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Tourism vs. Fishing

The steamer Romance, loading up in Provincetown for the day’s run across Massachusetts Bay to Boston, looms over an old Grand Banks schooner. The image was published in 1937 by Edwin Rosskam as part of a photo essay on two local industries: fishing and tourism. A freelance photographer at the time, Rosskam went on to have a distinguished career at Standard Oil, shooting oil refineries and river scenes for the corporate giant through the 1940s.

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Here the German-born photographer wanted to show how Provincetown — indeed, much of Cape Cod — was changing. The fishing industry that had sustained the region’s fleets for so many generations was dying, and tourists were the new catch of the day. City folk were learning to appreciate the rural beauty, the wide, sandy beaches, and the eccentric Cape Codders just a boat ride across the bay on a steamer such as Romance.

The old dory in the foreground is stowed, full of gear, on the deck of the schooner, where the fisherman bends to his work. Note the drying nets hanging next to him. It’s an age-old scene. In contrast, the steel-hulled passenger vessel looms above it all, its sun-washed foredeck filled with vacationers, families and travelers at the rail. There’s even a face peering out of the foremost porthole.

This was the rising middle class of America, with leisure time to fill the summer hotels and quaint inns. But the crowds wouldn’t be coming by steamer for much longer. Within a decade, the automobile — riding over improved roads and new bridges — spelled the end of the Cape Cod steamer trade, and passenger ships were taken out of service and sold. (Romance sank in a 1936 collision with the steamer New York on Massachusetts Bay.)

March 2015 issue