Damon Cummings

Brainy accomplishment trails Lanesville resident Damon Cummings like a wake behind a fast moving skiff.  He studied at MIT in the 1950’s, delaying a cherished career in naval architecture because physics at that time was “too fun!”  He went on to study in Delft, The Netherlands with legendary professor of naval architecture Laurens Troost.  Cummings learned Dutch so that he could be a better friend to his classmates.  He finished his academic career with a doctorate in naval architecture from MIT, after which he worked on destroyers and submarines as a specialist in sound and vibrations.   Many around Gloucester know him as the man who runs the Club Sailing Team at Gloucester High School.  He also officiates the Gloucester Dory Races.  While at school in the Netherlands, he raced sail boats along the European coastline, and once sailed a 35’ sloop from Bermuda to Halifax.

This is the man who, with the rest of the quietly stellar Fish Shack crew, pounded nails into the renovating Fish Shack for two years of Saturdays  This is the taker of minutes for the endless Fish Shack Building Committee meetings.    

Cummings’ story is nautically and scientifically extraordinary, but I’ll make a full stop here and quote the Wikipedia post to which Cummings directed me about one quarter of the way into our interview:  

USS Damon M. Cummings (DE-643) was a Buckley-class destroyer escort of the United States Navy, named in honor of Lieutenant Commander Damon M. Cummings (1910–42), who was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross for his heroism on board USS San Francisco (CA-38) during the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal.

Damon M. Cummings was launched on 18 April 1944 by Bethlehem Steel Co., San Francisco, California; sponsored by Mrs. D. M. Cummings; and commissioned on 29 June 1944, Lt.Cmdr. C. R. Millett, USNR, in command.

Clearing San Francisco on 8 September 1944 Damon M. Cummings escorted a convoy to Eniwetok and then sailed on to Port Purvis, Florida Island, arriving on 15 October. She served in the Solomons until 6 November, and on 19 November she arrived at Funafuti, Ellice Islands, from which she patrolled shipping lanes until 2 January 1945.

She escorted convoys in the battle of Okinawa, and remained there on patrol until the end of the war.

Many Gloucester residents know the tragedy that lies between the lines of this entry, that the Lanesville retired naval architect and pounder of Fish Shack nails was a first grader at the Punahou School when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, and that the above Destroyer’s namesake was the Lanesville Cumming’s father.  

There is so much to imagine here – how a young boy manages what was first the “excitement” of war; how his father is soon after heroically lost in a famous naval battle, how his mother almost simultaneously gave birth to her second child, and how the six-year-old Cummings absorbed the loss of his father and courage of his mother to go on.  How his father was then reincarnated as a navy destroyer, going on to conduct significant war-time missions

Who knew such stories live in the imagination of a man who helped build the Lane’s Cove Fish Shack?  

When I asked Cummings what were his favorite and least favorite moments about working on the Fish Shack, he said he didn’t know where to start with the favorites, but mostly it was working with the people.  His least favorite, he said, of course, was losing Paul.

From his father’s loss in the Pacific Ocean, to an early determination to build sea-traveling vessels as a naval architect, to teaching high-schoolers to sail, Cummings’ heart seems filled with sea water.   He and I talked about his civic involvement over the years, saving sections of Gloucester’s waterfront from poor development.  The proposed development off of Rt. 128 came up, to which he answered, “If it’s not on the water I just can’t work up the enthusiasm to do something about it.”  

Luckily, the Fish Shack’s northwest feet stand in six feet of seawater at a high tide.  

By Heather Atwood

Tireless Fish Shack Fundraiser

In some ways, Barb Jobe is best licensed to be a member of the Fish Shack Building Committee; she has been looking out her living room window at the Fish Shack for most of her life.  Her parents moved into the solid gray house on Duley St. when Barb was three years old.  She married, and moved 1.2 miles away to Quarry St., but then returned to the Fish Shack view to care for her mother in 1962.  Barb has been looking out her picture window to all of Lanescove, punctuated on the right by the Shack, ever since.

(In the blizzard of ’78, she and her husband watched a cottage, seized by the roaring seas of that storm, bob in the cove like a lobster pot. The Fish Shack stood fast.)

But Barb’s authority extends far beyond her view:  For two years she joined the Fish Shack crew every Saturday morning, her camera ready to document both the fun and the labor.  Some winter days she had to pack six camera batteries; it was so cold the batteries froze, but the men kept working.  Barb remembers Martin Ray shingling all day in frigid temperatures.

For two years Barb made sure the crew was not just fed, but well fed, soliciting lunches from supportive cooks.  Carol Hong’s lamb stew is still famous among them; Brian Church’s seafood chowder is runner-up.

With Arnie Shore, Barb has been the tireless Fish Shack fundraiser, organizing silent auctions and art auctions to raise funds to rebuild the Shack, and that’s just he beginning. She still kindly marvels at the community’s generosity.

Of the Fish Shack project, Jobe has nothing but joy to report.

“We had more laughs than any other committee on earth; people had to close their doors because we were so loud! (And we had to have our doors open because it was an open meeting!)”

Jobe now sits with just pride on the executive board as treasurer of the Lanes Cove Historical  Association.   More importantly, she sits by her window and looks at the shining new Fish Shack everyday.

“Just about 3:00 in the winter it glows,” Jobe said of the Shack, with its young unweathered cedar shakes.  Soon after that conversation I was driving through Lanesville around 3:30, and caught site of a golden box down the hill.  The sun was low behind the trees to the left of the breakwater, and the Fish Shack caught every warm ray, shining like a prism on the edge of the harbor.

By Heather Atwood

President of the Lane’s Cove Historical Association

Russell Hobbs, President of the Lane’s Cove Historical Association, didn’t grow up in Lanesville; he grew up in Gloucester proper. But, his wife, Melissa, grew up in Lanesville, and Hobbs remembers lobstering with his father-in-law, Ron Parnell, in Lane’s Cove. The Fish Shack was “usable” then; George Morey kept a cooler in it for bait.

Hobbs and Melissa ended up raising their three daughters in a classic Lanesville cottage with a shack of its own in the rear, in which Hobbs, a carpenter, keeps a workshop. Hobbs told me that many of the backyard “shacks” in Lanesville had for many years been rented out to summer people as tiny get-aways, one room in which to keep a cot, a table and chair, for a city person to be close to a quiet day of Flatrocks sunning or Dogtown blueberry picking. It wasn’t until the city required real hot water hook-ups that these postage stamp cottages closed their doors, and their owners lost the helpful rental income.

In 2005, Russell Hobbs and Greg Smith worried about the other Fish Shack, the one slipping away in Lane’s Cove; George Morey’s cooler had long been unplugged and was rusting in a corner.

A meeting was held at the Lanesville Community Center to address the Fish Shack’s future – should it come down?  Should it be preserved?  But, Hobbs said, people at that point weren’t interested; “we dropped it.”

Time passed and the Shack sagged lower.

“Something needs to be done; this is dangerous,” became the neighborhood cry.  The city appointed the Building Committee, and most of the remaining story has been already told.

Hobbs, who has stood by the Fish Shack from wreck to respectability, reflected on the best and worst Fish Shack moments; he said the worst was all the meetings and the initial negativity.  Some people had fallen in love with the Shack’s crooked ways, and feared straight lines, plumb walls, and new construction.  Damon Cummings didn’t want a level used.  Barb Jobe wanted to make sure the roof would be red because, looking at it from her home across the cove, she couldn’t imagine it any other way.  Some people didn’t want anything done at all, believing natural decay was the right Lane’s Cove aesthetic.

Apparently Hobbs’ carpentry command is matched only by his diplomacy skills.  That charming lean to the new Fish Shack, the way it seems to bend into the arms of the cove?

“The sag is fake,” Hobbs laughed.  “The roof is built straight; we put a cap on the peak that raises up on each end –  the sag is fake.”   He’s not president for nothing.

Russell Hobbs also heads the Lane’s Cove Historical History Committee.  After all, while the new building is nor-easter sound, the greatest Fish Shack question remains unanswered:  who built it?  Hobbs is particularly interested in the Haraden family who once owned large parcels of land, heading right down to the cove in Lanesville.  (Nathaniel Haraden was sailmaster for the U.S. Constitution; a monument to his service in Tripoli stands on the Gloucester Boulevard.)

The best Fish Shack moment, Hobbs said, is that the building is going to be there for another one hundred to two hundred years.  “Many generations will be able to see this building.”

And may all its sags be fake.

Russell and his wife have put forth one hundred dollars to keep the Fish Shack fund vital, to keep the Fish Shack standing, a memory of all the Lanesville fish shacks, and the way of life they represented, to preserve the fake sag and prevent the real ones.  He invites you to contribute, too.

By Heather Atwood

“Chairman of Fundraising”

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The Fish Shack crew had been working to restore the Shack for a year when Paul D’Antonio suddenly passed away. At that point these hammer-wielding volunteers were best described as a disparate group of Lanesville residents united only by showing up in Lane’s Cove every single Saturday morning with tools. Along with others, there was an ex-Navy guy, an internist, an artist, a handyman-gardener, a woman who had grown up looking at the Shack every day of her life, and Arnie Shore, recently retired as Associate Vice Provost for Research at Boston College.

Shore describes the career he departed this way: “If a professor wanted to submit a proposal for funding, it went through my office. If there was a need to reconsider any aspects of the Animal Lab, it went through my office…Anything and everything having to do with research at Boston College coursed through my office. A great, fun job with thirty employees reporting to me.”

Shore’s job upon retiring to Lanesville with his wife Laurisa in 2010 got even better; he became the expert walker of Butler, a white dog with brown spots, broad chest, extremely low center of gravity, and movie star charm. Describing his retirement move into a small 19th century house at the top of Lane’s Cove, Shore says, “Adam had his paradise; Arnie had his.”

The Shores quickly became friends with their neighbors the Hafeys, and to be friends with Jim Hafey is to find yourself on the Fish Shack Building Committee. Shore appeared at his first meeting, and, to his surprise, Hafey introduced him to the group as “Chairman of Fundraising.” Shore says that co-chair Barb Jobe deserves applause for the fund raising momentum that crescendoed from there.

Donated building supplies – shingles, roofing, wood – piled up; funds flowed in. Arnie still shakes his head, mystified by people’s generosity; “nobody ever said no,” he said, with that classic Arnie voice that at the last second of the sentence turns into a question, as if Arnie is still asking “how is that possible?”

About Paul D’Antonio’s death, Shore says, “I heard the news at the Gloucester House the next day. There had been a reception honoring Damon Cummings. I walked in and Barb Jobe and Russell Hobbs were there; they said to me, ‘sit down. Paul died. We’re not telling Damon yet.’ Immediately, it felt like we were a family.”

Until Paul D’Antonio passed away, the Fish Shack volunteers had not known how adhered they were to each other, what all those weather-beaten Saturdays had made of them.

“My whole career I was trying to get entities to come together,” Arnie said. He left the second half of the sentence empty. Of course, he was referring to the mystery of how a sagging fish shack had inexplicably bonded these naturally discordant Lanesville residents into a family without them even knowing.

By Heather Atwood

Welcome to Lanesville

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“The cove has always been the center of Lanesville, and the Shack has been the epicenter. Whatever you’re feeling going to or from work, you can always drive to the cove.”

Jim Hafey said this in November, in a lantern-lit interview at a long plank table in the Lane’s Cove Fish Shack.

In 2001, Hafey moved with his wife and children to Lanesville, to a house with a front porch, lined with rocking chairs, facing the cove.

“At that point I was up to my eyeballs in caring for my little kids; I barely knew the cove was there. My wife started walking the kids down to the cove, and pretty soon going down to the cove was a de facto thing. Now my kids spend the whole summer down there.”

– And now Hafey has proudly spent every Saturday morning for two years restoring the cove’s signature building – a building that represents a time when the fishing boats were thick and the Coast Guard shimmied its vessels through the gap. Later, abandoned by its last honest occupant, George Morey, the Fish Shack lurked empty, representing an easy shelter for questionable activities and large personalities.

According to legend (and Jim Hafey,) there was a certain Lanesville crew whose favorite predawn fun was attaching an old wrecked dory to the back of a truck, dousing it in gasoline, lighting a match, and dragging the flaming boat through town. Welcome to Lanesville, as they say.

In 2011 the city declared the Shack condemned, but a few Lanesville men, quietly inspired by Russell Hobbs and including newcomer Hafey, began talking about saving the place.

“We got a committee together,” Hafey said, meaning that’s what the city wanted, “but we knew we were going to make it happen one way or another.” A certain sentiment had permeated all the men who came together in that year to rebuild the Shack, Hafey explained, “We don’t have a lot that’s steady in our lives, but this we can do.” Again, welcome to Lanesville.

Hafey was appointed chairman of the Building Committee by Mayor Kirk, a committee that does the work to make sure the Fish Shack remains weather and hooligan tight.

I asked Hafey what he thought the Fish Shack means to him and to the community:

“I feel like a part of me went into this shack – I had wanted my kids to grow up and say, ‘my dad worked on this. To the community, the Shack represents an idea that we can actually put something together ourselves.”

Welcome to Lanesville.

Heather Atwood

Remembering Paul D’Antonio

A knotted fist of harbor facing northwest across Ipswich Bay, Lane’s Cove has a vista struck through by tons of granite seawall, bitten a few too many times by nor’easters’ brutal jaws, but still awesome.

The strength of that wall combined with its obvious vulnerability could be a metaphor for the Cove:  this is a beautiful place, but nature – or a singular Lane’s Cove wildness – has its way with fate, a way that can tear stone apart like a shirt on a clothes line, or write tragedy into the lives of famously tough Lane’s Covers – fishermen, quarrymen, and their descendants.

The Fish Shack restoration was not immune from the Lane’s Cove metaphor; not every Shack story is a happy one. Paul D’Antonio, a beloved smile among the Fish Shack crew, passed away suddenly on a Sunday afternoon.  The day before he’d been part of the tool-belted crew swarming the Fish Shack.

Like so many Accelis employees in the Cape Ann Area, D’Antonio’s work with that company was often a hectic imbalance of too much or too little; D’Antonio was either flying around the world or temporarily laid off.  But in the Saturday morning Fish Shack jobs, D’Antonio seemed to find the regular hands-on-a-hammer work he craved.  Arnie Shore says that if there was a project to learn, D’Antonio was the first one there for the lesson, and demanded of himself that he know it the best.

D’Antonio had been rebuilding the Shack’s south-facing window, the one that illuminates the plank stairway inside that rises to the second story.  Paul’s smile over lunch that day had never stopped; he’d been seemingly as happy as he could be, working with his friends around him, a cold, clear blue sky overheard, the Lane’s Cove breakwater at his back.

He passed away the next day while working on one of the model dories he loved to build.  That model dory, now encased in glass, is part of the Fish Shack history, maybe a totem to the Lane’s Cove history that is not always kind.

Blog By Heather Atwood