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Kerouac in Provincetown

December 4th, 2019 · 28 Comments · Kerouac and The Beats

Photo courtesy of the Hazel Hawthorne Estate
Uncovered by Inka Leisma
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How History Could Have Been Different

Kerouac’s and Otherwise

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It was a quiet day in Facelandia when my Beat / Deadhead friend Steve Silberman posted:

“Social media is amazing sometimes. In response to my posting a Cape Cod Times article about Kerouac’s time there, a woman posted a previously unseen photo of Kerouac working at his dune shack in Provincetown in 1950.”

Ka’Boom!!

A few of his friends, mostly the Ginsberg side of the family, “liked” it, but besides myself, the one other person whose jaw hit the floor was my fellow investigator at the Beat Detective Agency, Jerry Cimino, who in his spare time is also the founder/curator/owner of The Beat Museum in San Francisco.

It was all a wild harmonic refrain of when some unseen Bill Cannastra photos surfaced earlier this year.  Cannastra was the guy who had the loft in New York where Kerouac met his wife Joan Haverty and where he found the scroll paper he used to write On The Road and change history.  Same year — 1950.  Same medium — old black-&-white family photographs that had never been seen outside of the shoebox in the attic.  And for the second time in a year, the same detective and I started shooting fabulous roman candles out of the top of our heads!

The first time, we set out separately to track down the source of the Cannastra shots, and comically, both found Bill’s last living relative within a few hours of each other, and thus began an incredible series of discoveries & stories that resulted in this revealing Cannastra piece that everybody should read if you haven’t

So now . . . Brian scampers down the 1950 black-&-white photo rabbit hole of history once again!  I tracked down the family member who posted the Jack dunes shot, and thus began a series of discoveries about Kerouac’s life that nobody knew . . . to go along with the photo nobody’d seen!

This is the only photograph known to exist of Jack Kerouac actually writing at a typewriter.

He posed sitting next to one a few times, most notably for several shots in his Orlando house in January 1958 by Fred DeWitt on assignment for a February 24th Time Magazine piece shortly after his On The Road fame hit and just before he moved up to Northport for the first time.  In those photos, he’s wearing his nice flannel dress shirt and his hair’s immaculately combed, and in one of them he’s holding over the typewriter what is likely the Dharma Bums scroll that he’d just written there in November/December.  You can see all of them here.

Shortly after Jack had written the introduction to Robert Frank’s landmark book of photographs, The Americans (published January 1959), Playboy commissioned Kerouac to write “The Origins of The Beat Generation” for their June ’59 issue, and they hired Robert to go take pictures at Jack’s house at 34 Gilbert Street in Northport where he had moved in May of ’58 — and which Robert knew well, because it was he who drove Jack out house hunting for it in March (along with Joyce Glassman before she became a Johnson).  Jack’s wearing his same prized flannel “dress shirt” he did for the Time Magazine shoot the year before, and had his hair all combed nice as his old road buddy Robert took a bunch of shots, including Jack sitting at his desk pretending to write in one of his breast-pocket notebooks he’d use on the road.  In one of the photos — probably the best one — Frank shoots into a mirror while Jack is staring intently at a page in his typewriter.  Great typewriter shot! — but this was an afternoon when the writer’s friend was coming over for a prearranged photo shoot for Playboy magazine (of all things) — not an artist in the middle of creation.  You can see the mirror shot and others at the Playboy issue link here.

Similarly, in late March or early April ’64, noted author photographer Jerry Bauer went to Kerouac’s house at 7 Judy Ann Court in Northport and took over a hundred shots of the happy homebody in all manner of poses — holding his cat, lying in his backyard hammock above the melting spring snow, going through his filing cabinets, holding his unfurled Dharma Bums scroll — and yes, sitting at his typewriter.  Interesting to think that the buttoned-down man in Bauer’s photo below is who Neal Cassady picked up just a couple months later, on July 25th, and drove him into Manhattan to meet Ken Kesey and his psychedelic Merry Pranksters for the historic acid-fueled party at Madison & 89th Street — the last time Jack & Neal would ever be together.

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^ ^ THAT’S THE GUY ^ ^ NEAL DROVE IN TO MEET KESEY . . .
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From black & white to full-color crazy . . .

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There were also some shots by photographer Fred McDarrah taken in he & his wife Gloria’s Greenwich Village apartment on Dec 10th, 1959, in a room with Fred, Gloria, Jack, Lew Welch & Albert Saijo, just after they’d arrived in New York from a cross-country Road trip in Lew’s Jeep.  They all sat around drinking and calling out lines to a poem that Gloria would type on an old Underwood.  McDarrah took a shot of Jack sitting at the typewriter reading what Gloria had typed.

I’ve heard suggestions there was another more dynamic shot of Jack at the typewriter that night, but son Tim McDarrah, who spent the last ten years cataloguing all his late father’s photos, tells me nothing like that exists.  And Gloria S. McDarrah who was there doing the typing, let me know — “There aren’t any photos of Jack typing that night as he didn’t type anything.  Yes, at one point I went to the bathroom and he sat behind Fred’s typewriter and looked at what he had dictated to me.  And he may have erased something, or pointed out a mistake or two to me.  But he didn’t type.  He drank beer and smoked cigarettes and laughed and gossiped with Lew and Al about their trip.  No typing.

“I don’t think he (Jack) enjoyed being photographed all that much.  He eventually told Fred to stop with the photos.  He was polite and in a good mood, but felt Fred had taken enough.”

You can see pretty much all the Fred McDarrah photos of Kerouac here.

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And honorable mention should go to the 1959 album cover shot for Blues and Haikus (featuring Al Cohn & Zoot Sims) taken by renown jazz album cover designer Burt Goldblatt, in NYC in the summer of ’59.  Although it looks like a candid home snapshot of him sitting there writing by a windowsill, it was actually another professional photo shoot — and based on a couple other shots from the same roll, it seems like maybe it was taken in the photograph’s home apartment.  There’s a lot of background on Burt Goldblatt in his comprehensive obit in the New York Times.

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But in the newly uncovered spontaneous dune photograph — my first question was “I wonder what he was writing?”

Well — good news!  We know!

When the Cape Cod National Seashore (the National Park Service) wanted to tear down the shacks in the early 1960s, Jack actually wrote a letter to Hazel, who was one of the people leading the preservation movement, adding his famous weight to their cause, confirming to her in writing, “I was working on On The Road there, summer of 1950, and also on poems and articles.”

Hazel Hawthorne’s retyped copy of Jack’s letter
courtesy of the Hazel Hawthorne Estate

Since Jack didn’t start actually writing “articles” until after On The Road came out in ’57, and he wrote his poems by hand in pencil, that makes this not only the only shot in existence of Jack Kerouac actually writing on his instrument — but by his own declaration, he’s working on his most famous creation.  Granted, it’s not in the 454 West 20th Street apartment where he wrote the definitive scroll version in April 1951 — but it is Jack, and it is On The Road.

And just for fun — here’s a fantasy image from the 1980 movie Heart Beat of their version of that historic scroll creation scene —

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In August of 1949 Jack & Memere moved out of the famous second floor corner apartment on Cross Bay Boulevard in Ozone Park (now a designated landmark) into a full standalone house at 94-21 134th Street, in Richmond Hill, where they would live until 1955.  It was here, on July 26th, 1950 — freshly back from Mexico, Denver & The Road — that Jack would begin his Gone On The Road notebook, and in August turn it into a manuscript of the same name — one of his many pre-scroll attempts at capturing the “Road” and Neal Cassady.  This latter manuscript would later find form as a core of Visions of Cody (published after his death), which is where the words he was actually typing on that shack deck in the dunes may have finally ended up.  But they were all of a piece — they were different versions of On The Road in his mind and as he stated in the letter.

Next to Jack on the improvised writing desk is a big worn-out book.  No one knows what it is for sure, but it may be something younger readers and writers have never seen — a dictionary.  In a world before “spell check,” this is what authors had next to them as they wrote to look up definitions, variations and spellings.  Since his hostess Hazel was an author herself, it’s more than likely there were multiple weathered dictionaries in her multiple weathered shacks.

The first discovery of the photograph

One of the many things I love about this story is — it all began with the power of art — How one’s life can be changed forever by reading a book or seeing a movie or going to a concert.  In this case, it was a Finnish communication specialist and “regular book nerd from Helsinki” who happened to go to a Walker Evans photo exhibit in Berlin in 2014.  Inexplicable to her, a photo he had taken of a woman from Provincetown, Mass., “completely mesmerized” her, and changed her life.  You can see the 1933 photograph here.

The touched Finn, Inka Leisma, began a now years-long journey into telling the story of the woman in the photograph — Hazel Hawthorne — who, it turns out, was a descendant of Nathaniel Hawthorne, and also a Massachusetts novelist in her own right, including one set largely on these very sand dunes, Salt House (1934), and she was something of a Gertrude Stein of the Provincetown arts scene.  Besides the novels, Hazel also had poems and articles published including in the New Yorker, and, as Inka writes, “She is a footnote in the biographies of many literary giants such as John Cheever, Edmund Wilson, and John Dos Passos.”  Footnote or main character, everybody knew who she was.  She was referred to in print as “the grande dame of Provincetown.”  Others called her “the original Beat,” as Inka uncovered, because she embodied their ethos even before Jack turned the phrase.  And many pointed out she was an environmentalist and feminist before either term was coined.  The writer/actor/director Larry Santoro who knew her circa 1970 said of her — she “never did like pomposity, and disdained arrogance.”

Hazel & her writer/editor husband Morrie Werner also had an apartment in Greenwich Village — Provincetown South — where they socialized with many of the leading bohemian artists of the 1930s & ’40s, but it was up in P’town where she became “the Queen of the Dunes” — the doyenne of the scene, a salon hostess (even if the “salon” was often outdoors on the dunes) to the likes of John Cheever, e.e.cummings, Edmond Wilson, John Dos Passos, Norman Mailer, Walker Evans, Franz Kline, William de Kooning and countless others both famous and infamous.  It was Inka who found the photograph in a family album while she was working on her book about Hazel’s stories of characters & adventures that should be some pretty riveting reading when it’s done.  You can hear some colorful podcasts about it here.

Hazel’s two shacks were named — yes, they name shacks in Provincetown — Thalassa (where Jack stayed and the picture’s taken on its small front deck; named for the primeval spirit of the sea) and Euphoria (so-named by Hazel after she purchased it in 1943).  Supposedly Eugene O’Neill wrote his “Sea Plays” in one of the dune shacks, but probably not Hazel’s.

In July 1950 (a month before the photo) Allen Ginsberg went to Provincetown pursuing a relationship with a tall charismatic curly-haired redhead named Helen Parker — yes, a woman — and he actually lost his heterosexual virginity to her there that summer!  Jack, meanwhile was down in Mexico City with Neal living out what would be the final Adventure in On The Road, staying near William Burroughs’ place, and finally hitching or busing (it’s definitively told both ways) back to ol’ New York in mid-July.

Oh, and speaking of Allen — when asked about the Beats in P’town, Hazel’s daughter Nancy’s son told me, “Mom met Allen Ginsberg at a beach party, but he was really stoned and wasn’t communicating very well.

And speaking of Helen — she would go on to be Ramblin’ Jack Elliott’s girlfriend three years later, and it was in her apartment on Bleecker Street in the Village where Kerouac would read aloud the entire unpublished On The Road scroll to her & Ramblin’ Jack over three days and nights, a story Elliott would recount on stage many times.

Also, that summer of 1950 when Lucien Carr would come up to the Cape, he would stay in a tent on Helen’s lawn in Truro, and it was there that, at Allen’s urging, a visiting 20-year-old Greenwich Village chick named Liz Lehrman (later Liza Williams) would pop her head in the tent, and shortly became Lucien’s longtime girlfriend, and into whose loft he would move right next door to Bill Cannastra’s legendary place on West 21st Street.  There’s lots more about all that in the Cannastra photo story here.

Shortly before this dunes photo was taken, in March of 1950, Jack had his first novel published, The Town and The City, and in May he went out on a “book tour” to Denver — and then with Neal went down to Mexico City to see Burroughs.  He famously got sick down there, and also The Town and The City did not have the sales or reviews or impact he was expecting, and he was a bit down by the time he got back to his mother’s house in Richmond Hill, Queens.  He wrote on July 25th in his journal (in the NYPL Berg Collection) — “This art was never more difficult.  A great weariness in my middle in my ribs.  My determination is a gnashing of the teeth.”

Since I first started down this Provincetown path I wondered — why the heck did Jack, just back from months On The Road, suddenly head up to Cape Cod where I don’t think he’d ever been before?  For two weeks?  I couldn’t picture him packing a bag and carrying his typewriter onto the subway to the Port Authority terminal in Manhattan to take a 10 hour bus trip (they’re slow and stop everywhere) out to the Cape, especially since he just returned to Memere’s safety net after debilitating dysentery in Mexico.  But as Gerald Nicosia thankfully relates in his Memory Babe biography, “to recuperate Jack drove with John [Holmes] and Lucien [Carr] to Cape Cod.”

By the summer of 1950, Holmes had probably spent more time out P’town way than any of the other core Beats.  It was really he who first extolled the virtues to the others of the natural and liberal wonderland that is Provincetown.  On July 8th, Allen wrote to Jack in Mexico telling him about sleeping with Helen Parker there — “The first days after I lost my cherry … I wandered around in the most benign and courteous stupor of delight at the perfection of nature ….”  That appealing imagery, added to how Nicosia describes Jack’s mindset of the time — “His most pressing need was for a wife,” plus Holmes’ letter from P’town about “fucking fucking up and down the dunes, lying back at last exhausted,” and that Bill Cannastra had also spent the previous summer there and had a girl (Joan Haverty) follow him back to New York, all of this — plus that John & Lou came by his Richmond Hill house to pick him up & drive him — may have been the combination that got Jack On The Road again.

How he ended up at one of Hazel’s shacks we may never know.  But both Holmes and Cannastra had done short-term summer rentals there in cabin-like holmes on the expansive dunes; and Helen Parker, who seemed to be a longterm resident and was certainly an arts scene bon vivant including nearly or actually getting engaged to John Dos Passos (accounts differ), so it’s quite likely in a town of only 3,795 full-time residents (according to the 1950 census), that one or more of them would have come in contact with “the grand dame of Provincetown” and knew she had a couple shacks that she sometimes rented and sometimes just allowed visiting writers/artists to stay in.

Now . . . these shacks . . . and that is what they were . . . rough, small, one-room wooden shacks with no electricity or running water.  There was a well nearby where you had to pump your water and haul it home.  And an outhouse on a distant dune in 1950 was gonna be pretty frickin rough.

Located in the pacific sands next to the Atlantic Ocean, one family member described them as “a millionaire’s view from a hobo’s shack.”

There are roughly 18 preserved shacks still standing along the Peaked Hill Bar, which are now so popular, there’s an annual lottery for some of them, with winners having the opportunity to rent them for a week.  Both of Hazel’s were built around 1930 by a coast guardsman named Louis “Spucky” Silva, and she bought Thalassa in 1936 for $50 (!); and Euphoria, the bigger one (16’x12′), in 1943.  Here’s a vivid account of Euphoria in 2014, with photos and video by a woman artist who had a residency.  And here you can see Thalassa inside and out in these 2015 photos.

Jack’s first shack

This may well have been Jack’s first time living in a one-room shack.  He would later famously go on to stay in Gary Snyder’s Marin-An cabin up the hill behind Locke McCorkle’s house in Mill Valley; then at the square one-room four-walls-of-windows fire watch lookout on top of Mount Hozomeen; then the shanty shack on the roof in Mexico City where he wrote Orizaba Blues among others (all in 1956); and a few years later he went and stayed in (and vividly described in Big Sur) Ferlinghetti’s one-room cabin in Bixby Canyon.

Ferlinghetti’s Bixby cabin from my visit in 2001
Kerouac’s rooftop shack at 212 Orizaba Street, Colonia Roma, Mexico City
© John Suiter All Rights Reserved.

But Hazel’s hideaway in the Provincetown dunes was probably Jack’s first shack.

And lo, it was good.

Not only did he work on On The Road there, but — he met a girl! . . . and fell in love! . . . and asked her to marry him!

Yep!  It was August or early September 1950 — two or three months before this same smitten scenario would repeat itself in Chelsea with Joan.

Nancy Ufford was her name.  Hazel’s 24-year-old daughter — the two of them pictured here some year close to the summer of Jack.

Photo courtesy of the Hazel Hawthorne Estate
Uncovered by Inka Leisma

Kerouac recorded in his 1950 journal, “Trip to Cape Cod, stayed 2 weeks with girls in shacks.”  That’s all he ever wrote about it that I (or Detectives Dave Moore or Jerry Cimino) could find.

I’m not sure what he means by “girls” plural, but in Jack’s self-compiled list of lovers as published in that opulent On The Road Trois Couleurs book (2012) that came out the same time as Walter Salles’ movie, as well as partially published in the New York Public Library’s beautiful Beatific Soul (2007), entry #65 — “Nancy dunes 10,” (right underneath Helen Parker’s 50).

By his own account — and he didn’t lie in his notebooks to himself — he was only there two weeks . . . and there’s a “10” beside her name.  This is getting into Neal Cassady territory.

Jack fell for this woman, and he had pretty good taste back in the day.  Edie . . . Carolyn . . . “Mardou” . . . those were all rockin’ women.  And I’m bettin’ Nancy was, too.

Her family told me lots about her. 

“She had a great giggle.”  “She read a lot.”  “She was beautiful, but not flamboyant or in need of attention.”  “She was attractive, but understated and humble.”  “She didn’t need to be the belle of the ball.”  She grew up in a liberal artists’ world, and “didn’t take herself too seriously.”  “She hated pretension, and didn’t stand for airs of any sort.”  She took classes in modern dance, poetry, pottery and yoga.  She was really into education — especially preschool — and earned a degree in 1948 from the early progressive ed Bank Street College in NYC, then taught in different schools over her lifetime.  She volunteered at the library and worked at a community arts center and married an art teacher and generally had a connection with the creative.

So you can see how this picture, as well as the picture above of an early-20s Nancy, appealed to a visiting author.
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Jack’s Great Wife Hunt of 1950

Sara Yokley — March / April
Nancy Ufford — August and/or early September
Joan Haverty — November — Bingo!

We all know about Joan Haverty who Jack met & married in November 1950.  And now you know about Nancy.  But the only places I can find Sara Yokley mentioned is briefly in John Leland’s Why Kerouac Matters, and a little more fleshed out in Nicosia’s Memory Babe.  Neither book confirms he actually asked her to marry him, but he certainly seemed to have been considering it.

Nancy would speak openly about her summer fling, and all the family members remember talking multiple times with her about it and the proposal, and they remember her offering a few different reasons for saying “No.”  I’m guessing it was probably a combination of all them.

“Cuz he was a momma’s boy.”
“She didn’t really like the world he portrayed in his book . . . she rolled her eyes a bit when she mentioned it” — but we don’t know if she meant The Town and The City, or if Jack was letting her read the early On The Road pages he was writing there.
“She said that they broke up due to his drinking and general carrying on.”
“She laughed it off as ridiculous.  It wasn’t realistic — just a romanticized notion on Jack’s part.”
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Nicosia shared hella details he uncovered about this Provincetown possibility — “There he met and began an affair with a girl named Nancy, but after three weeks he returned to New York for fear she would hurt him as Sara had.  Having made him jealous with another lover, Nancy confirmed his view that most women want to see men fight, and he feared that ‘the women who will hate violence and love tenderness’ might be just a phantom.”

Since old family snapshots don’t come with photo credits, we can only guesstimate as to who took the historic shot of Jack writing on the shack deck, but it seems likely that since Nancy was spending so much time with him there, it makes sense that she was in the familial to take the candid one-of-a-kind shot of her writer boyfriend at work.  Plus, the print was in her collection of photos, and has the same serrated framing as all her other family snaps of the time.

Another detail Nancy shared often before she died in 2000 at age 74 was that late at night Jack would take bongos and go out and “sit near the ocean playing to the waves.” (!)  Playing bongos to eternity.  Anybody who’s read his only book set on an ocean shoreline (like Provincetown) Big Sur, knows it climaxes with his epic poetic masterpiece “Sea” where he transcribes the pounding sounds of nature, playing with words with the waves.

And one other bizarre connection that British Jack scholar Dave Moore hipped me to — in The Subterraneans, which Jack re-set in San Francisco even though the events of the book took place in New York, when he refers a couple times to a nearby bohemian beach community that the characters went to, he changed “Provincetown” to “Big Sur.”  This is also where Jack mentions one of the few people in his books who has yet to be fully identified.  In his October 1951 journal published in The Unknown Kerouac Jack describes — “Victor, the strange Jesus Christ who’d traveled to Provincetown with little Jeanne Nield in 1950 on a beat motorcycle.”

And Furthur — in both cool coastal artist enclaves, Jack lived in a one-room facility-less shack, a very short walk to the ocean’s crashing waves.  And the real events of Big Sur happened exactly ten years to the month after his stay on the dunes in Provincetown!  And he also briefly considered marriage on that latter Adventure — to Jacky Gibson (Billie in Big Sur).  Too much!  Too much!

And in yet another bizarre parenthetical — Nancy married a man named Wally Peters, and thus became Nancy Peters — making any Beat aficionado do a double-take thinking it might be Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s longtime co-owner at City Lights Bookstore.

But what if Nancy had said “Yes!”

I love the way life and history is so full of chance moments.  Keith Richards spotting Mick Jagger on a train platform with an armful of blues records.  Neal Cassady first pulling up Ken Kesey’s driveway on Perry Lane because he thought somebody else lived there.  Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David going for a chance walk to a deli after a night at Catch A Rising Star and first harmonizing their observations about “nothing.”  Edie Parker being in the same Columbia art class as Lucien Carr, leading Jack to meet both Ginsberg & Burroughs.

But one of my all-time favorite “What ifs” in the Beat world was that Carolyn Robinson (before she became a Cassady) went to Los Angeles to look for costume or set designer jobs in TV or theater.  She never got one.  But, gawd, what if she had?  Neal was gonna follow her to wherever she was.  Carolyn had a sister up in San Francisco, and that’s why she went up there to wait and see if any of her job applications panned out.  But what if she’d gotten a job?  Or didn’t have a sister in S.F. and had stayed waiting in L.A.?  Allen and Jack were gonna follow Neal.  What if the whole Beat blooming took place in Tinseltown rather than the City by The Bay?  No Beat – City Lights connection.  No Six Gallery reading.  No Beat weaving with Ferlinghetti or Snyder or McClure et al.  Venice Beach ends up more historic than North Beach.  Allen uses his ad skills to get a job writing for movies.  The Beats follow more of a William Faulkner path than a Jack London.

So . . . what if Nancy had said Yes?

How history would be different.

Jack would not have gone to Cannastra’s loft and met Joan Haverty.  He never would have found the scroll paper that changed his art — and subsequently the world.  And Jan Kerouac would never have been born!  . . .  And who might have been?

Instead of him returning to New York . . . what if Jack stayed on the Cape?  We know he loved it — he moved there with his mother to Hyannis in 1966.  It was kind of a Lowell East and a Greenwich Village North — a lot of the same Village artists, and certainly the same open creative sensibilities — but with Massachusetts accents and cheaper prices.

Would he have had more time to write away from the city distractions?  Would he and Nancy have got along better than he & Joan did?  Would he have bonded more with Kurt Vonnegut than John Clellon Holmes?

Or what if Nancy had come to New York? 

A smart, beautiful, book-&-arts-centric young woman living through that golden time of creativity in New York City.  You can read a buncha colorful stuff about New York circa 1945-55 in this piece I wrote for the Rolling Stone Book of The Beats.  Would her & Holmes’ wife Marian have become close?  Would she have gotten a steady job as a school teacher that allowed Jack time to write?  Would she have gotten involved in the burgeoning modern dance world, as was one of her passions?  Might she have been a Hettie Jones type and spearheaded a literary magazine like Yugen?  She would certainly have become the catalyst of a cohesive Provincetown cadre within the Beats, including Holmes, Allen, Lucien, Cannastra & Helen Parker who all already dabbled in the Cape.

Oh and get this — Joan Haverty — the one who said Yes a couple months later — came directly from freakin’ Provincetown!  One Provincetown girl said No.  And two months later a different Provincetown girl said Yes!

C’mon — yer makin this up!  “No,” sez I.  “It’s true!”  Joan was in Provincetown in the summer of 1949 when she met Bill Cannastra who implored her to come to the city — as she did that fall.  You can read more about her & Bill in my piece.  She writes most vividly about her time in Provincetown in her highly recommenced autobiography Nobody’s Wife.  Jack asked two chicks from the same flock in two months!  One said no, one said yes, one flew over the cuckoo’s mess.

One of the funniest “What ifs” was shared by Nancy’s youngest son remembering his life after he became a big Kerouac fan.  A lot of us may have imagined meeting Jack or going On The Road with him or whatever . . . but not many can close one of his books then close their eyes, and think — “Geez, what if Mom had married this guy?!”

Not only history, but life itself is full of these fork-in-the-road weird moments.  What if Inka never went to that photo show in Berlin?  What if the family never shared the photo?  What if you didn’t find this story and read this far?

And what if Nancy had said Yes?

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An alternate take — #2 of 2.
Photo courtesy of the Hazel Hawthorne Estate
Uncovered by Inka Leisma

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Huge Thank Yous are in order.

First to the families of both Hazel Hawthorne and Nancy Peters who generously gave their time sharing their family history with me, as well as for allowing the use of the photos that bring this story to life.

And next, to the Finnish scholar Inka Leisma for her years of dedicated research into Hazel Hawthorne’s life, and for uncovering both the Kerouac photo and the Nancy–Hazel mother–daughter shot.  Her ongoing investigation into the remarkable Hazel can be checked out here

And for the photo share that started it all — my Beat / Deadhead brother Steve Silberman who instigated the initial post of the dunes shot, and recognized its importance.

And of course to my two fellow Beat Detective Agency investigators Jerry Cimino for telling me to write this from the get-go — “You’re the guy to tell this story.  You’ve got the knowledge and contacts and skills and way of explaining it, and your gift for connecting things together;” and Dave Moore for his combination of superhuman archaeological abilities as well as his 30,000-foot perspectives.

And a special shout-out to my new photographer friend John Suiter who captured that killer Mexico City roof shack shot!  “When you say you thought ‘some cat climbed up there and shot it’ — well, I was that cat.  And, as you know, it’s not such a simple matter.  First I had to find out exactly where Jack lived in Mexico.  Then I hitchhiked down the Pan American highway 800 miles to Mexico City from Laredo; then built up enough trust with the people who lived in the building to allow me to climb up the back stairs with snarling dogs to finally get a shot.  And now that structure is gone, no longer exists, so that image is impossible to reproduce.  This is what we do as photographers, and it needs to be acknowledged.”  This is a fellow rooftop-climbing Adventure-Prankster artist-historian after my own heart!  🙂 Check him out here.

And lastly, to all the writers & artists who captured a little of Hazel, Provincetown and the dunes life, and who left their words & images for the future to discover, including the late Larry Santoro, who knew Hazel circa 1970/71, and wrote a vivid memory here.

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There’s more like this in books like these . . .

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Jack Kerouac
A real-life tale of meeting your heroes and dancing to the Dead.

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How The Beats Begat The Pranksters
& Other Adventure Tales

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On The Road with Cassadys
& Furthur Visions

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by Brian Hassett  —  karmacoupon@gmail.com   —  BrianHassett.com

Or here’s my Facebook account if you wanna join in there — https://www.facebook.com/Brian.Hassett.Canada

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28 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Jerry Cimino – The Beat Museum // Dec 4, 2019 at 4:39 PM

    With the Cannastra photo story and now this you have brought to life two of the biggest new stories in the Beat world since the Joan Anderson letter was found.

    The is so deep and broad. It’s genius how you framed it. It really is. It’s meticulous, perfect and tasteful. And all the “what ifs” … it’s brilliant.

  • 2 David Wills – Beatdom // Dec 4, 2019 at 5:08 PM

    Good story, Brian. You just ruined my morning’s work because I couldn’t not read it … and then couldn’t stop reading it. But it was worth it.
    Fascinating detective work.

  • 3 Steve Silberman // Dec 4, 2019 at 5:27 PM

    Excellent!

  • 4 Brian // Dec 4, 2019 at 5:51 PM

    Thanks, Steve! That seedling you found sure sprouted! 🙂

  • 5 Rich Huarte // Dec 4, 2019 at 6:06 PM

    What a great rundown! As usual, you have brought mystery and myth to reality in such an engaging and interesting story.
    Love your story-telling, brother.
    I smelled the salt air and felt the P-town sand in my toes.
    Now I need some taffy!

  • 6 Susan Pomerantz // Dec 4, 2019 at 7:36 PM

    Nancy was my Aunt. This is a great story.

  • 7 Timothy McDarrah // Dec 4, 2019 at 8:58 PM

    Love this. Not only the mention of my dad but the entire tale.

  • 8 Bill Laymon // Dec 4, 2019 at 9:47 PM

    Brian —
    THIS PIECE IS OUTSTANDING; GREAT EXCELLENT WORK. GREAT JOB, MAN! PROUD OF YOU … “Still got a long way to go”, ~~ Bill

  • 9 Mark Smith // Dec 4, 2019 at 10:13 PM

    You are awesome. To venture so deeply into ones’ soul and live with that eternal pain of never knowing; just absorbing; that climbing on the zen ladder to find; you are our America

  • 10 Kevin Twigg // Dec 4, 2019 at 10:44 PM

    Amazing work, Brian! They say that a photo tells a thousand words. You sure brought this one to life with your words.

  • 11 Jonathan Collins // Dec 4, 2019 at 11:51 PM

    Excellent work and insights, Brian!

  • 12 Gubba Topham // Dec 5, 2019 at 12:27 AM

    Fine work as usual, Brian. Amazing how that one image opened a new window on a Beat beach shack scene in 1950! Love your history of Jack in shacks. Under the Bixby bridge / rooftop Mexico City / and now out on the dunes at the Cape! I visited Provincetown in the late nineties. I was blown away by the arts community that exists out there.

  • 13 Kevin Ring // Dec 5, 2019 at 2:33 AM

    Good work Brian.

  • 14 Jason // Dec 5, 2019 at 9:51 AM

    Awesome Brian

  • 15 Louis Gonzalez // Dec 5, 2019 at 10:57 AM

    Great piece written with such care and love.

  • 16 Chris Maher // Dec 5, 2019 at 11:12 AM

    This is amazing, Brian. Thank you so much for researching, writing, and sharing. The imaginative play on ‘what-ifs’ is fun and so true to the magic that Jack saw and wrote everywhere and that keeps me coming back to the well.

  • 17 Lynne Cannastra // Dec 5, 2019 at 12:44 PM

    Nice work, Brian. The connections are endless and fascinating. I have hiked to those dune shacks, and they are the most peaceful, wonderful places on earth.

  • 18 Brian Humniski // Dec 6, 2019 at 9:42 AM

    I love you chasing these pictures. It’s always exciting and intriguing.

    I love shacks. They leave us to ourselves, like a Lake Winnipeg cabin, braving the elements without the distractions.

    And I really enjoy the way you go into the “what ifs.” Tarantino opened up a big can of “what if” with his new “Once Upon A Time … in Hollywood” which I know I read you liked.

    Good company you keep.

  • 19 Brad Clough // Dec 6, 2019 at 10:08 AM

    Fine work, Brian. Thank you!

  • 20 Frank Tabbita // Dec 6, 2019 at 10:52 PM

    Wow. Nice work!

  • 21 Eric Linder // Dec 7, 2019 at 11:59 AM

    Ditto to David Wills’ (Dec. 4) comment. Paul Marion sent me the link. I dropped everything and read it straight through. I’ve lived on the Cape almost forty years. Who knew? What a find. Amazing

  • 22 Steve Wilson // Dec 7, 2019 at 1:40 PM

    Thanks for this.

  • 23 George Bethos // Dec 8, 2019 at 1:10 PM

    Great job, Brian. The photos the text and the links are all solid gold.

  • 24 John Roche // Dec 9, 2019 at 11:22 AM

    Fascinating piece, Brian! Thanks for your detective work!

  • 25 Eric Douglas Augustsen Mani // Dec 10, 2019 at 1:24 PM

    Thanks for this, Brian !

  • 26 Brian Humniski // Dec 11, 2019 at 8:53 AM

    I just came back to read this again. You continue to add these amazing sidebars to the world of Jack. And continue to ask questions and find answers, just like you did with that Cannastra piece.

    You see a stone on a beach in Provincetown and polish it to gemlike illumination. Power-full stuff.

  • 27 Dean McClain // Dec 14, 2019 at 10:48 AM

    Beautiful work, Brian. Well done!

  • 28 Chris Gee // Dec 15, 2019 at 12:26 PM

    Fun read.

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