Funny, isn't it, how rain always has a way of putting a damper _ pun intended _ on a vacation even if you are in a city and plan to spend most of your sightseeing time indoors admiring oil paintings or examining artifacts? But precipitation can massacre a leisure mood when you are in a place such as Cape Cod, when all you want to do is hike or bike or do nothing more strenuous than turning 180 degrees on the beach to avoid sunburn.
Face it: The cape shrieks "OUTDOORS." And even the favorite nonactive pastime, watching major league baseball's future stars impress scouts and fans in the renowned Cape Cod Baseball League, is dependent on the will of the clouds to stay tightly sealed.
The following attractions are not for visiting on bad weather days only. But they offer ample evidence that there is much more to do on Cape Cod in poor weather than retreat to your room and play Trivial Pursuit. (Question: Who was the first 20th century president to use a Massachusetts residence as a summer White House? The answer is below.)
Many museums, one place
One could easily spend several hours at Heritage Museums & Gardens, formerly known as Heritage Plantation, in Sandwich. The museum grouping is a 100-acre repository of Americana and adjacent gardens that began as the donated collection of Josiah Kirby Lilly III and his father, Josiah Kirby Lilly Jr., a frequent Cape Cod summer resident and scion of Indianapolis' Eli Lilly pharmaceutical family.
The operating carousel with the hand-carved horses gracing the complex's art museum rotunda might be enough to make staying indoors palatable, especially for those who enjoy studying scrimshaw, menagerie figures and folk art. Be sure to notice the carousel creatures not simply as a carnival conveyance but as art. Other carved wooden carousel animals dot the rotunda, including a magnificent cat chomping a fish. Three galleries house a variety of American art, but folk art is the focus, from weather vanes to scrimshaw to paintings.
Inside another symbol of American ingenuity, a reproduced Shaker-style round barn, a classic Duesenberg from the 1930s, driven by legendary actor Gary Cooper, joins the presidential car once occupied by William H. Taft as the star attraction. (Answer to above trivia question: It was Taft, an Ohio native, who summered in a cottage in the town of Beverly, north of Boston.)
Displays of toys that provided amusement long before the creation of the computer mouse (or even Mickey Mouse), American Indian handcrafts that transcend the ubiquitous tomahawks with Day-Glo feathers once found in every souvenir shop in New England (think intricate beadwork, pottery and carved sculptures) and Nantucket lightship baskets are further remnants of life centuries ago in this part of America.
An operating Dutch-style windmill built in the cape village of Orleans in 1800, with sails resembling Paul Bunyan's bedsheets, also provides a respite from the rain and an intriguing lesson in wind energy. Take a glance at the windmill's size and consider its sheer power; when the wind reached 20 mph or more, the mill could grind a bushel of grain in 20 minutes. It was last used commercially in 1889, by which time it was cheaper to purchase flour already ground.
Sports fans unite. In the complex's American History Museum is a special exhibit that would be equally at home in Cooperstown. The Cape Cod Baseball League Hall of Fame, with jerseys, bats and depictions of early games, tells the tale of the long-standing tradition of baseball played here since the game's infancy in the 1880s.
The Kennedys on display
It was America's other national sport, football, that was the favored pastime of Cape Cod's most famous family. Sen. Edward "Ted" Kennedy, brother of President John F. Kennedy, said, "The time President Kennedy spent in Hyannisport during his youth and presidency were among the happiest days of his life." That life in Hyannisport is on view at the John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum.
Baby boomers who receive regular mailings to join the AARP will recall when Hyannisport was a frequent dateline in newspapers across the world. President Kennedy summered here at his family's compound, and stories of touch football and sailing the seas, Kennedy-style, captured Americans' hearts in the early 1960s.
Eighty framed black-and-white photos of the Kennedys at work or play on the cape during the administration known as Camelot constitute the gist of the museum exhibits. There is the president with Dean Rusk and Averell Harriman in July 1963. There are presidential parents Joe and Rose Kennedy with eight of their children in the 1920s; Ted had not yet been born. There are the president and John Jr. leaving a Hyannisport candy store, and the nuclear Kennedy family sailing on Cape Cod Bay.
But the most endearing photo, especially to today's young and pierced generation, might be the July 1963 photo of cousins Caroline Kennedy (now Schlossberg) and Maria Shriver (now California's first lady and wife of Arnold Schwarzenegger), perhaps in first grade, sitting side by side and accompanied by empty lunch plates. Caroline has her fingers stretching her mouth wide as she sticks out her tongue for the camera.
Photos aside, visitors can gain insight into the president and his beloved summer place through an introductory video narrated by longtime news anchor Walter Cronkite. It was, says Cronkite, "a place where hearth and home coexisted with business as usual," where wandering dunes and windblown beach craft occupied the president's mind along with news from Cuba, Laos, Vietnam, Berlin and the Soviet Union. A family time line is posted, and an audiotape highlights the quips of the president, known for his sharp sense of humor.
The only controversial display here is the scale model of a sculpture by David Lewis. Titled What Could've Been, it depicts President Kennedy and John Jr. as grown men walking side by side. It is magically allegorical, but negative reactions from local media plus sensitivity to the Kennedy family's feelings caused the Hyannis Chamber of Commerce to drop plans to turn it into a full-sized sculpture.
The mind of an artist
The cape was the home of many other notables, including Edward Gorey, whose name offhand might not register. But if you have ever seen the introductory artwork during airings of the PBS series Mystery, you are already familiar with Gorey's eccentric and sometimes macabre work.
His home in Yarmouth opened to the public on July 13, 2002, and a visit offers a glimpse into what many perceive as the bearded and bespectacled artist's strange mind.
Gorey, who died in 2000 at age 75, admired Japanese literature and culture to the extent that he set up his own Japanese rock garden in the kitchen, still there today. In fact, the entire kitchen looks much as it did during Gorey's residence, dominated by a crude and stained rough-hewn wooden dinner table. The black rotary dial telephone on a kitchen counter was moved here from Gorey's upstairs studio, off-limits to visitors.
Gorey loved elephants, cats and bats. Check out the elephant-shaped toilet that Gorey transformed into an end table, and the piece of driftwood resembling an elephant head posted above the kitchen entrance. Gorey owned five cats, and a trio of Felix the Cat magnets is attached to the refrigerator.
As a proud member of Bat Conservation International Inc., Gorey was an animal welfare advocate. Literature about his favored causes is in a back room transformed into a hands-on workshop for kids. They can take quizzes about animals and get creative with markers and rubber stamps depicting some of Gorey's best known images, such as the dapper cat donning a top hat and the hybrid duck-billed, two-legged creature from his book The Doubtful Guest.
They also can browse through that fanciful tome and others he wrote or illustrated for children, such as The Glorious Nosebleed, The Shrinking of Treehorn and The EpiplecticBicycle. The prologue to the bicycle title sums up Gorey's style: "It was the day after Tuesday and the day before Wednesday."
Several examples of Gorey's original fine-lined pen and ink illustrations are displayed throughout the home, as are his personal possessions. But was Gorey as gory as his persona? Rick Jones, one of his best friends, responds, "I suppose with some people he gave that impression. But he really wasn't. He'd come over my house, and we'd play cards and cribbage. He was a very complex individual who loved everything. He was a delight and had a wonderful sense of humor."
2-foot waves, indoors
Did you ever notice how people don't go to water parks on rainy days since they might get wet? However strange that may sound, it is true: Most of us don't indulge in water slides in the rain.
Cape Cod has one indoor water park, in Hyannis. But there is a catch. It is on the grounds of the Cape Codder Resort and Spa, and one must be a guest at the resort to use it. Still, its singularity makes it worth a mention. The park is not huge, but it's certainly sufficient. It boasts a wave pool with 2-foot waves, two 80-foot water slides and dancing water fountains ready to surprise bathers with an unexpected spray.
The resort's spa, on the other hand, is open to nonguests. Kids can partake in tutti-frutti manicures and chocolate milkshake pedicures, in which their extremities are pampered with the likes of a salt candy soak and tutti-frutti moisturizer or a chocolate milkshake bath and an application of whipped cream lotion. Hands and feet have never smelled so yummy.
Michael Schuman is a freelance writer living in Keene, N.H.
IF YOU GO
GETTING THERE: Several airlines offer nonstop and connecting service from Tampa International Airport to Boston. Cape Cod is about 70 miles from Boston.
SITES TO SEE:
Heritage Museums and Gardens, Pine and Grove streets, Sandwich. Hours _ May through October: 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily (open Wednesday until 8); November through April: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday through Sunday; also open Monday holidays and school vacation weeks. Admission: $12 adults, $10 age 60 and older, $6 ages 6 to 16; kids under 5 get in free. Call (508) 888-3300, ext. 118; www.heritagemuseumsandgardens.org.
John F. Kennedy Hyannis Museum, 397 Main St., Hyannis. Hours _ mid April through October: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays and holidays. November through early December and mid February through mid April, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon-4 p.m. Sundays and holidays. Admission is $5 for adults and $2.50 for seniors and children ages 10 to 16. Call (508) 790-3077; www.hyannis.com/JFKMuseum.asp.
Edward Gorey House, 8 Strawberry Lane, Yarmouthport. Hours _ May through September: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday; October through April: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Thursday through Saturday, noon to 4 p.m. Sunday; closed Jan. 15 through Feb. 28 and on major holidays. Admission: $5 adults, $3 students and seniors, $2 ages 6 to 12; children under 6 admitted free. Note: The tour is self-guided; to get the most from your visit, ask the staff questions. Call (508) 362-3909; www.edwardgoreyhouse.org.
STAYING THERE: The Cape Codder Resort & Spa, Route 132 and Bearse's Way, Hyannis. Doubles: $99-$239 depending on season. Tutti-frutti manicures are $25 for 20 minutes, and chocolate milkshake pedicures are $40 for 40 minutes. Call toll-free 1-888-297-2200;; www.capecodderresort.com.
FOR MORE INFORMATION: Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 790, Hyannis, MA 02601; call toll-free 1-888-332-2732; www.capecodchamber.org.