Discoveries Hidden in the Attic of Time

It’s truly as remarkable as it was uncanny.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood straight up when she sent me a message through Facebook fairly recently asking me if I realized the importance not only of being related to Barnstable’s founder, the Rev. John Lothrop, but that in being one of his direct descendants she was, without question, my cousin.

The Rev. John Lothrop House, better known as the impeccable and delightfully resourceful Sturgis Library on Route 6A in Barnstable Village, had been the launching point for me in the creation of www.redraiderpride.com, a web site the Boston Globe once called the “best high school sports web site in New England.” That was a decade ago and in the time that has elapsed since what became first an interest in the history of Barnstable High School football evolved into not only the history of all Red Raider athletics, but the foundation of the BHS Athletic Hall of Fame.

Some of the credit for those things belongs to Lucy Loomis, the estimable, bright and intuitive Sturgis Library Director whose empathy for my pursuit was not lost by that pursuit’s strict goal of ascertaining the basic and indisputable facts of Red Raider athletic history.

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The Sturgis Library on Route 6A in Barnstable Village is a vast treasure trove of local history, including local sports. CJ Gunther Photo

The Sturgis Library on Route 6A in Barnstable Village is a vast treasure trove of local history, including local sports. CJ Gunther Photo

So when, recently, I was unexpectedly contacted via Facebook by former Acton-Boxborough Regional High School classmate Ellen Walther regarding our shared descent from Barnstable’s progenitor, I was immediately awestruck with an entire wave of ineffable feelings all connected with the aid Loomis had given me in building the digital database that formed the online archives for all athletic feats associated with the Red & White.

A lot has changed at the Sturgis Library since that innocent albeit fruitful time. My children were in grade school then, and it’s hard to imagine them racing around the library as I scanned old newspapers and documents trying to piece together the foundation of BHS athletics.  The library, which has since taken vast leaps and bounds in protecting its invaluable resources, has grown in the most up-to-date and modern ways and protocols while keeping its small-town Americana feel. Loomis looks no different than the day she allowed me into the attic and we struck a bargain that may have saved those heaped up, massive, ancient tomes from becoming fodder for mice.

All of that came rushing back to me, you see, when my old classmate informed me of our shared relationship with Rev. John Lothrop, our 11th great-grandfather, and it came rushing back to me juxtaposed with the eerie memory that the entire time I had been sitting in solitude at Sturgis studying the miniscule print of century-old newspapers, not once did I feel alone.

“A lot of people say that,” Loomis said this week when I popped in to see if she still remembered all that research a decade ago, and then she went on to relate the tremendous archaeological project currently underway in that very same attic I once sifted through, searching for Red Raider lore.

“Perhaps they do say that,” I thought, as Loomis gave me an impromptu tour and update, quite generously. ”But not the way I felt it.”

Sitting in the library mid-winter over a decade ago, in what once was a second floor former living space turned into office lounge, spread out on a large round kitchen table, I sifted through the sands of time trying desperately to overlook cattle updates from farmer Crocker circa 1891, just to find mention, as The Barnstable Patriot first called it, the game of “Foot-ball.” Intermittently peering out of century-old windows, watching the sun set and the snow begin to drift down, I discovered so many, many things about the history of a town I had no idea my family had been such a big part of. I just didn’t know that they were a part of it until recently.

The feeling of knowing you had been meant to be in a certain place, at a certain time, overwhelmed me when my classmate contacted me, some 30 years after we sat next to each other in homeroom. It was as surreal to think I had sat in the same place my 11th great-grandfather had once lived and breathed over 300 years earlier as it was to think I had sat next to a distant cousin in homeroom every day for four years nary speaking a word.

Sitting in that second floor Sturgis room as daylight grew dim one night a decade ago, my hand aching from transcription and my throat painfully cracked from the old manse’s aridness and surrounding dusty stacks of old books, I could not shake the instinct that I was being watched, or joined, or looked at. I just figured it was a spooky place, to a degree, but I had to finish what I set out to do.

I finished that work – by and large – to the degree that reading every newspaper from 1885 through 2002 could afford me. What evolved was www.redraiderpride.com, a never-ending work in progress. The athletic history of any high school, if you care to view it this way, seasonally grows by every pass thrown or match played, and every base stolen or goal scored. I’ve always felt that any feat or accomplishment in any high school should be recorded and maintained and how shameful it would be if so many feats and events died by nothing more than from the passage of time and a laziness not to keep track of them.

I just never realized how deeply intertwined all of these things really are, or how deeply our roots can be beneath us. I never truly understood why I was so motivated to spend more than a quarter of my life fully devoted to the history of a school I did not attend or a town I did not grow up in.

Until it dawned upon me that it had been part of the design all along, set forth in motion when Rev. John Lothrop first stepped foot in this place now known as the Sturgis Library. It is all connected. It all has meaning. And even though I had no idea a decade ago who Barnstable founder Rev. John Lothrop was or that I was one of his great-grandsons three centuries later, there most assuredly are no coincidences.

Sean Walsh is the sports editor for Cape Cod Broadcast Media. His column appears at www.capecod.com weekly. He may be reached via email at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at coachwalshccbm