Mysteries and Revelations – Charles Philip Beebe of Falmouth

19 Oct Mysteries and Revelations – Charles Philip Beebe of Falmouth

What is the mystery behind this man?

In January 2016, a windfall fell into our lap at Falmouth Museums on the Green.  We received a phone call from an old Boston law firm.  They had opened a long-forgotten storage unit and found a stash of papers belonging to the Beebe family, dating from the 1880s to the 1950s.

Apparently, no descendants wanted the papers.  Were we interested?

You bet we were.

James Madison Beebe made a fortune operating Boston’s first department store.  His children and grandchildren adopted Falmouth as their summer home, and left an indelible mark on the town.  They built Highfield Hall and St. Barnabas Church, preserved the land known today as Beebe Woods, and patronized an array of charities.

The Beebes enjoyed their position atop the social pyramid, but they had tragedies and secrets, just as any other family does.  Two of James Madison Beebe’s grandchildren, Emily and Arthur, committed suicide as young adults.  Their brother, Charles Philip, was rumored to be “odd” and was rarely seen in Falmouth.  Word leaked out that he had been committed to Maclean Hospital.

As we began to sift through our new Beebe collection, we found box after box of documents belonging to this mystery man.  A glance through his account books shows Charles to be a profligate spender who divided his time between a Back Bay townhouse and a remote camp in Oregon.  Letters hint at a strained relationship with his family.  Bills from Pinkerton’s agency indicate that Charles had hired private detectives to shadow one or more people.  Eventually his behavior alarmed his uncles enough so that they petitioned a court for his involuntary committal.

It will take years for us to digest all the information in this collection.  Was Charles really insane, or just eccentric, as he claimed?

One day we may have a clearer picture.  So far, we’ve barely looked into the boxes related to E. Pierson, Franklin, J. Arthur, and other Beebes.  Imagine what secrets are still waiting to be discovered!

The Mysteries and Revelations Exhibit currently is at the Cape Cod Museum of Art

September 24 to November 26

10 a.m. to-5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays and noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

Admission: $9    Seniors: $7     Ages 13-18: $5;      Students: 19+: $7;     Members  & Children Free


It features more than 40 exhibits contributed by 36 museums on the Cape and Islands – intriguing objects and their stories that reveal fascinating facts about an unfamiliar past.

Pondering unsolved mysteries or questioning true or false stories behind a wide range of artifacts, paintings, photographs, and curiosities, visitors will learn the remarkable truths and legends uncovered by these singular treasures preserved by each participating organization.

“Mysteries & Revelations” was organized by Cape Cod Museum of Art Director Edith (Deede) Tonelli and Guest Curator Amanda Wastrom in response to the theme for New England Museum Association’s Conference this year:  “Truth & Trust: Museums in a Polarized Society.”  The Conference takes place in Falmouth from October 24 – 27.

NEMA Conference 2017

When visitors go to a museum, they expect what they see to be true, Tonelli told the Cape Cod Times as she related the exhibit to NEMA’s theme.

“How do we get to the truth?” asks Tonelli.  “This exhibit shines a light on the work of Cape Cod museum professionals who are on the front lines of documenting and preserving our history.  Ultimately, we—our culture and our history—are defined by the stories that we preserve and share with our community.  We invite our community to enter this show with their own stories and add to our shared cultural identity.”

The collaborative exhibit is curated by Amanda Wastrom.


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