Flyer Santos – Marion Perry house.
The spirit of Rose Dorothea fills this noble house. And the spirit is not just that of the Rose Dorothea that won the 1907 Lipton Cup, infusing Portuguese Provincetown with unending pride, nor that of the 66½-foot-long Rose Dorothea model — constructed by the master boat builder Francis “Flyer” Santos (1914-2015) — that has astonished generations of visitors to the Provincetown Heritage Museum and Provincetown Public Library. The spirit is also that of Rose Dorothea (McGowan) Perry (1882-1918), the wife of Capt. Marion Augustine “Bertie” Perry (1866-1937), a native of São Miguel in the Azores, who was master and part owner of Rose Dorothea.
Rose was born in East Cambridge to Michael McGowan and Mary O’Neil, both of whom came to the United States from Ireland. She married Captain Perry in 1905. The couple lived in this grand Queen Anne-style house. In the year of their marriage, a two-masted, 108.7-foot, 108-ton schooner, designed by Thomas McManus, was completed at the James & Tarr shipyard in Essex. The captain named it for his wife.
The marriage record of Rose Dorothea McGowan. Massachusetts Vital Records, 1840-1911, from the New England Historic Genealogical Society, through Ancestry.com.
Rose Dorothea and her broken foretopmast, with Jesse Costa in second place. Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection, Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division. Permalink 2016806411.
Left: The three-leg course of the Fishermen’s Race, shown in yellow. Base map by Google. Right: The Lipton Cup at the Provincetown Public Library.
In 1907, Rose Dorothea was entered in the Fishermen’s Race, a 42-mile course from Thieves Ledge (off Allerton) to Davis Ledge (off Minot) to Eastern Point in Gloucester and back. There was a cash prize, but the glory of the race was the extravagant Lipton Cup, sponsored by Sir Thomas Lipton, the preëminent tea merchant. For the race, Rose Dorothea was skippered by John Watson. Her only serious competitor was Jesse Costa, also from Provincetown. At the sharp Eastern Point turn, Rose Dorothea‘s foretopmast broke, as the photograph shows. Despite that, she completed the course in 5 hours, 5 minutes, and 14 seconds, coming in 2 minutes and 14 seconds ahead of Jesse Costa.
When President Theodore Roosevelt came to lay the cornerstone of the Pilgrim Monument on 20 August 1907 — 19 days after Rose Dorothea‘s victory — Captain Perry was urged to go meet him. “If the president wants to see me he knows where to find me,” the captain answered. True or not, the tale embodies Portuguese Provincetown.
In February 1917, now owned by Campbell & McKay of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Rose Dorothea was transporting fishery salt off the coast of Portugal when she was approached by the German submarine U-21. Her crew was permitted to abandon ship in lifeboats, after which Rose Dorothea was torpedoed and sunk.
Back home, Rose gave birth in June 1918 to what would have been the Perrys’ fourth child. But town records give no name or gender for the child, suggesting that the baby did not survive. Five months later, Rose herself was dead of tuberculosis, at 36.
Captain Perry sold the house in 1924 to Vannevar Bush (1890-1974), whom we’ll meet again next door, at 96 Commercial Street. Bush soon sold the property to his brother-in-law, Ralph R. Lawrence, who owned it for nearly 20 years, until the fateful year of 1944.
That was the year the property was purchased by Flyer Santos and his wife, Blanche Irene (Maille) Santos (1914-1999). Flyer would spend the next 71 years here.
A photo of 94 Commercial Street in 2008, by David W. Dunlap.
Francis “Flyer” Santos and his son Francis John “Grassy” Santos, when the beach in front of 94 Commercial was still undeveloped.
Flyer was born in Provincetown to Madeline F. Santos (1893-1993) and Joseph Peter Santos (1884-1961). “As a boy, I never walked anywhere, I always ran, so they called me the Flying Machine,” he told Edie Clark, as she recounted in States of Grace: Encounters With Real Yankees (2010). “Later on, that came down to Flyer, and it’s stuck with me all my life.”
His grandfather, John Pavon Santos, an Azorean by birth, had served on the crew of Rose Dorothea when she won the Lipton Cup. Though John Santos never talked about the experience, it was impossible for a boy to come of age in Provincetown in the early 20th century without knowing what happened in 1907. “All the time growing up, all I heard about was the Rose Dorothea,” Flyer told Clark. He was so infused with the legend, in fact, that he made a 38- or 40-foot model of the schooner for a Knights of Columbus parade in the mid-1930s.
Flyer belonged to the first class that graduated from the new Provincetown High School building, in 1932. For 15 years, he was apprenticed as a boat builder to Manuel “Ti Manuel” Furtado (1879-1945), whose yard was at 99 Commercial Street, on the site of the Union Wharf, where Sal’s Place is now. At the time of the Second World War, Santos and another Furtado alumnus, Joseph Andrews, were employed by the renowned Herreshoff Manufacturing Company in Bristol, R.I., where eight consecutive successful defenders of the America’s Cup had been constructed. Santos and Andrews worked on the fast, 71-foot, wood-hulled attack craft known as PT boats (patrol torpedo) for the Navy, 28 of which were built at the Herreshoff yard.
In 1944, Flyer came back home. “He had learned a lot of new techniques relating to mass production, which built on the skills he had developed working for Manuel Furtado,” Flyer’s daughter Janet (Santos) Greenquist wrote for the 2015 Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet. After operating briefly at what is now the West End Lot, 55-57 Commercial Street, Flyer moved his boat-building operations to a beachfront parcel
he owned at 103 Commercial Street, called Flyer’s Beach, directly opposite 94 Commercial Street. In the late 1940s, he built a boat shop in his back yard.
For a view of Flyer’s Boat Shop, please see 94 Commercial Street.
The sign was still kept, up in the rafters in 2018. Photo by David W. Dunlap.
Even as he began building significant vessels in his own right, like the 40-foot Old Glory, Flyer could not much loosen his embrace of all things Rose Dorothea. When the Santos family rented out rooms in the 1950s, the house was called the Rose Dorothea Apartments. Flyer even wanted to name his fifth child Rose Dorothea, but Irene was having none of it. “No,” she said, “I’m not naming my baby after a boat.” He compromised at Dorothea — known to family and friends as Dora. Besides her and sister Judith, the four other children that the couple raised at 94 Commercial Street were Francis John “Grassy” Santos, James Santos, Patricia (Santos) Nicholson (1949-2002), and Arthur Joseph “A. J.” Santos. Irene was the co-founder of Flyer’s Boat Yard. She kept books for that business and for the West End Racing Club, now known as West End Racing Children’s Community Sailing, at 83 Commercial Street, in which her husband was instrumental.
And still … there was Rose Dorothea.
The chance to commemorate her properly finally came in the mid-1970s with the development of the Provincetown Heritage Museum, 356 Commercial Street, in what had been built as the Center Methodist Church, after which it served as the Chrysler Art Museum. Josephine Del Deo (1925-2016) was the moving force in this effort, as she often was. She had been greatly impressed by the 89-foot, half-scale model of the whaling bark Lagoda that she’d seen at the New Bedford Whaling Museum. That seemed just the thing for Provincetown’s museum. And Flyer Santos was the man. “When Josephine Del Deo asked him if he thought he could build a half-scale model of the Rose Dorothea, the question wasn’t if, it was when,” Edie Clark wrote in her profile of Flyer.
Frank James, Salvatore Del Deo, Kathleen Meads, Richard “Tarts” Meads, Francis “Flyer” Santos, Josephine Del Deo, and David Ditacchio aboard the Rose Dorothea model.
Left: The model in the library. Right: Flyer Santos portrait by Salvatore Del Deo.
A wall of memorabilia at 94 Commercial Street. (2010.) Photo by David W. Dunlap.
“When” turned out to be a very long time for a project that wound up costing $75,000, or roughly $165,000 today. The keel was laid in the summer of 1977. Flyer and his crew — including Richard J. “Tarts” Meads (1948-1987), David Ditacchio, and Frank James — would make progress. The project would temporarily run out of money. Funds would be raised. Work would begin again and continue until the treasury was empty again. The masts were stepped in 1985. The sails were hoisted in 1986. And the completed model was dedicated on 25 June 1988, meaning that she has already existed more than twice as long as her historical namesake.
Flyer had many years left to savor his boat-building triumph. He lived to see his 100th birthday, which was nothing less than a municipal holiday, and front-page news in The Banner. He is buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery under a stone etched with a cross and the silhouette of a certain two-masted schooner.
¶ Last updated on 6 September 2018.
The front entrance. (2014.)
Flyer in his living room, in 2010.
A tribute to Flyer on his 100th birthday.
Dorothea “Dora” Santos and her father, in 2010.
The dining room cupboard. (2018.)
Flyer’s bedroom (2010.)
Flyer’s desk (2018) and a tribute to his days at the West End Racing Club.
The Santos family.
The central staircase at 94 Commercial. (2018.)
Flyer and Irene on the second-story porch.
A 180-degree view from the porch. (2018.)
Looking north on Commercial from the porch. (2018.)
Tools of the boatwright’s trade are throughout the house. (2018.)
Ceiling fixtures are ornamental, but the door knobs are simple. (2018.)
The master bedroom. (2018.)
Stairway to the attic, and a detail of an attic window. (2018.)
The attic at 94 Commercial Street. (2018.)
American and flags are in the attic. (2018.) Photos by David W. Dunlap.
For further reading online
“Francis ‘Flyer’ Santos 100th Birthday Album.” Municipal Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 6138.
“Life at 94 Commercial Street,” by Janet Santos Greenquist, Provincetown Portuguese Festival booklet, 2015.
“Making of the Rose Dorothea.” Municipal Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 4845.
“Provincetown’s Fabled Rose Dorothea,” by Steven Schwadron, The Provincetown Advocate, 16 June 1977. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 8, Page 89, and Book 9, Page 219. Dowd Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Pages 2209 and 4409.
“Provincetown’s ‘Flyer’ Santos dies at 100,” by Kaimi Rose Lum, The Provincetown Banner, 8 April 2015. Wicked Local, 20150408/NEWS/150406870.
“Rose Dorothea Dedication.” Municipal Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 6570.
“Rose Dorothea Had Broom at Her Mast in August 1907,” by Grace DesChamps, The Provincetown Advocate, 25 August 1966. Scrapbooks of Althea Boxell, Book 9, Pages 195 and 196. Dowd Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Pages 4382 and 4383.
“A Scrapbook of the Making of the Rose Dorothea,” by Josephine Del Deo. Municipal Collection, Provincetown History Preservation Project, Page 5256.
Grave sites in Provincetown
Del Deo, Josephine. Find a Grave Memorial 169002712.
Furtado, Manuel. Find a Grave Memorial 107199499.
Meads, Richard. Find a Grave Memorial 55175558.
Santos, Francis. Find a Grave Memorial 106905618.
Santos, Irene. Find a Grave Memorial 106905603.
Santos, Joseph. Find a Grave Memorial 131743428.
Santos, Madeline. Find a Grave Memorial 171625835.