Anthony “Phat” Francis (1896-1969)- Five “Phun” Facts
Truro Historical Society’s goal is to keep Truro’s history alive through our collection of art, objects, photographs, and documents. Both at the Cobb Archive and at the Highland House Museum you can learn about possibly the most notorious character of the Outer Cape in the 20th century, Anthony R. “Phat” Francis.
This installment of Tales From the Archives provides a character sketch of Mr. Francis, as recorded in newspaper clippings saved by Mrs. Thomas Gray from 1938 through 1976. The scrapbook was created and donated to the Truro Historical Society by Mrs. Gray’s daughter, Betty Groom.
The Cobb Archives provides a wealth of information on Mr. Francis and other notable people that make Truro a unique place to visit. Visit the Highland House Museum this summer, where we have Mr. Francis’ stove-top hat on display in our second floor gentleman’s room.
(click on images to enlarge)
Every town has a handful of eccentric residents, ranging from saints to scoundrels.
Here in Truro, we have the honor of having a citizen officially named a ‘nuisance’, as so designated and signed by Truro’s three selectman.
As recorded in an April newspaper article, Mr. Francis purchased a dog license, but a second license was refused by Town Clerk Manuel F. Corey, under express instructions by the town’s selectmen:
…he stated that town clerk took a letter from the town’s safe and showed it to him. the letter was written a year ago and signed by all three selectmen at the time. According to Francis, the letter, he declared, stated that he was a ‘nuisance’ and instructed the town clerk to grant him no more than one license..”
On December 5, The Boston Herald printed an article of the ‘former Wellfleet Grid Star’ ‘Fat’ Francis taking down a 125 pound deer in front of his father’s filling station.
According to the article, Mr. Francis was standing outside of his father’s filling station when a large doe crossed the Old King’s Highway in South Truro.
As the deer sped through a neighbor’s gate into a fenced area, Mr. Francis followed. The deer turned and charged Phat, who then took down the animal as if it were an opposing player in a football game.
With the help of his father and a neighbor, the trio managed to tie up the deer.
Other articles in the scrapbook describe this event as follows:
Then the deer turned about and charged, meeting “Fat’s” generous bulk as though it had struck a stone wall..
Perhaps Phat was best known for his large pack of German Shephards —police dogs that he bred throughout his life and for which he didn’t have the money to feed.
Underfed, the dogs grew violent, and harmed or frightened local people and livestock. Phat fought a continuous battle with the town over his right to breed and keep dogs.
This decades-long battle became so contentious that on November 10, 1934, Mr. Francis barricaded himself and his dogs in his Corn Hill ‘shack’ after repeatedly refusing to pay a $15.00 fine related to unlicensed dogs. The situation escalated very quickly:
The police surrounded the place and opened fire. In the midst of the one-sided battle a free shot set the shack ablaze…
Phat was helped from the burning building, along with as many dogs as he could save, and was subsequently hauled off to Barnstable County jail.
At the time, his $25,000 bail for Mr. Francis was the second-largest bail amount issued by Barnstable County. The largest bail ever imposed at the time was for the Buck brothers, arrested for the kidnapping of 10 year old Peggy McMath of Harwich in 1933.
Mr. Francis was a consistent letter writer who also portrayed himself as the victim and the underdog.
In one particular Letter to the Editor, dated January 19, 1940, Phat felt compelled to reply to a Letter to the Editor by Horace Snow, Jr.,who did not endorse Mr. Francis for re-election. Phat penned the following:
You are right , “Snow”, history does repeat itself.
Even with the help of his gang, Al Capone could not keep out of jail.
After Swift came Anthony Robert Francis; not “Peck’s Bad Boy”, but the “Borah” of Truro who who made the American mistake of bucking “the Capones of Truro” the Snow drifts.
…There is so much dirt behind either of each other bathroom (sic) door that it behooves people in glass houses to stop throwing stones..”
The scrapbook is filled with articles relating to Mr. Francis’ bids for elected positions in town, county, and state offices.
In 1940, The Boston Post ran an article relating to his election bid for County Commissioner:
It’s Phat’s first shot at a seat on the board of Commissioners, although the Post has lost track of the number of times he has offered his services to Truro in virtually every capacity filled by town election. Phat’s fame as a candidate has extended far beyond his home town and even off the Cape, carried by appreciative Truro summer visitors..
Many articles were written after Mr. Francis’s death in 1969. Perhaps Tom Kane, author of the popular Cape Cod newspaper column, ‘My Pamet‘ wrote it best:
No complete history of Truro will ever be written without some mention of on of Pamet’s most colorful characters…onetime postmaster, general storekeeper, perennial political candidate, collector of automobiles, raconteur, newspaper correspondent, and dog fancier.