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Correctness gone wrong

Winter must come awfully early to that little spit of sand called Provincetown.

The town isn't exactly Mayberry to begin with, if you know what I mean. But as the cold winds blow relentlessly down Commercial Street and the gray waves slap constantly against the shore, the isolation must lead to a total divorce from reality. Think Jack Nicholson in ''The Shining."

How else to explain the bizarre behavior of a majority of the town's selectmen at a meeting earlier this month?

To wit, Selectwoman Sarah Peake spun her chair around near the end of the Nov. 14 meeting, gazed up at an oversized oil painting depicting the Pilgrims voting on the Mayflower Compact when they first landed in Provincetown, and declared that she wanted it removed.

Mind you, it's not that she didn't like the look or the colors or the style. It's not that she thought it was too big or too small for the Judge Welsh Hearing Room. It's not that it clashed with anything around it.

No, what Peake didn't like was that the painting didn't include any women. That and the fact that the painting's only Indian -- Native American, I'd better call him -- wasn't holding a ballot like everyone else.

If you don't believe me, let's go straight to Cheryl Andrews, the chairwoman of the Board of Selectmen. She also happened to cast the only vote against the painting's removal, making her a rare voice of sanity on the board.

''There's this lovely oil painting," she said yesterday. ''The thing is huge. It's been up there since forever. It was painted by Max Bohm, who's considered quite something in local art circles.

''And Sarah Peake turns around and faces it, and it's government. They're voting. She says, 'I'd like to talk about this painting. I find this painting disturbing.' That's a quote. She said it's disturbing to her because there are no women in the painting and the only one not holding a ballot is the Native American Indian. And I thought, 'Here we go.' "

In other words, William Bradford and the rest of those piggish, prejudiced Pilgrims had the audacity to exclude Indians from their civic affairs and, like the rest of the Western world, had yet to give women the right to vote. So, get them out of here.

The selectmen took a vote, and three of the four supported removal of the painting. By my count, that's 75 percent in favor of politically correct insanity, 25 percent opposed.

I called Peake and asked her why. She sounded normal, even pleasant, and explained that her proposal was mostly born of a tremendous pride in the town's vast art collection, and she wanted to give other paintings the chance to hang in such a prominent spot behind the selectmen.

''I feel it's somewhat of a tempest in a teapot," she said.

Others don't think so.

The former head of the town's Art Commission wrote to the local paper that the vote was ''an act of idiocy." Bohm's granddaughter, Anne Packard, herself a noted local artist, said, ''It offends me because they're trying to change the history of the town, or just history."

Who knew that the Pilgrims actually landed in Provincetown before arriving in Plymouth? Not me. So I double-checked with Plimoth Plantation historian John Kemp, who confirmed this fact and also said that only male colonists signed the document. He did say, though, that there was never a vote on the Mayflower Compact and that it was signed by passengers before they landed in Provincetown.

No matter. Andrews, the chairwoman, said she plans to try to overturn the painting's removal.

''Instead of P-Town, we'll be PC-Town," she said. ''Some of the things that are PC aren't bad, having sensitivity to different groups. But this feels strained, horribly strained."

I'm just glad the statue depicting the flag-raising at Iwo Jima isn't in Provincetown. There's not a woman in it, meaning that the selectmen would order it melted down for scrap.

Brian McGrory is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at

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