Donald E. Fish, whose family’s lineage reaches back to the earliest years of Falmouth and who combined his passion for photography and history to gather an extensive collection of images that give a candid view of Falmouth’s history, died Sunday, April 18, at Falmouth Hospital after a long battle with cancer. He was 93.
Mr. Fish was the son of Jehial Hatch Fish Jr., a direct descendent of Jonathan Hatch, a founder of Falmouth, and Marcella (MacGilvray) Fish.
Falmouth was a small town in Mr. Fish’s youth with some 5,000 residents. It was also the Depression. His father was a carpenter and managed to make ends meet, but pocket money for children of that era was a rare treat. Instead, Mr. Fish and his brothers and friends relied on their sense of adventure and humor. Mr. Fish’s was largely a happy childhood.
Known as Bucky, he and his friends had free range of the neighborhood. They spent time in the pine woods near Morse Pond, they explored the swamp at the end of Cahoon Court and discovered the old stage coach that served the Cape before the railroad was built; in winters they skated on Shivericks Pond.
And they explored the town dump that was then located off Gifford Street. In an article for Spritsail, publication of the Woods Hole Historical Collection, Mr. Fish told of finding box cameras, which he brought home and, swapping parts, got them working again. It was the start of his passion for photography. His love of Falmouth’s history was inspired by Lewis H. Lawrence, whom he knew as a teenager.
There was much to impress a young boy in the 1930s. Mr. Fish would later recall the day the Hindenburg flew over Falmouth and sitting on the wall in front of what was later to become the Elm Arch Inn and seeing Mrs. Beebe driven by in her Packard. And he recalled the night Clarence Parker was murdered near the family’s Walker Street home.
In the ‘40s, Mr. Fish’s father took a job at Wormelle’s boat yard, which is today Falmouth Marine, and the family moved to Scranton Avenue. Mr. Fish had seen the force of the Hurricane of 1938, but the Hurricane of 1944 brought the family close to tragedy. Mr. Fish told the story in “The Book of Falmouth.” Their home was located on the harbor where the Flying Bridge is today. As the storm gathered, the house began to shake so severely they decided it would be best to evacuate. They piled into a co-worker’s car with what valuables they could, plus the cat and dog. Then the roof of one of the nearby boatyard sheds blew off and landed on the car. They managed to walk across the fields to Walker Street and to shelter in a friend’s home.
Returning to the car the next day, they found the cat, which they had left behind, alive and well.
By then, Mr. Fish’s three older brothers were serving in World War II, and the family had moved into a home on Oakwood Avenue. Mr. Fish was too young to serve, but he helped the war effort at home and in 1943 joined the Sea Scouts.
He ended up enlisting and in 1946 joined the Army at Fort Devens. His name was the last added to the list of Falmouth residents serving, on a board that had been set up next to the WWI memorial in front of the library.
Mr. Fish took odd jobs after the war, working as a truck driver and at Wood Lumber Company on Locust Street. Then he turned to house painting, and it was his vocation for the remainder of his career.
He bought a 35mm camera and started gathering old prints. He would get photos anywhere he could find them, at yard sales and second-hand shops. Some he copied from family albums by taking photos of them. He would then set out to learn what he could about the images he collected.
He also dabbled in film, taking footage on an 8mm camera. He filmed Surf Drive during Hurricane Donna.
He converted his prints into 35mm slides and often presented slide shows to PTAs, clubs and the historical society.
Starting in the 1980s, he offered his photographs to John T. Hough, who published them regularly in the Enterprise. He later made the same arrangement with Mr. Hough’s son, William H. Hough, and Mr. Fish’s photographs have appeared weekly in the Enterprise for the past 10 years.
The Falmouth Historical Society awarded him the Heritage Award in 2015 in recognition of his contributions to the culture and sense of community.
Mr. Fish was also a self-taught artist, painting landscapes and nautical scenes in oil in his Main Street apartment above what is today Caline’s.
He moved back to Oakwood Avenue to care for his mother after his father died in 1959. Although he did not marry, he was a favorite uncle to his nieces and nephews, taking them to the beach and on day trips to the Vineyard.
He was gregarious and was for many years a member of the Elks and the Amvets. He was a story-teller and enjoyed making up his own jokes. He also enjoyed music and sang in a rich baritone voice.
He leaves seven nieces and nephews: Caroline Aiken and her husband, Greg Souza, of Falmouth; Marcella Brundage and husband, David Brundage, of Virginia; Patricia Scroggins of Texas; Joseph Fish of Texas; Ronald Fish and his wife, Ingrid Fish, of New Hampshire; Myrna Goodwin and her husband, Richard Goodwin, of North Carolina; and Michele Harvey and her husband, Wayne Harvey, of California.
Mr. Fish was predeceased by his brothers, E. Paul Fish, Jehial H. Fish III and Melvin J. Fish. His sister, Adeline A. Milanese, who was from Falmouth, died in December 2018.
Visitation will be Sunday, April 25, from 2 to 4 PM at Chapman Funerals and Cremations, 475 Main Street, Falmouth. Funeral mass will be held Monday at 10 AM at St. Patrick’s Church, Main Street, Falmouth.
Burial will follow at St. Joseph’s Cemetery, 407 Gifford Street in Falmouth.