Bag Man

Some unexpected inventiveness in a tiny Cape Cod town

wellfleet

Q

uick: Where was the square-bottom paper bag invented? In Wellfleet, of course, by Luther Crowell, who patented a machine to manufacture paper bags in 1872. It’s part of the little-known long reach of this small town, known now for its oysters and vacationing New York psychotherapists but whose history includes, among other things, the first transatlantic wireless broadcast, which was sent from here. Pieces of the original tower are in the often-overlooked Wellfleet Historical Society Museum, along with exhibits relating to Wellfleet native Lorenzo Baker, who in 1870 imported bananas for the first time in the empty holds of ships returning from South America and became the founder of the United Fruit Company empire; and Sarah Atwood, one of the country’s first female lighthousekeepers, who took over the job at Mayo’s Beach Light when her husband got sick. That’s not a stunted cannon at the entrance. It’s a Lyle gun, which was used to fire ropes to ships that foundered just offshore in storms.

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On April 27, 1717, the pirate ship the Whydah grounded in a storm off what is now Marconi Beach in Wellfleet, drowning the Cape Cod pirate captain “Black Sam” Bellamy, who was only 28 but had captured more than 50 ships—including the Whydah herself, once an English slave ship. The wreck was recovered in 1984, the world’s only authenticated pirate shipwreck treasure, some of which is now in the Whydah Pirate Museum in Provincetown.

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