PROVINCETOWN – Ken Lonergan’s got rhythm. But the big bell he carries doesn’t hurt either.
Lonergan is the Provincetown Town Crier, a job that entails welcoming boatloads of tourists to the town at the Cape’s tip and breaking into Broadway tunes on Commercial Street when the mood strikes him.
Oh, and don’t forget the Pilgrim outfit. Those shiny gold shoe buckles are to die for.
Lonergan, a retired school teacher from Somerville, took on the role of town crier nine years ago.
The bohemian tourist mecca at the far end of Cape Cod had many town criers over the years, but did not have one in place when Lonergan, a summer visitor to town, walked into the Provincetown Chamber of Commerce and suggested they give him the job.
Earlier that day, he had been at the Provincetown Monument & Museum and saw an exhibit about past town criers.
When he realized that the position of town crier was currently unfilled, he knew just the man for the job.
“I came into the chamber and said, ‘I can’t believe you people let such a wonderful tradition die,’” he said he told Chamber Executive Director Candice Collins-Boden.
Collins-Boden said that when she first came to live in Provincetown more than 40 years ago, there was a town crier. “He was a lovely man,” she recalled.
When Lonergan approached her about reviving the tradition, Collins-Boden was also on the board of the Provincetown Monument & Museum, which was discussing plans for a special ceremony celebrating the centennial of the monument’s construction—a perfect occasion for a town crier. The timing was right and she decided to hire Lonergan for the position.
“It was meant to be,” Lonergan said.
Collins-Boden said Lonergan is an exemplary town crier.
“Ken gives his all to being town crier for Provincetown. He sings; he hugs people. He’s a wonderful ambassador for Provincetown,” she said.
Lonergan, who is 70 years old, works Wednesdays through Saturdays from 10am to 2:30pm during the summer. He stands at the end of Macmillan Wharf, welcoming the fast ferry boat passengers, as they step onto the storied pier.
He rings his bell and calls out, “Here ye, here ye! All is well in Provincetown because you’re here! The Chamber of Commerce welcomes you,” as the hundreds of passengers disembark.
It is a quirky introduction to a quirky town—and seems just right. On a recent afternoon, almost everyone smiled when they saw Lonergan ringing his bell.
One young boy walked up to him and asked why he was wearing the outfit and ringing the bell.
“A pilgrim with a bell is a town crier,” Lonergan patiently explained.
Lonergan said when he greets people on the wharf and when he is walking along Commercial Street, he is often asked for directions or for history lessons of the town.
People sometimes try to tip him, but he refuses all tips, explaining that he is a chamber of commerce employee. “They are shocked when I tell them, it’s all for goodwill,” he said.
People frequently ask him to pose with them for photos and he gladly complies. In dozens of interactions with people on the wharf, only one negative word crosses his lips—it’s about the bell. A woman wants to pose with him for a photo but she wants to hold the bell. The answer is a firm “no.”
She asks several more times.
Lonergan explains that if he lets her hold the bell, he would have to let everyone hold the bell. The explanation seems to satisfy her. Crisis averted and she is still smiling. So is he, as he continues to move down the wharf.
“I really love people. That sounds so corny and trite, but it’s true,” he said.
As much as he enjoys it, Lonergan notes the town crier gig is no cake walk. “It takes a lot of energy, in terms of ringing the bell,” he said.
One of his favorite parts of the job is the spontaneity, bursting into song at the slightest encouragement. His repertoire includes “Ring Them Bells” (of course); “Grand Old Flag”; “Yankee Doodle Dandy”; and “I’ve Got Rhythm.”
And yes, he does.