Summer on Old Cape Cod

What was summer like on Old Cape Cod?

During my youth, Orleans boasted many summer camps, several of which specialized in sailing. Young people came from everywhere to attend the camps and develop skills in swimming, boating, and other activities. When there was a baseball game at Eldredge Park, buses would bring the campers to attend; after the game, we would see buses returning to the South Orleans camps and would hear the campers singing. What a joyful sound that was!

Jobs as counsellors were much sought after by college students, some of whom met their future spouses while working at the camps.

Sadly, increasing governmental regulations made the cost of operating the camps prohibitive by the mid-1970s. Unable to make a profit, one camp after another closed; the land was subdivided and the rustic cabins replaced by upscale homes. 

A summer beach on Cape Cod.


Another summer delight was the carnival sponsored every year by the American Legion. The carnival, eagerly anticipated by both children and adults, came for a week and was always well attended. My favorite ride was the merry-go-round, although the flying swings were a close second. I avoided the Ferris wheel, where teenage guys liked to rock the cars.

Some older friends once took me on the Octopus; once was definitely enough!


There were many games such as throwing darts to break balloons; picking a lucky plastic duck from its moving stream; pulling a string to reveal a door with a prize behind it, etc. One game involved jewelry prizes; a high-school boyfriend won me a ring and my mother quipped that she had never expected her daughter to get engaged at the carnival!

Also offered were a host of interesting edibles: candy apples, cotton candy, etc. The carnival was where I learned to appreciate vinegar on French fries! My mother used to warn me, for reasons of food safety, against eating hot dogs or hamburgers at a carnival. I remember as a young child seeing people eating just such items there and wishing I knew their names so I could check for them in the obituary columns! 


The camps and the carnivals are fond memories now, but people still come to swim, sail, and sunbathe; to hike the nature trails and ride the bike paths; and to enjoy this unique place where we are privileged to live. Long may it be so!

Mary E. McDermott is a 13th-generation Cape Codder living in Orleans. She worked for 17 years in the Orleans Assessor’s Office and 23 years as a commercial insurance broker at Pike Insurance Agency. She has been a justice of the peace to solemnize marriages since 1976 and has previously published two books of poetry, Tapestry and Handle with Care. Her poems have appeared in several publications including the Christian Science Monitor.

Read more about Cape Cod in Mary E. McDermott’s book Old Orleans, Memories of a Cape Cod Town.

Take a Cape Cod book to the beach with Moon Tide: Cape Cod Poems by Mary Petiet.

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