On January 12, 1931, after several months of gradually sliding into the sea, the Peaked Hill Bars house finally went under. Ten days later Francis had a report for Harry Weinberger, listing the possibilities for salvage. In this detailed account he saw fit to mention that looters had already taken the toilet in the still-standing barn.
I went out to the station yesterday with Mr. Sears and looked the property over it seems to us while we cannot tell what the elements are going to do but it seems as if the balance of property might stay there the rest of the winter the big building known as the barn is in the greatest danger the small building and the one that is in the best shape is further in and it does not seem possible for that one to go this winter at the worst—It seemed to us the only way you can do any thing with that property would be to flake the barn and have it carted to some point where there never be a chance of its going and have it built up again but this would cost quite a few hundred dollars perhaps several thousand it is such a horrid place to get to that it is very expensive to get a thing done. We found that some one had removed all of the door knobs and locks from the doors and also removed the toilet also broken all of the windows in the barn and pulled off some of the doors to get in and there is not one piece of furniture left excepting an old ice chest. I sent Mr. Sears out there this morning to see if he could remove the lavatory and disconnect the bath tub and tank but he will have to have some one to help him if you want him to salvage what he can I thought he might get two or three doors though they have smashed some of them so if you want me to salvage what I think that could be used like tube and so forth wire me as soon as you get this as I do not want to make the bill any larger than is necessary and in this state men have to be insured and of course Mr. Sears is not covered and there would be some liability there. I think if you would write to Capt Mayo that you expect for people to return what they have taken and put an add in this weeks advocate that your Mr. O’Neills attorney and wanted the stuff returned to either Capt Mayo or Joseph W. Sears you might get a little of it back as I think some of them might be afraid of being prosecuted. I was told by a lady that some one took Mr. O’Neills field glasses if this is so and they can be located I would like to purchase them if Mr. O’Neill Junior did not value them so highly just because they were the property of Mr. O’Neill Wire me if you want me to try and salvage doors and plumbing I am afraid that might be gone if no one is there on the property.
In addition to the looters, there were the merely curious. As far as we know, Edmund Wilson can be safely numbered among the latter. In 1927 Wilson had rented the Peaked Hill Bars house through Francis, acting for O’Neill. In his diary for that year Wilson devotes a page to Francis (mentioning, along the way, the three generations of Francis men). “John Francis’s gentle, appealing voice and gentlemanliness (an eccentric real estate agent),” begins Wilson’s notations for June 20th. During “his first real summer at Provincetown” Wilson had gone around with “John Francis, who, though professionally a real estate man, discouraged clients from taking any of the houses he showed them.” “Fox said,” Wilson continues,
you saw the John Francis sign on all the houses —“you got kind of dazzled.”—His father [Joseph Francis] had been a fine strong upstanding man—he passed his boyhood on the farm—timid—believed in ghosts—moved tables—ghost followed him upstairs—never knew what houses he had—“asleep most of the time,” prospective tenant said—John Francis himself said he didn’t see how a man could look himself in the face after putting a lying ad like the other real estate man’s in the paper—half Portuguese, half Irish (Irish mother landed in wreck)—grocery store always out of stock—said I seemed like a lonely young man—couldn’t furnish house and get it in order in time—nice educated couple who had bought house but almost immediately got divorced—“Sacco and Vanzetti must die!”—wasn’t that an awful thing to shout out loud like that!’—gunboat in harbor for celebration what did they want to have a great big boat like that to go out and kill people for?—soft, whiny voice—they thought anybody was rich up there—he didn’t see much of the world, but was probably not so badly off—he worried about the meaning of life—intellectual son—read Thomas Mann, Hemingway, The Dial—voted the Communist ticket (only person in town who did)—asked if son would go to the city: “Will hasn’t the money to leave town!”
Political opinions? Sacco and Vanzetti? Communist ticket? Political views? Who among the artists and writers of the group known to all as the Provincetown Players would have even thought John Francis could have had a political view, even if they did consider him one of their group? Yet, at one of their first meetings in New York the Provincetown Players elected Francis an Honorary Active Member of their group, in recognition of his services from the beginning of their experiment in Provincetown. This was honor enough, perhaps, especially since John Francis’s modicum of fame derives mainly, if not entirely, from his connection with the members of that fabled group. If that honorary membership hardly seems commensurate with the Azorean-American storekeeper’s many services and kindnesses to artists and writers over the years and decades, perhaps “John Francis,” the 1937 elegy by Harry Kemp, the Dunes Poet, should be thrown into the balance.
In friends’ rich memories that never die
While life-blood courses through the active heart,
He also lives—but friends themselves depart,
To fold the hand, and close the outward eye:
If this were all, my words would be a lie:
I’m sure that life outweighs mortality,
With personal continuance, like that sense
The frailest carry, of omnipotence!
This man that was the poets’, artists’ friend,
Still, as he moved in gentleness and care
For others, finds the Life that Knows No End;
With that slow speech not slow in apt reply,
With that smile that was too kind to be sly,
He will surprise us, rising from his chair
To greet us with his fostering friendship there!
É Professor Emérito de Inglês e Português e Estudos Brasileiros na Brown University e Professor Adjunto de Estudos Portugueses da mesma Universidade. Foi Leitor de Literatura Americana, pela Fulbright,no Brasil (em São Paulo,USP e na Bahia,UFB),na Argentina e no Equador. Esteve como professor Visitante na UFMG em Belo Horizonte. Em 2007, ocupou a cátedra “Helio and Amelia Pedroso / Luso-American Foundation” na University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth. Da entre a sua produção literária destaca-se os livros Stephen Crane’s Blue Badge of Courage, Fernando Pessoa and Nineteenth-Century Anglo-American Literature, The Presence of Pessoa, The Presence of Camões, and Conversations with Elizabeth Bishop and Critical Essays on Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms e entre as traduções as obras: Iberian Poems de Miguel Torga, A Man Smiles at Death with Half a Face de
José Rodrigues Miguéis, Self-Analysis and Thirty Other Poems de Fernando Pessoa, e In Crete, with the Minotaur, and Other Poems de Jorge de Sena. Tem publicado duas coletâneas de poemas, The Coffee Exchange e Double Weaver’s Knot.