The Foot of Silas Silver VIII
On January 23, 1845, The Yarmouth Register printed an obituary for Silas Silver VIII. His death would rock the foundations of his family for the next century. But of all the consequences his unexpected absence would bring, it was the legend of what happened to the man’s final remains which caused the most chaos for the scions of Silas.
The obituary read “Lost overboard, November 13th, off Race Point, from the schooner Minna of Harwich, Mr. Silas Silver, aged 28 years. He has a left a wife, three daughters, and a son. The man’s foot, boot, and stocking, the latter marked SS (which drifted ashore early in December near P’town) belonged to Mr. S. His wife identified the mark on the stocking.”
Silas’ great-great-grandson Matt recounts what is believed to have happened during the wife’s identification of the stocking in “The Tale of Old Silas” (from the book All He Left Behind). And he centers the account on the son of the lost Silas Silver VIII: the baby who would grow up to be Silas Silver IX.
[A] blustery December morning…brought two fellows down from the very tip of Cape Cod—Provincetown—through the snowy streets of humble Harwich. Silas was in the arms of his mother, and, along with his sisters, watched, from the window above the kitchen sink, the two men trudging through the freshly fallen snow, the wind whipping off of Nantucket Sound so fiercely that it nearly toppled them and their terrible burden. They carried with them a burlap sack containing all that was left of his father—a boot which had washed ashore, into the dunes that ringed the Race Point lighthouse, and within that boot a severed foot clod in a tattered stocking, stitched with the poor man’s initials in the sole.
While his sisters served the weary travelers tea and biscuits, it was said that Silas himself, a mere babe, could not take his eyes off of the stocking—minus the foot now, of course. He pointed at it, and struggled to wriggle from his mother’s arms to touch the object of his newfound obsession. But he would never touch it, just as he would never again feel the rough, stubbled face of his father pressed against his cheek in a silent farewell before heading out to sea. The sock and the boot would be burned. And the foot—well, nobody could remember what had happened to the foot (or, at least, nobody would say), but Silas suspected that it had been burned, too, whatever small part of it there was, for the smell of burning flesh, no matter if it were the flesh of a pig, or a cow, or a lamb, still churned his stomach to this day. Even the smell of his own sweat, his own skin after a day in the sun raising a barn or a house—even that was enough to make him sick.
And here is where things take a turn for the strange. According to cryptic notes found in the diary of one of Silas Silver IX’s seven wives, the boot was re-discovered beneath the floorboards of the family’s Cape Cod home in 1892. It was supposedly used that year in a bizarre ritual performed by the aforementioned wife, in an attempt to bring the late Silas Silver VIII back to life. To what end, the family was never sure. But that didn’t stop Matt Silver from dramatizing the events—some might say overdramatizing them—in his 2011 play “The Boot,” a version of which was seen by and provided epiphanies for his family members in the novel The Boot of Destiny.