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About 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 park’s 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 Fair’s 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 Fo’castle,” 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 Fo’castle 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 Fo’castle, 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.
E-mail: henrybestonsociety@yahoo.com



BOARD OF DIRECTORS: Nita Wilding, Don Wilding,
Jon March, Robby McQueeney, Bob Seay,
Tim Sweeney, Glenn Mott, Sheila Mott.

SITE DESIGNED BY MARC McHUGH

2015
The Henry Beston Society, Inc., unless noted.

 

 

Beston Society co-founder Don Wilding tells the story of how the author of The Outermost House became the spiritual father of the Cape Cod National Seashore.

 

 

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