Saturday, August 31, 2013
To me, Joseph Bazinet has always been a cherished member of the cast of historical Hull characters. And the graveyard is not the only place in town where you'll find his name.
"SFC" - Sergeant First Class - Joe Bazinet served, as his marker states, in the "U.S. Army, World War I & II." First, consider that fact. Not one, but both wars! And what changes he must have seen: from cavalry charges to tank- and dive bomber-led blitzkriegs; from biplanes to the first military jets. But there's more to think about.
Think about the First World War soldiers who staked out the White House in search of financial support between the wars. Think about the Depression era military too poor to afford real rifles for infantry training, instead drilling with wooden sticks, dummy guns. If Joe Bazinet was a lifer, which it seems like he was, then he saw all those things, and more.
We know he saw one thing. He was the caretaker on Hog Island off Hull (now known as Spinnaker), and he was there when the Army tested its 16-inch guns on 1942. Everything came off without a hitch. The guns fired well, and only a few knickknacks fell off shelves around town due to the blasts. Well, there was one problem. The caretaker's house - and that would be Sergeant Bazinet's house - was flattened. The Army later named the bridge that today goes to the island after him.
Friday, August 30, 2013
When we think of immigration in the first and second decades of the twentieth century, we think of "poor, huddled masses" yearning to start new lives. But I'll tell you, some of those masses were full of motion.
I was recently reading in the old Hull newspaper about how the Italian families arriving in town at that time never had a tough time finding work. I think it was the way we - the royal Italian we - never had a problem getting our hands dirty. I worked with old Italian men who weren't happy if they didn't have grime under their fingernails.
At about that time the Anastos family arrived in Hull from Greece. As industrious as the Italians were, the Greeks were so in their own way. Week after week in 1915 reports abounded that the Anastos family had bought this plot or that plot and were planning to do something big. Boy, did they ever. When I was a kid in the 1970s and 1980s, the town had what everyone knew as Anastos Corner: a restaurant, a hardware store, and the old Apollo Theater.
It was there I met Papa Lou. He served my brother, sister and me a plate of homefries on a day when my dad took us kids to breakfast but there wasn't a table available for us. He had no idea who we were. He just knew we were hungry kids waiting a long time for a table at a popular local restaurant. A tiny bit of kindness I've never forgotten.
What I didn't know until much later, in fact until after he passed away, was that he was an unsung hero. During the Cocoanut Grove Fire in 1942 he rushed into the flames and pulled out about 50 bodies, alive or dead he didn't know, until he collapsed from smoke inhalation. The local paper caught wind of it, ran an article, and it was never spoken of again until I did an article in the 1990s about it. He was never decorated, nor did he want to be. He figured he did the right thing and needed no applause.
So when I see Papa Lou's family marker, I see a plate of home fries, and I see the first true hero I ever met face to face.
Thursday, August 29, 2013
Hull, like every town, has its collection of well-known families. But the more I think of it, it's strange how that evolves over time. I think I can put it into perspective through a novel I once read.
W.P. Kinsella, author of Shoeless Joe, the story we know better as the movie Field of Dreams, wrote another baseball tale, The Iowa Baseball Confederacy. In the book, the baseball team never dies. Spirits populate it, one stepping in for another as time goes on, the baseball game moving on forever. To put it in human terms, in left field in Boston, Ted Williams retires, Carl Yastrzemski moves in; Yaz moves out of left field, Jim Rice steps in; the line continues unendingly.
But it's not so for families in small towns any more. We've reached the point in American history where birthplace is practically irrelevant. We are so transient now that very few of us remain in one place for long; the age of the "old families" in small towns is definitely diminishing.
I was lucky enough to be born in a small town that is not a crossroads of any kind, one that is in truth a dead end, a peninsula that belonged to us and us alone from Labor Day to Memorial Day. Like on islands, it's easy to reach a peninsula and stay there. There's a level of quietude you just can't find anywhere else. And so, I was lucky to live in a town of old families.
I never knew the older Neals when I was a kid. In fact, the first one I met was Butchy. Butch, or General Richard I. Neal, USMC, had himself quite a career. When you didn't see Norman Schwarzkopf briefing the press during the first Gulf War, you saw our Butchy. I met him at his retirement ceremony, as I went down to the historic Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., to cover it for the Hull Times. A few weeks later he drove up to where I worked and handed me a signed photograph of the two of us at the event - a moment I will never, ever forget. I can't, as it's still in my office to this day. And his love of the Corps touched me in a way I never thought it could. When I told him that my dad served in the Marines in Vietnam, he looked me right in the eye and said, "I'd like to meet him." They were five powerful little words. I'm sad to say that it never happened.
So, the Neals. Butchy had uncles who were military forerunners, serving in World War II. They're remembered on this stone, as "All Born in Hull," a badge of honor if there ever was one. At the bottom is Frederic C. Neal, "Born in England," and at the top is a carving of a fore-and-aft rigged four-masted ship. Denoting the family's maritime past? Well, Fred had to get here somehow from England between the 1880s and the time Haig and Ross were born in the 19-teens. He had to meet Gertrude Knight.
Did I mention that the Knights are one of Hull's old families? I'll say it again: I love my hometown.
Wednesday, August 28, 2013
It's still hard to imagine, what it must have been like when the news came down the line. World War II had started just a few months previously. Frank Richardson, an assessor for the town, and his wife Phyllis said goodbye to their sons Jimmy and Frank, as they marched off to join the fight. Then, on April 19, 1942, just as the American side of the war was really getting underway, something terrible happened over Africa, an air accident that claimed Jimmy's life.
He was the first known casualty from Hull in World War II. Since no one truly had a date of death for Don Vautrinot, lost after the Bataan Death March, we may never know the truth. But since Jimmy was the first confirmed, in early June of 1942, the local post of the Veterans of Foreign Wars called a special meeting to rename their post after James W. Richardson.
Both Richardson boys are listed as "US Army World War II" on the family marker, but that barely tells the tale. F. Theodore Richardson, the older of the two, wrote a touching letter to the Hull-Nantasket Times from New Caledonia that year, stating that no matter what he saw of the world, he wanted to be nowhere else but back in his beloved home town. Sadly, by the time he got there, his brother was gone.
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
Overnight on February 19 and 20, 1927, a five-masted schooner, the Nancy, rode ashore on Nantasket Beach, stranding her crew in a snowstorm. A volunteer lifesaving crew manned a Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts lifeboat and rowed to the rescue, and on that boat was a young Arthur L. Hurley. It was to be the last great organized volunteer lifesaving effort pertaining to a shipwreck in the town's history. (Fifty-one years later, during the Blizzard of 1978, plenty of Hull people could be considered volunteer lifesavers as they took boats through the flooded streets to find and aid their neighbors).
Hurley was also known for purchasing an old Paragon Park building, taking it from the amusement park and setting it up as a bathhouse on the beach. Forgot your bathing suit? No worries - rent one! (For some reason, the thought gives me chills). Need a towel? An umbrella? The Hurleys got you covered. And they did so until the year I was born, 1971.
So it was a full rich life. Arthur died when I was 14, so there's a chance I met him in our little town, and I like to think I did. In a way, it's nice to encounter a stone like his and have a wave of stories wash over me. I just wish other people could have the same reaction I do.
Monday, August 26, 2013
If ever there was a rise to prominence, Henry John Stevens rode that wave. He, too, was a member of Hull's Old Ring, the Republican Town Committee that ran the town like a machine from 1893 to 1939. He started off small, as the town's first motorcycle cop, and slowly but surely consolidated power - first as chief of the fire department, then chief of the police department (concurrently), and finally, after Boss John Smith died, as chairman of the board of selectman. For twelve years he held all three posts at the same time, which is where the words under his name come from: "Commissioner of Public Safety."
One might argue that though unconventional, having all three jobs under one strong personality was a benefit during the Great Depression. Hell, we elected FDR to a third term under the circumstances. But the problem came at the end. Stevens died in 1938, and not just that year, but in mid-September. To put it more precisely, he died about a week before the Great Hurricane of 1938 hit. He died, leaving Hull without a police chief, without a fire chief, without a chairman of the board of selectmen as the biggest storm in 40 years was about to hit.
Still, quite a resume. Perhaps I should be angling for a commissionership of some kind. Guess I better start consolidating my power now.
Sunday, August 25, 2013
See? There's one of Florence's old surnames right there. But James Jeffrey has enough of a story to tell.
Let's see, where to start. I guess if we begin at the top of his tombstone, we briefly mention his masonic symbol, the Square and Compass. After that we get "Selectman of Hull, 1896-1932." Note that had he lived any longer - he died in 1932 - he probably would have been selectman longer.
I can actually say with surety that he would have been selectman for longer. For James Jeffrey was part of the Old Ring. He worked hand in glove with John Smith, the old "Boss" of Hull. He had his job with the local railroad, but he also was part of the political machine. The funny thing is that when I look back over the history of the town at that time I find that Smith, John Wheeler and John Mitchell reaped most of the spoils from the backwards politics (putting the notion very politely). Others, like Alfred Galiano and James Jeffrey may have had lined pockets, but if so, it was accomplished quietly, as far as the historic record goes. Not so for the other three; read the Town Reports and add up the dollar amounts.
The one thing that many old-timers have often told me about the old political machines and bosses was that they made the trains run on time. Jeffrey had a hand in doing that literally with his day job, and figuratively as selectman. He saw it all, from the late Victorian heyday of the town to the Great Depression, fixed ballots, fistfights in Town Hall, a firemen's strike...everything. But there's no denying one fact. He served his town for more than 35 years as a top political figure. He helped shape the community of today, for better or worse, and my guess is it was the former.
Saturday, August 24, 2013
I have always drawn inspiration from the people of my hometown of Hull, Massachusetts. I've looked to them for historical insight, for guidance through storms - take that literally and figuratively, for Hull is a peninsula that takes the brunt of many of them - for advice, and more. If ever I had a "user group" of my life, this would be it. So I've returned to the Hull Village Cemetery to finish it off. I have a few friends to say hello to.
Now, as far as I know, I never met Florence Cody. But it's possible that I have, as she has also been known as Florence Jeffrey, Florence Simmons and Florence Vickery. With that many aliases, I'm guessing that at sometime in our little town of 10,000 I've run into somebody related to her, if not her.
Either way, she is stamped with a full well-known local surnames, not to mention an engraving of Boston Lighthouse - not just any lighthouse, but our lighthouse - and a wonderful catchphrase that tells me the rest of what I need to know about her: "Hi ya there sweetie, it's so good to see you."
I love my hometown.
Friday, August 23, 2013
Wait a minute...
"He never stood so tall when he stooped to teach a child to play ball." We may have to get into a time machine and ask a few people who came up with this quote. A version of it is assigned to Abraham Lincoln, but there seems to be no proof that he ever said it. It's attributed to Danny Thomas, the founder of St. Jude's Hospital, but I can't seem to find any primary source documentation. If Thomas did say it in relation to the founding of the hospital, then it was around 1962.
What I have found is a quote by a former Secretary of Labor named James John Davis, known as Puddler Jim, in the July 19, 1954, edition of Life magazine: "No man stands so tall or so straight as when he stoops to lift a child." Davis was already seven years gone when the article, about fraternal organizations, came out. Through time the saying has been corrupted for baseball purposes, like so much else in American history. But it fits, so I have no problem with it. Perhaps Puddler Jim would, I don't know.
What throws me is the name. Billy Martin? How cool is that? I'm sure it wasn't the same guy who fought Reggie Jackson in the dugout while managing the Yankees in the 1970s before he got fired and rehired by George Steinbrenner a gazillion times. But still, a baseball quote and that name are a great pairing on a tombstone.
Thursday, August 22, 2013
Jimmy Ellis' story just has heartbreaking written all over it. A 19-year Boston firefighter, he fell during a response to an alarm, two days before Christmas. He left young children behind, which made the holidays that much more painful, I'm sure, but there was also the irony that as a young fireman he had once saved a family from a fire on Christmas Day in the South End. He and a fellow firefighter rushed into the burning building and removed two unconscious people from the third floor. His Semper Fi Marine Corps training served him well when lives were on the line.
The family remembered him well:
"Courage in the line of duty took you.
Your love and devotion for family was true.
Memories and laughter will remain with us.
We will always remember you.
The best forever."
This project is supposed to be about me finding clues for my own epitaph, but I'm finding that it's turning into a roll call of heroes I've lived among but never knew. It's beyond humbling.
Wednesday, August 21, 2013
Timothy McGowan carries two badges of honor at his gravesite, a bronze plaque commemorating his service in the United States Navy and a flag flying the colors of the firefighter.
Beautiful flowers surround his stone, including a lovely native South Shore of Boston wetland plant, Blue Flag Iris. But it's the words on the back of the stone that say it all: "Tim - a Good Man - A Successful Life!"
How do we define success? For each of us, it's a little bit different. Some see dollar signs, some see children reared to happy and healthy states. I doubt that any of us stops at age 70 and says, "Well, that's it, I did exactly what I wanted to do. Mission accomplished. My life has been successful." I do think, though, that we have the right to reflect on what we have done and take pride in it, but that for the most part we all keep looking forward. Whatever it was that Tim set out to do, it seems he did it, and that is a beautiful thing.
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
I couldn't find any other marker near this crude one indicating who might be buried beneath it, but perhaps that's the point: it's not really my business.
The marker, a wooden frame with a carved wooden acoustic guitar on it, holds only one word: Dad. A couple of musical notes bracket the letters like quotation marks. The effect is simple, and to the people that really matter, that one word says everything it has to.
Monday, August 19, 2013
Besides the fact that John J. Fogarty shares a name with someone famous, this was one cool tombstone. And no, it's not the John Fogerty you're thinking of, the one from Credence Clearwater Revival who went onto a a solo career and totally blew away the audience when I went to see him at the Comcast Center, or whatever the heck they call it now. No, he spells his name with an "e" and not an "a," although he did have that song "Centerfield," which has become a recognized anthem for baseball across the country. Which, too, is weird, because the John J. Fogarty I'm thinking of is the one who played for the St. Louis Maroons in 1885. You remember, he went 1 for 8, and then spent the rest of his career in the minors?
This John J. Fogarty has, first of all, a nickname: Bones. I'm guessing he was skinny, but it could have been one of those ironic names. For instance, ain't nobody calling me Bones these days, but it would be funny if someone did. But there's more to Bones' stone than just the nickname. He's got some great symbolism on his gravemarker, some religious, some grounding him in Boston, a drum, a car with the words "Happy Trails" underneath it, but I think the coolest aspect of his tombstone is the hammer seemingly cemented into the top. There's nothing like taking it with you. We interred a few things with my dad that only he and his kids would understand. What a book that would be! Researching the things people bury with loved ones...
Sunday, August 18, 2013
I'm floored. And I love it.
On a rather innocuous-looking stone in a quiet cemetery off a busy street rests Mr. Theodore G. Lovell. Poor Mr. Lovell passed away far too early, in his fifties, but I can tell you one thing. His family was there when he went, and they deeply cared. In fact, it says so, right there on his tombstone: "We all wuv you."
I sincerely doubt that Mr. Lovell has an Elmer Fudd-like speech problem and that his family was making fun of him (technically, when someone substitutes "w" for "l" the trouble is called a "gliding of liquids"). I also am not sure of whether or not his family knew of the Betty Johnson song "The Little Blue Man" from 1958:
One morning when I was out shopping
Though you'll find it hard to believeA little blue man came out of the crowdAnd timidly tugged at my sleeve.
"I wuv you! I wuv you!" said the little blue man"I wuv you! I wuv you to bits.""I wuv you!" He loved me said the little blue manAnd scared me right out of my wits.
But in the end it doesn't matter, for they wuvved him. They wuvved him with all their hearts, and had the guts to put it on his marker for everyone to see. I only hope that when my time comes my family feels the same way as Mr. Lovell's. Everybody deserves to be wuvved.
Saturday, August 17, 2013
With simple and beautiful words - "The love of my life" - Mrs. Milani said goodbye to Mr. Milani.
Mr. Milani, himself, was a giver. I never met him, but I've seen at least a part of his legacy. He was a hunter, and he donated many of the animals he had mounted to the South Shore Natural Science Center. We - I'm currently the director of education - use them to teach kids about nature.
So even if with all this information you still can't figure out a good connection for yourself, think about the last time you visited the Science Center and stopped in to see "the bear." (And if you haven't visited, what's been keeping you? The bear is now 45 years old!). Yes, Mr. Milani donated the Alaskan Brown Bear standing in Vine Hall to the Science Center, and it has become an interior landmark for children of all ages. Preschoolers who bring their grandparents into the building for the first time often say they want Nana and Papa to meet "the bear."
That was Mr. Milani's gift to my life. We never met, but he has helped connect kids with nature, which gives me a running start when they come to one of my programs for the first time.
Friday, August 16, 2013
If I've found anything out about myself during this year of epitaph-inspired self-discovery, it's that I am very susceptible to humming. I just need to read a few words and I am off and murmuring the rest of the lyrics to songs that are anything from vaguely familiar to lodged in my heart and mind. Douglas Mangone's stone reminds us that "To know him is to love him."
Admit it, you're singing.
There is a weird force at play here. Let's travel backwards through time. We all know that the Teddy Bears recorded the song and sent it to Number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts back in 1958 (preceded by the Kingston Trio's "Tom Dooley" and knocked out of the top spot by "The Chipmunk Song." Ah, simpler times.). From that time forward everybody from Gary Glitter to Amy Winehouse recorded it, including Dolly Parton, Emmylou Harris and Linda Ronstadt, who are credited with "resurrecting" the song after a decade or so in rock 'n' roll purgatory.
But it's back to the Teddy Bears we must go. One member of the group, Phil Spector, wrote it, and, of course, went on to write many other hit songs over the next decade. Where did he find the words? On his father's tombstone.
But there is another odd strain we must follow. Although the words do not appear in the Bible in this specific order, students of the Bible do find passages that carry the theme, and refer to them by using the title of the song. So we have an interesting reversal of roles. The Bible has inspired much of our modern world, in ways we often overlook. In this case, the modern world is influencing the way we look at the Bible.
Thursday, August 15, 2013
Elsewhere in Norwell, back at the Washington Street Cemetery, we find the final words of Marjorie B. Harter, sharing space on her stone with her husband Loren. I'm assuming they're her final words, as the cute little poem is tagged with her initials, M.B.H. And it's a good thing she put the "B" in there, otherwise I might have considered Marvin Hamlisch as the possible writer.
Anyway, Marjorie, if she is the poet, understood the finality of everything, how death is inevitable, as her words gently slide toward her belief in the afterlife as the short lines progress.
Life - We have been long together,
In pleasant and in stormy weather.
It's hard to part when friends are dear,
Perhaps I will cause a sigh - a tear,
Then steal away, give little warning,
And in some brighter clime
Bid me "Good morning!"
I don't believe I'll be going with a poem as my epitaph, mostly because I'm just not good at the art. There are some - like Marjorie - who can pull it off. My one saving grace is the notion that there are no critics lining up in cemeteries to scour tombstones and harshly evaluate what people are choosing as their final words...except for me. So maybe I'll give it a shot. Nah, probably not. Hey...
Wednesday, August 14, 2013
Every Thursday afternoon, back in 2000, Rob Sayrs would shuffle into the Scituate Historical Society's Little Red Schoolhouse at 43 Cudworth Road. It was his turn to volunteer, three hours every week, ad nauseum. At the time, I was the only paid employee of the organization.
So we would talk. He would tell me about his work in Philadelphia as a young man, and his days in the Army. And so it went on his stone, "S Sgt, US Army, World War II." He would talk to me about his wife Connie - who I'm pretty positive I never met - and about his passion for historical research.
It was a focused passion. Rob tuned in specifically on one thing: double-chimney Capes. He was so interested in the topic that he wrote a pamphlet about it, covering the architectural details of the handful of examples that could be seen on the South Shore of Boston, small Cape Cod-style houses that had, instead of the central anchoring chimney, one at each end.
A few years later, I cycled out of Rob's life. I went to work across the river for Mass Audubon, literally 10 minutes away, but in a completely different world. I had no idea Rob was gone when I walked into his cemetery, but it made sense. He was more than 80 when I knew him, and that was 13 years ago.
Besides, if I ever want to talk to Rob again, I'll just go pull his pamphlet off the Scituate Historical Society's shelves on Cudworth Road. I'm sure it's still there. Those guys keep everything.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Quincy, Massachusetts, can lay claim to the birth of John William Cheever - yes, that John Cheever - but Norwell is where he resides permanently.
Cheever had a tumultuous, at times torturous life. He came of age when the Depression hit and his family was tearing itself apart. He wrote when he was young, then learned to hate his younger writing self. He transformed over time to become a talented short story writer and then an author. For many of us, the association is Falconer, one of his novels. For others, it was the role he posthumously played on Seinfeld as the lover of Susan's father. Although written for comedic effect, the truth was there. After his death, Cheever's daughter outed him as bisexual in her own memoir. The fictitious Susan found out about her father the way that the Cheever children had found out about their father, from letters long held secret.
Again, though, we have an author without any words. Instead we have a marker signifying his military service during World War II, and a weeping willow tree, that ever-symbolic carving found so thoroughly across the New England landscape.
Reading about his life, the term "rest in peace" really has meaning. One can only hope.
Monday, August 12, 2013
Such an unassuming stone for such a remarkable man. And I don't just say that because I work for the nature center he founded so many years ago.
No, Captain William Gould Vinal has long been a hero to me. He was a champion of open space preservation, once envisioning a "South Shore State Forest" that never came to be - at least not all of it. Parts of the land he coveted for conservation are today's Wompatuck State Park and Black Pond Bog Nature Preserve, among other parcels.
He was an old soul at an early age, keeping diaries, learning about the history of the region he grew up in. He has left us scores of written works, from books to pamphlets, about nature guiding, nature education and anything else related to nature. I carry some of his work around in my car with me at all times. He was a giant in his times, yet here he is in Norwell - bis beloved Norwell - buried in an out-of-the-way corner, under a stone that is hard to see without a weed whacker.
And there are no words. He said enough in life to deserve the break from having to deliver any final inspiration.
Sunday, August 11, 2013
Are you kidding me? I finally make it back to the mainland, visiting the cemetery in the heart of Norwell, and the first stories I find are those of brothers "Lost at Sea." Haven't we covered this story already? More than that, Norwell's landlocked.
OK, in fairness to Norwell, there is a backstory to tell. Norwell was once South Scituate, and before that it simply was part of Scituate, meaning that it has coastline cred in its past. More than that, it was a place where ships were built and launched, for almost two centuries.
So there was reason. But why? How? Where? I have yet to track down answers to these questions, but the fact was that these boys sailed during the height of the Age of Sail. They weren't the first, and weren't the last sailors to die at sea. Lost together, or apart? I may never know.
Saturday, August 10, 2013
If I know anything about fishermen, it's that they keep secrets. And they lie. So maybe I know two things.
I'm not making the latter part up. The secrets we all know about. Fishermen don't give up the best places to fish, they keep them to themselves, as they should. But I'll tell you a story about being out on a boat one night with a friend, an older gentleman who had spent his whole life on the water. We were out in the bay when another boat approached and the captains exchanged pleasantries, as friendly as could be. Then, came the question. "Do you have any extra bait?"
Now, my captain and I had just gotten underway, and we had a lot of fishing ahead of us. And I knew for certain, 100 percent, that we had bait to spare - I had bought it, part of paying my way for the night. But there he stood, flat-footed, arms out to the side with a shrug, "Nope, we're cleaned out. Got nothing to give you."
LIAR! But what did I care.
I learned that night, too, from my captain, that fishermen live by two days in their lives, joyousness attached to both: the day they buy their boats, and the day they sell them. My guess is that Bob Noyes was not a 1970's detective television show buff, but instead owned a boat much like the one emblazoned on his headstone. And I'll bet he named in the Sparrow.
And I'll bet, like his marker says, "His eye is on the Sparrow," even today.
Friday, August 9, 2013
The fact that the Chamberlin family went to the length they did to attribute George's epitaph to Charles Dickens is truly commendable. One might think you'd be happy enough to just go with the words "Once a gentleman, always a gentleman" unattributed, as it seems to be such a generic, accepted part of our language. But everything starts somewhere.
It may simply be that when dear George passed on, the family gathered and said, "Well, there's only one way to sum up his life. He was a gentleman, plain and simple. Somebody go get Bartlett's book of quotations." Perhaps that's how they found it. But there's always the possibility that there was a huge Charles Dickens fan in the family.
Maybe someone had taken their Major British Writers class in college (At UMASS Amherst, when I was there, anyway, English majors forced to take it called it "Major Boring Writers." To each his own...which, by the way traces all the way back to Suum cuique in Ancient Rome. But I digress...). The knee-jerk reaction would be to say, "Ah, yes! Dickens. It must be from A Tale of Two Cities, or Nicholas Nickleby. Yes, I think I remember it being in there somewhere. Chapter two." Nope.
The origin of the phrase used in George's epitaph is an obscure novella in a magazine Dickens published for ten years called Household Words, the title for which was taken from a Shakespeare quote from Henry V. (Okay, now I'm getting dizzy). The quote came from "Eleanor Clare's Journal for Ten Years."
The full context is: "She felt about it much as Grannie feels that is to say very indignant and besides she did not refrain from insinuating that the heiress of Ferndell might look higher in the world than to the son of a manufacturer. Mrs Lake does not know Herbert Clay or she would not say that. I might have answered that once a gentleman, always a gentleman would apply to him but refrained. To compare him with such men as young Curling, Freddy Price or Sir Edward Singleton, seems a positive degradation. But it vexes me to feel that it is possible for anybody to look down upon him. If I could once show him here - his fine countenance, intelligent, good countenance - no one would ever think of speaking slightly of him again! But I see no chance of that while our engagement is unsanctioned."
Do we consider this a case of Charles Dickens writing in drag? Or is that just another can of worms into which we dare not delve today?
Thursday, August 8, 2013
Robinson, William J. "Lost at Sea." Yes,, another one.
How did it happen for this youngster? He was aboard the fishing schooner Lizzie D. Barker on August 24, 1873 when a storm blew up off the Cape. How bad was the storm? Here's how the news played out in Gloucester:
"Like a clap of thunder from a cloudless sky came the rumor into town, on Tuesday, August 26th, that there had been a terrible gale to the eastward, extending all along the Canadian shores, causing destruction in its pathway by sea and land, sweeping, with sad havoc, among the fishing-fleet in the Bay of St. Lawrence and around Prince Edward's Island. Gloucester had one hundred and thirty-eight of her vessels in those waters, and the anxiety to hear from them was most intense. It was also feared, and it has proved too true, that the gale had extended to George's Banks, where there was quite a fleet. The news came slowly, and the reports at first were somewhat contradictory. But sufficient was received, during the next day and evening, to convince our people that it had proved one of the most terribly disastrous storms that ever occurred in those waters; and those having friends there began, as best they could, to prepare their minds for intelligence of another large loss of life."
We presume, in this instance, that "lost" means swept overboard. The ship sailed on for several years, but for this one young man, the adventure was over.
Wednesday, August 7, 2013
I'm sure, at the time, there was a good reason for it, but I wish I knew what it was. Why Oliver Cromwell?
Cromwell is certainly worthy of admiration as a historic figure. Monty Python even sang a song about him, so we know his reputation resonated with the right people through time. But here's my point. That was in England. In the 1640s. Why did a Cape Cod family (a well-known one, for sure) two hundred years later decide to name their son for an overthrower of the British crown?
Pros: being named for the Lord Protector of England would certainly be a talking point at parties. He could probably motion across the room and say, "and this is my brother, William Shakespeare Wing." And if he wanted to sound really cool, he could have just called himself by his initials, O.C. Wing. Con: he probably had to explain himself quite a bit, knowing Americans' grasp of history. "You're named for who now?"
It seems that Wing never really lived up to the hype of the name, leading a pastoral life as a farmer and painter, and agent for the Pocasset train station. His property is now part of the local golf course. But, perhaps, that was the life wished for by the original O.C. Perhaps he just got stuck in a time when kings needed beheading and governments needed to be overturned.
But the coolest fact ever about Oliver Cromwell? His nickname was "Old Ironsides," a century and a half before the USS Constitution picked it up. Somehow I doubt that our friend Mr. Wing picked up that epithet down in peaceful Pocasset.
Tuesday, August 6, 2013
You know, sometimes I think the people who designed headstones in the nineteenth century did so without bloggers in mind. I mean, some of them tell entire stories and leave little room for some know-it-all jerk to come along and act like he's a super history genius by expanding upon what's carved into the stone.
For instance: "Lieut. Ephraim B. Nye of the 14th Mass. Battery was killed in action at Fort Steadman, Petersburg, Va., March 25, 1865, aged 39 years."
Next side: "He enlisted as a private. Was promoted and faithfully served his Country for three years and seven months during which time he took part in NINETEEN BATTLES."
Final panel: "While engaged with the enemy and at the time in command of the battery he was summoned to surrender. He replied 'I NEVER SURRENDER!' and was immediately shot."
Of course, if I was a know-it-all jerk blogger, I would point out that they spelled "Stedman" wrong. But that's just not my style. I do wonder, though, whether or not he shouted his final words in a Cape Cod accent. That would have been awesome!
Monday, August 5, 2013
(Sigh)...and so our story continues. Captain Ebenezer F. Nye, "Who lost his life in the Arctic," was in charge of the whaler Mount Wollaston when last seen in the winter of 1879. Sadly, he, too, was in pursuit of the same prize as Captain Hiram Baker, whales.
The hunting may have been good, too good, perhaps, to heed the warning signs. The ice closed in and locked up his ship, stranding him and his men in a wasteland of frozen water from which there was no escape. A rescue effort was launched via the Revenue Cutter Service (forerunner of the Coast Guard), but for Nye and crew it was too late. Officers of the USRCS Corwin retrieved items taken from the ship or its remains by the local Native Americans which included Captain Nye's glasses.
Some evidence gathered from the locals suggested that Nye, at least, left the Mount Wollaston and boarded a second whaling ship, Vigilant, before it, too, was crushed in the ice. With ever-depleting food supplies in the freezing cold mostly darkness of the Arctic, the end must have been horrible for Nye and his men.
Sunday, August 4, 2013
Dang it, I knew this was going to happen. I knew that the more I hung around the Cataumet Cemetery, the more men I would find who had been "Lost at Sea." Here we have two, brothers, both etched into the same stone.
Remarkably, the first, Edward F. Handy, died the same exact day at our last sailor, Captain Hiram Baker. Was Edward Handy aboard the Ocean Wave with Captain Baker when it wrecked on Elbow Island? Dollars to donuts he was. If not, we have an astounding coincidence before us.
John William Handy's story is a bit more elusive, but since we have "Died at Sea" by his name, too, we can assume it's along the same lines. The only question that arises for me is one of status: military or civilian? By the time he went in August of 1862 the Civil War was in full stride, and President Lincoln was calling for troops. My guess is had he been killed in uniform, there would have been mention of it.
But then, why the difference? Why was one "Lost" while the other "Died?" Does it have to do with body recovery? Was John delivered home for burial, while Edward's body was never recovered? Either way, for parents to lose two sons in just under five years to tragedies at sea is just heartbreaking.
Saturday, August 3, 2013
Now I'm no fancy pants big city maritime historian, but I do believe we have a whaler on our hands. From all that I can determine, this Hiram Baker - make that Captain Hiram Baker, to you, again - was the captain of a whaling ship called the Ocean Wave, built in New Bedford in 1856 for H. Taber & Co. And it seemed that things were going well. Working out in the North Pacific - that's how far whaling had fallen by that time; they'd so thoroughly depleted the Atlantic stock that they had reached the North Pacific in the quest for more whales - Ocean Wave was sending home plenty of goods: "Sent home 180 sperm, 350 whales, 7,000 pounds of bone" according to the 1878 Report of the Commission on Fish and Fisheries.
The next line is puzzling, though. "Lost on Elbow Island, October 12, 1859." The tombstone of Capt. Baker says "Lost at Sea, October 12, 1858." I'm going to have to side with the family on this one, as they have his lifespan calculated the exact month. Besides, the Ocean Wave was just one of two New England whaleships lost on Elbow Island - now known as Medvezhiy Island, belonging to Russia - in 1858. The island apparently presented shelter during storms, though, it seems, not enough for the Ocean Wave. Its crew perished while 23 men from the Nantucket-based Phoenix lived to kill whales another day after their ordeal.
Friday, August 2, 2013
So I get that Harrie D. Handy was a doctor, that much is clear. He has "M.D." after his name. Very few people would allow that to be placed on their grave marker if it stood for "Mental Deficient." Don't give my wife any ideas.
It's the other 8 letters that have me deeply confused and terrified. Did I say terrified? I meant bemused. No idea why I said that. The problem is that the other 8 are in a perfect circle, with no definite start or end. Taken from the top they read "H-T-W-S-S-T-K-S." To quote Frank Costanza from Seinfeld, "What the hell does that mean?"
I'll let you in on a secret. I love puzzles and have ever since I was a kid. I think I measure myself against the world by the severity of the puzzles I solve. I've even reviewed puzzle books on Amazon.com at the request of puzzle book compilers. I don't like to be stumped. I pulled up a chair, put the 8 letters on a piece of paper with a pencil, stuck my tongue out the left side of my mouth and concentrated.
Then I said, "The heck with this," and Googled it. It's Masonic, standing for "Hiram, Tyrian, Widow's Son, Sendeth to King Solomon."
Glad I got that out of the way.
Thursday, August 1, 2013
Down to Cataumet I went on a bright, sunny day, on a mission of magazine generation. I stopped to commune with the locals.
As I expected, the themes of the sea were everywhere. Cataumet is a corner of Bourne, a Cape Cod town bordering on Buzzards Bay and the entrance to the Cape Cod Canal. It's hard to find anyone in any graveyard on Cape Cod who was not somehow connected to the sea, and Henry Clement - that's Captain W. Henry Clement, to you - is no exception. As is usual with the people of the maritime folk group, his descendants and other loved ones marked his passing with a good sea theme. He's not just dead, or passed on. No, he's "Anchored in the Haven of Rest." The words were not original, but go back at least seventy years before his passing.
One wonders, were the Clements that religious? (There's no reason to think not). Or did they just like the maritime feel of the words?