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January 19, 2024

Sandwich Celebrates A Bunny And A Literary Lion

The Enterprise SANDWICH

Before getting down to serious talk of the town budgets and beach restoration last Thursday, the Sandwich Board of Selectmen got to have their cake and eat it, too.

The occasion was the 150th anniversary of the birth of beloved children’s author Thornton W. Burgess, who is arguably Sandwich’s most famous writer.

And what a cake it was!

It took Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School student Maeve West of Bourne eight hours to duplicate a drawing from a Burgess book—using frosting—of Peter Rabbit (Burgess’s most beloved character) and his wife, Josephine.

The cake’s meadows, bold blue sky, sunset, two white bunnies and a few of their friends were recreated with brighter-than-life colors and precision by Maeve, who has won national pastry and cake-decorating competitions.

The selectmen’s meeting started a half-hour early to accommodate the cake and proclamation ceremony.

Proclamations from state Senator Susan L. Moran and state Representative Steven G. Xiarhos were read into the record.

Sen. Moran said the state Senate honors Mr. Burgess for his 170 books, his 15,000 newspaper articles and his radio broadcasts.

His books “educated and delighted children around the world,” Sen. Moran said, adding that his love of the outdoors—and his willingness to educate about the natural world—designates the author as an early environmentalist.

Thornton Burgess was born and raised in Sandwich and graduated from Sandwich High School in 1891. His early life was a tough one, said James J. Lehane, who served as master of ceremonies at the selectmen’s meeting.

Mr. Burgess’s father died shortly after Thornton was born, leaving the boy and his mother bouncing around Sandwich, staying with relatives and friends.

“He was probably kind of a lonely kid who roamed all around here, the briar paths and so on; and we believe it is where he got most of his ideas from later in life, when he got married and had a son,” Mr. Lehane said. “He had to go to Boston to work as an advertising copywriter, and he missed his son, so he would write him stories and send them home.”

By writing stories for his son, Thornton III, Mr. Burgess discovered a passion for telling children about the natural world.

Mr. Lehane also serves as the vice chairman of the trustees of the Cape Cod Museum of Natural History—which now oversees the Thornton Burgess estate—and serves as chairman of the Thornton Burgess 150th birthday celebration.

The Thornton W. Burgess Society has many events planned throughout the year. They include nature hikes, a “Story Time” event with special guest and naturalist Stu Parsons, arts and crafts events, a Burgess-themed scavenger hunt, a meet-and-greet with Peter Cottontail and other surprises.

The Sandwich Enterprise has run Mr. Burgess’s stories in the newspaper every week for longer than anyone can remember.

“While he may perhaps be most well-known for his stories, namely the ones about Peter Rabbit, Mr. Burgess was also highly regarded for his conservation efforts,” a recent Enterprise editorial said about the landmark anniversary. “Those efforts included helping to pass laws to protect wildlife. He also documented the population decline and ultimate extinction of the heath hen, a bird that had once thrived between Maine and Virginia.”

He was right. By the mid-1800s, heath hens could be found only on Martha’s Vineyard. By 1933, they were extinct.

Longtime Sandwich resident David Sampson, representing the Upper Cape Cod Regional Technical School at the selectmen’s meeting, said almost everyone in Sandwich has been touched in some way by Thornton Burgess.

“Thornton Burgess holds a special place for so many Sandwich kids,” Mr. Sampson said. “If you think about when we’re kids—Peter Rabbit and the Thornton Burgess house. It’s such an important part of the Sandwich story.”