Napoleon Eugene “Gene” Poyant (1921-1998). It takes nothing away from his successors to say that Gene Poyant was the most colorful town crier of the modern era. How could it have been otherwise, since his doublet and breeches were all crimson? “If Santa Claus had come to America on the Mayflower, he would look like Poyant,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette said in 1994. Poyant was from Acushnet. He served in the Coast Guard as a seaman first class during World War II and found himself stationed at Race Point, “where he acquired his first love for Provincetown,” the Advocate said in a 1965 article about his run for the Select Board.
In the 1950s and ’60s, he ran Gene’s Bakery on the small plaza between Town Hall and the old Congregational church. There, in 1960, he opened what he called a “French sidewalk café” — Café Poyant, surely one of the first in town. Cosmopolitan as that sounds, Poyant also earned a reputation as something of a reactionary as he campaigned against “pigs” — beatniks and hippies — whom he accused of taking over Provincetown. “All afternoon long you can see them stretched all over the [Town Hall] lawn in little groups, sleeping, making love not war, admiring each other’s long hair, scraggly beards, and dirty feet,” he wrote in June 1967. “This is very disgusting to our year-round residents and most of our regular summer people. … Can’t somebody do something to stop this?” (Town officials had to remind him there was nothing illegal about being unshorn or unbathed.)
He and his wife, Lillian M. Poyant (1920-1997), closed their business in the early 1980s. That was when the gregarious Poyant began offering his services as town crier, in his striking red interpretation of a Pilgrim costume. He “became the subject of many a tourist photo, for which he readily accepted many a small token of their appreciation,” Irma Ruckstuhl recalled in 2011. But he may have let his opinions get the upper hand again. In 1987, after four years on the job, he was accused of telling a tourist outside the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House: “Gays and lesbians have overtaken the church and all kinds of sacrilegious things happen in there.” Though Poyant vigorously denied the accusation, the Select Board, which was then headed by Paul Christo, required that he surrender any emblems or badges bearing the town name. He was not reappointed.
This was scarcely the end of his career, however. He kept his membership in the Ancient & Honourable Guild of Town Criers, serving as the crier of Barnstable County and of Naples, Fla., where he and Lillian spent winters. He remained active at least until 1995, only three years before his death. The crier’s position in Provincetown, meanwhile, languished until 2007, when Ken Lonergan took up the bell. He was hired by the board of directors of the Pilgrim Monument and Provincetown Museum after they watched him in action out in front of the U.U., of all places.
Napoleon “Gene” Poyant as town crier of Provincetown. [Salvador R. Vasques III / My Provincetown Memorabilia Collection]
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 106362623. (Gene)
• Find a Grave Memorial No. 106362649. (Lillian)
• Provincetown’s Historic Cemeteries and Memorials, by Amy Whorf McGuiggan, Memorial No. 51.
¶ Last updated on 15 December 2021.