Edwin Rosskam took these photos of Provincetown, Mass., in August 1940. Rosskam, with his wife Louise, chronicled American life during the Great Depression for the Farm Security Administration. The caption on this photo reads, “Tourists fresh off the boat from Boston. With only two hours in town, they buy seashells, dinners, trinkets, and rides on the sightseeing bus.”
“Local talent makes music on a Sunday afternoon under soldiers’ monument,” wrote Rosskam. Provincetown had been a whaling and fishing center in the 19th century, and by the 1890s it attracted writers, artists and tourists.
The Portland Gale in 1898 wrecked much of Provincetown’s fishing industry, and the town became more dependent on tourism. Here, Rosskam photographed tourists on the street.
“Provincetown’s reputation as an art center provides ample income for several art schools,” wrote Rosskam. “Outdoor classes are likely to pop up anywhere.” The Cape Cod School of Art, the first outdoor school of art in the United States, was founded in Provincetown in 1898 by Charles Webster Hawthorne.
Shacks used by fishermen and members of the lifesaving service were converted in the early 20th century to homes for tourists, artists and writers. Henry David Thoreau described antebellum shacks, used for the lifesaving service and as refuges for shipwrecked sailors in Provincetown and Truro. They were replaced in the 1920s by the Dune Shacks of Peaked Hill. The shacks had no electricity or running water. They were used by Jack Kerouac, e. e. cummings, Norman Mailer, Jackson Pollac and, most famously, Eugene O’Neill. They are now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rosskam captured these tourists at home in a Truro tourist house.