Some 15 years ago, I first became enchanted by the little red fish shack in Rockport — Motif No.1.
I had undertaken the design of a website for the Rockport Chamber of Commerce, what was to become www.rockportusa.com, and everywhere I looked I suddenly saw Motif No.1 popping up.
The chamber's yearly guide, "The Rockport Anchor," featured the iconic shack on all its 48 covers, and there was a yearly festival called "Motif No.1 Day," which had also been observed nearly 50 years.
What was this about, I wondered.
Other important dates started to appear.
In 1978, during the Great Blizzard, the original building was swept off its foundation. Amidst a following storm of controversy, the town decided to rebuild. Why?
In 1933, a model float was created by the Rockport American Legion post and driven to the Chicago World's Fair. Why?
In 1930, the town of Rockport voted to make Motif No.1 the official symbol of the town. Why?
And so, in 1998, at my request, for the first time the Motif building was open to the public. More than 175 people traipsed through and listened to a first telling of what was going on in 1932-'33 Rockport. Each year since 1998, in May at the weekend designated for Motif No. 1 Day, I have spun tales reflecting on these three "whys," and assembled a jigsaw puzzle left on the floor of dates across the ocean and an outcropping of granite.
1933 — Rockport emerges from isolation, the seaside village now visible as small town America. And Rockport wants to find a way to make the world sit up and take notice.
The model fish shack, in its travels, unlocks the doors of the summer colony, and ushers in the era of summer tourists, and ultimately, the day trippers.
1933 — Chicago, after a century of growth, now declines in the face of the Great Depression. But it hosts the World's Fair, promoting "Come to the World's Fair." Discover a triumph over lost jobs, where "Science Finds, Industry Applies, Man Conforms."
As the World's Fair, and the American Legion Convention converge, attracting millions of visitors — and over 160,000 Legionnaires — the tiny float designed and painted by the masters of the Rockport Art Association sails along to a berth at the Navy Pier.
Dappled colors from the sunrises and sunsets of Cape Ann and the grit of windblown fishing boats, fascinate all of Chicago. And so the story goes its way. The float wins the parade competition before a cheering throng in the famed Soldier Field.
The float comes back to Rockport. In time, it falls apart and the story falls apart.
Yet the fish shack remains — and this year, we note the restoration project underway of Lanesville's Motif No. 1, the the Lanes Cove Fish Shack!
As I pick up the boards to nail together the tale again this year, I think of the children of Cape Ann and the importance of their hearing this story — and of how a story can lead us to reflect and ask "Why?"
Rockport photographer and local historian Leslie Bartlett will be talking about the new Sandy Bay Historical Society book, and signing copies of "The Little Fish Shack Which Charmed Chicago," at the Rockport Art Association during Motif No. 1 Day this Saturday, from 10 to 11 a.m.