No ordinary summertime back-yard neighborhood event would have warranted admission in Norman Mailer’s sweeping meditation Of a Fire on the Moon (1970). But Daniel Banko had nothing ordinary in mind in the late summer of 1969 when, at the suggestion of John W. “Jack” Kearney, he decided to bury a Ford sedan that had not quite lasted until Labor Day. In his own back yard.
Banko, the author of Very Dry With a Twist [?], and his wife, Carmela [a/k/a Connie?], had purchased No. 606 from Arlie and Suzanne Sinaiko in 1963. This lot, as well as the lots on either side of it, and the corresponding lot at 292 Bradford Street had all once been part of an enormous estate belonging to the Sears family. No. 606 was at one time the homestead. Joseph Warren Sears (±1863-1949), a fisherman, was one of the last family members to live on the property. The Sinaikos bought the estate in 1959.
Fast forward one full decade. The wild summer of 1969, which saw any number of “happenings” play out around town, was coming to a close. For sheer audacity, the “happening” to beat was the destruction of Beverly Mailer’s Citroën at the Provincetown Auto Body Shop, which yielded a bust of Charles de Gaulle, fashioned by Kearney from one of the vehicle’s fender guards. When Banko complained to Kearney that his Ford was “about to croak,” Kearney replied, “Why don’t we bury it if it’s dead?”
The stage was set for what Kearney called the “biggest happening that summer,” in his interview with Peter Manso for the biography Mailer: His Life and Times (1985). Kearney recalled 300 people showing up for the funeral. There was plenty of beer, but only three shovels, making the task of digging a sedan-sized grave far too formidable. A hat was passed and a backhoe was hired. “Soon, coming over what is now Suzanne Sinaiko’s orchard was this snorting monster, what looked like a dinosaur, and everybody cheered,” Kearney told Manso.
Its labors proved, however, that the water table was so high that a properly deep grave couldn’t be excavated in any event. “After a great debate,” Kearney told Manso, “we all decided that a half-buried car was better than a no-buried car. Danny drove the Ford up on the lawn, coming in like Napoleon, and he wanted to drive it into the hole. I talked him out of that, and instead we pushed the car in backwards. A mighty cheer went up.”
Mailer — Aquarius — was among the pallbearers pushing the Ford into the void, so let’s let him take up the account in Chapter 3, “A Burial by the Sea.”
“A boy dressed in the black robes of a Byzantine priest [Victor Manso] read somber verses from Virgil, the Latin passing like a wash of coagulants over the car still settling in its half-buried grave, and Heaton Vorse in a cape and long-brimmed loose-hinged hat read from the Song of Solomon, sounds of mirth going up as the lines fell like hoops on the promontories of the apricot and cream Ford.
“I compare you, my love, to a mare of Pharaoh’s chariots. / Your cheeks are comely with ornaments, / Your neck with strings of jewels. …
“The crowd applauded, and Aquarius felt the proper warmth a funeral should evoke, a sorrow in the pit of merriment and the humor of the very sad — all those Provincetown neighbors out to applaud the burial of an old oil-soaked beast, and the Bankos circulated beer while children ran around the edge of the event, impatient for the ceremony to cease so that they might begin to paint the half of the auto protruding from earth. A child reached in through the open window and turned a switch. The windshield wipers went on in a flick. ‘My God, it’s not dead yet,’ said a voice. But as if in a throe of its last effluents, the washers began to squirt a final lymph.”