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The man who wrote the Girl From Quanset

Originally published in the Cape Cod Chronicle

This summer the Historical Society is remounting The Girl From Quanset, a musical written in 1908 for the campers at Camp Quanset for Girls/ It was originally performed at OHS in 2015 after Diane McCauley donated some Orleans related ephemera in memory of her father Herman Brinkmann, including an incomplete songbook for the musical. The OHS archivist had the genius idea to show it to Fran Lautenberger, a volunteer who is also a theater person. Fran showed it to local ragtime pianist Sue Keller. In her words “we met, she played me the music, and we laughed.” They were sold and with a group of intrepid volunteers, they performed the musical to many laughs and applause.

But the history of the musical was still unknown. The Quanset log from that summer reports about the girls working on the musical- they wrote some of the lyrics, but Robert Matthews was credited as the composer and no one could find any information about him. Plus, some pages were missing from the songbook, leaving some plotlines odd and mysterious.

We got a complete songbook last summer when a Hammatt family member donated several large boxes of materials from the camp- including photos, yearbooks, brochures, letters, and songbooks. Fran came over to look at it and between her laughter she kept saying “oh, that is what happened!” Once again, her enthusiasm brought another production and this summer we are remounting it. But we still didn’t know who Robert Matthews was.

A few weeks ago, a couple from North Carolina was visiting their daughter in Chatham. They were driving to Provincetown to spend a rainy day when they drove through Orleans and the father mentioned his father went to camp in Orleans and he wondered if there was anything left. They were directed to the Historical Society. As he walked into the Meetinghouse, the man pointed at the poster advertising the musical which included the cover of the songbook and said “that’s my dad.”

After all these years, we know who Robert Matthews is thanks to his son Daniel. Robert’s sister Lucille was married to Richard Hammatt, the eldest child of the camp founders. For several years when the camp first began, Lucille was the sailing instructor. We don’t know how she got to Quanset- did she know Richard already or did she find out about the camp some other way and met Richard there? Whatever the answer is, the 1906 camp yearbook is already full of the romance between “Sailing Captain Matthews” and Richard. Robert joined her, serving as a swimming instructor and the “music director” for camp performances. A native of Kentucky, Matthews was teaching music at Lake Forest College. According to Dan, his father was very musical and could play all sorts of instruments.

Lucille and Richard married in 1910 after Richard had graduated from Harvard with a forestry degree. They went to his first assignment in Yellow Stone (sic), starting a long career in forestry which included creating Smokey the Bear. Robert stayed on at the camp a couple more years, but in 1912 began travelling the world as the secretary and back-up music director to Billy Sunday. Billy Sunday was a wildly successful and influential evangelical preacher in the early 20th century and a newspaper described Matthews as the “custodian of the tabernacle.” Eventually, Robert settled down, married, and in his fifties, had two sons. It’s good to know that as OHS has ensured his music is not forgotten, his son is here to make sure his story is not.

The fun continues in August when the cast returns for 3 final performances at OHS on August 10 and August 11 at 7 pm and a matinee on August 12 at 4 pm. Please join us and in the words of Fran Lautenberger “let yourself surrender to the silliness and take a walk back in time when things were simpler. Summers were filled with lazy days at the shore and girls could spend 8 weeks at camp learning to sail, swim and make friends.”

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