BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Nita Wilding, Don Wilding,
Robby McQueeney, Bob Seay,
Tim Sweeney, Glenn Mott, Sheila Mott.
SITE DESIGNED BY MARC McHUGH
The Henry Beston Society, Inc., unless noted.