Monday, March 29, 2021

In Their Footsteps: New England History - The Cannibals of Boon Island, Maine


    Boon Island is a rocky chunk of dry land just over 6 1/2 acres in size. It is located more than 7 miles off the coast of York, Maine. It is extremely isolated due to its proximity yet remains quite visible due to the lighthouse that rises from the rocks. The 133-foot granite Boon Island Lighthouse towers on the horizon making the island feel much closer than it is. The current beacon was built in 1855 with the original day beacon having been erected on the island in 1799. However Boon Island has history stretching back further than the implementation of a lighthouse on its rocks. This chapter though is far darker. It is a story of an unfortunate maritime disaster wrapped up in one of the most horrific acts known to man: cannibalism.

Boon Island Light as seen from York, Maine

    The legend of the cannibalism on Boon Island began more than 3,200 miles away in London. The main players were aboard a 120-ton merchant vessel named Nottingham Galley. Captained by John Deane it set sail for Killybegs, Ireland on September 10, 1710 with a cargo of rope. After an additional cargo of butter and cheese was put aboard the vessel it set sail on September 24th for Boston, Massachusetts. It is here that the story of the Nottingham Galley becomes much more complicated. The only certainty about the next leg of the journey is where it ended.

    There are two versions most commonly looked at as far as the next leg of the journey go. The first revolves around the fact that the port of Killybegs, Ireland was known to be a hotbed for French privateers. These were essentially pirates with government papers. Sure enough there were French privateering vessels in the area. The issue was the fact that England and France were at war at the time.

Boon Island Light in 2006 (Dk69/Wikipedia)

    One version of the story goes that Captain Deane sailed the Nottingham Galley toward the privateers in the hopes of being captured. This would have allowed him to collect from the ship's large insurance policy. Or perhaps Deane was smuggling goods to the French. Whatever the circumstances ended up being the interaction between the Nottingham Galley and the privateers did not occur. However Deane's treasonous intentions during the time of war soured the crew toward their captain to the point that mutiny was on their minds as they began across the Atlantic.

    Captain Deane was rumored to be a cruel and sadistic leader of the vessel. Two particular items of note were that he beat two of his crew so badly that they were unable to work for several weeks, and that he severely cut back rations to his crew. The latter would come back to haunt him. Needless to say the crew despised Deane. It only intensified when in early December the Nottingham Galley sighted Nova Scotia, Canada.

    Held by the French, Canada was seemingly the last place a British ship would want to be. Yet Deane dawdled offshore for nearly a week as if waiting for French vessels to see him. When a ship did approach the crew assumed it to be French. Deane did not retreat at all which further intensified the hatred of his crew toward him. Luckily it turned out to be a British galley, still the optics for Deane were terrible.

A model of a 1715 Swedish Galley Ship (Johan Jonson/Stockholm Maritime Museum)

    Things came to a head on December 10, 1710 when the Nottingham Galley was caught in a storm while traveling through the Gulf Of Maine. It was so bad that the ship pulled its sails down and left it to chance. Though they could see land it was far off. In reality it was Cape Porpoise and more than ten miles away. What made it worse was that Captain Deane had taken a different course which led the ship closer to shore. Later on reports from crew would say that if they had stayed on the right course they would have arrived safely in Boston. That would not happen.

    By nightfall on December 10th the heat between Captain and crew boiled over. They questioned his poor decisions to which Deane nearly killed one crewman and threatened others with a pistol. It was apparent to the crew that he cared more for protecting his authority than protecting the ship. Not long after these altercations the ship crashed into the rocky Boon Island on December 11th, splintering the vessel into pieces.

    The crew valiantly chopped down the Nottingham Galley's mast and used it as a guide to crawl up to higher ground on the island. During the highest of storm surges it is possible for the waves to crash over the entire island, so it is unknown just how much room for error the crew had as the waited out the storm. One thing was for sure, after making it through the night the crew was in trouble. They had no coats, no food, and nothing to make a fire, though they eventually were able to make a tent.

    Small bits of food from the ship floated ashore in the new few days as well as the men being able to find mussels to eat. The ship's cook died the second night. A makeshift boat was made but immediately crashed and sunk. Two crewman made a raft and sailed for the mainland. One was never seen again while the other's body washed back up on the island. The survivors could see Portsmouth Harbor in New Hampshire and though some ships passed close by they could not signal them.

    Days passed and a decision had to be made. The cold killed another crewman. This was the tipping point. The decision was made to use the dead man's body for food. At first some refused to eat their fallen comrade but eventually they all did what they had to do to survive. The decision to resort to cannibalism on Boon Island is debated. The crew blamed Captain Deane, while Deane blamed the crew. No matter who took the blame it was Deane, with training as a butcher, who did the cutting.

    On New Year's Day 1711 a body washed ashore in York and was found by coroner Lewis Bane. He surmised a ship could have wrecked out on Boon Island and asked fisherman John Stover to go investigate. Stover did indeed find the survivors of the wreck. Captain Deane and seven others swarmed Stover upon his arrival. The crew was stick thin, all with thick beards, and suffering from frostbite.

    The weather began turning stormy which meant Stover would have to return to shore without them but he promised to return as soon as the weather cleared. The crew begged him to build them a fire before leaving which he did. This was used to properly cook the rest of the crewman they had been eating, making the ordeal seem a little less gruesome.

    Three days later on January 4, 1711 the men were all rescued from Boon Island. Some were so weak from nearly four weeks stranded on the island that they had to be carried off to the waiting vessels. Once back ashore the stories came out. Captain Deane's painted himself in a very favorable light, while the crew had a far different recollection of the ill-fated journey.

Captain Deane's grave at St. Wilfrid's Church, Wilford, UK (David Skinner/Flickr)

    The crew's story was published as a pamphlet and handed out at coffeehouses back in London. It stated Deane was a traitor, a brutal coward, had caused the shipwreck, and worst of all had been the one to suggest cannibalism. Whether all true or not it ruined Deane's reputation and ran him out of London. He tried rebuilding his reputation by becoming commander of a Russian ship. It was working until he captured two Swedish vessels and subsequently turned them over to Britain. He was accused of taking bribes and was demoted after being court-martialed. Though it moved the needle more toward the Nottingham Galley's crew's version of the Boon Island story Deane still managed to retire in comfort after marrying a wealthy woman.

    Whichever version of events are seen as the truth are lost to history. The only things for certain are the Nottingham Galley's tragic shipwreck on Boon Island and the horrific events that followed which allowed some of the crew to make it off the island alive.


Wednesday, March 24, 2021

In My Footsteps: For My Nina

    Sometimes if you stand on the beach and watch the tide go out it can feel as if it takes an eternity, until it is out and you wonder where the time went. My grandparents were married for 73 years. When my Grampa passed nearly 2 years ago my Nina's tide began to go out. She spent the better part of the last 22 months in a nursing home and virtually isolated from family due to Covid-19. It was sad and unfair for that to be her final chapter. I could only apologize to her when seeing her one of the last times and say that this was not the way we all expected it to go. Her last words she spoke to me were 'I love you too' and for me it was a perfect bow on our 43 year relationship as grandmother and grandson. As I sit here trying to unload a lot of emotion I keep coming back to a few feelings: gratitude, sadness, and joy. I'd rather remember my Nina in those ways and that is what will follow.

    My Grampa was very much a larger than life human. World War II vet, Olympic caliber swimmer and sprinter, friends with icons like Rocky Marciano, jazz singer, and successful business owner. The thing is that all of those achievements and accolades paled in comparison to my Nina as far as he was concerned. She was his everything, and she was indeed the glue that held together the patchwork quilt that became our huge family.

Jo-Anna Drive 1983

    Grampa worked, and worked hard, so it was Nina that became the face of the family as I knew it. She was style and class before I knew what those words meant. I laugh now because I never told her, but growing up in the 1980's she reminded me of Tina Turner. Strong legs, high heels, big hair, and most of all a toughness that earned respect. She raised five children to be loving, kind, and caring adults with those traits being passed along to her grandchildren. She was at the forefront of the women's fitness boom of the late 1960's in Brockton, Massachusetts and again in the early 1970's when moving to Cape Cod. She taught classes and knew how to command a room by being one-part hard and one-part caring. This was evident to the very end like when she gave my Aunt Kelly double middle-fingers during one of our final Zoom calls and then following it up by sweetly saying what a lovely visit it was.

    You see I'll miss my Nina terribly, she represents the end of a chapter as my last grandparent has now passed. However she is always around me because I see her in all of the women in my family over several generations. They have all taken bits of who she was, whether they even realize it or not, and made it part of their own life's quilt. That is the gratitude I have, is that she has scattered pieces of herself all across this family like so many Tiger Lily seeds, and they are in full bloom.

Christmas 1977

    Nina was the one that brought me out for lunch and toy shopping growing up because Grampa was working. I can close my eyes and hear the jazz music playing in her Oldsmobile Tornado and the clicking of her long fingernails on the faux wood that lined the steering wheel and dashboard. Nina was the one that had certain movies and shows on VHS on a little bookshelf behind the front door because she knew I liked them. Godzilla and the Three Stooges? No way she watched those ever. Nina was the one with the anisette toast by Stella-Doro that remind me so much of being a kid. She encouraged me to sit and play with the water games on her deck because at least I was outside. She was the one that demanded I eat something every time I visited her, even in the last few years, that was the Italian in her. I always remember that the leather interior to her cars made me carsick, nearly every time, but I dealt with it anyway because I loved being with her. It was a small price to pay for memories that are so important to me now.

The deck at Jo-Anna Drive 1978

    Selfishly I am sad that Nina is gone. It speaks to me and my own life. The longer I was blessed to have grandparents in my life the more chances I had to make them proud of me. I love my entire family, but nobody in my life was ever a bigger fan of me than Nina, Grampa, and my Nana. Still when it comes to Nina I am beyond happy that she has been reunited with Grampa. She met him when she was an age when most people are just starting high school and they remained together until they were both in their 90's. She was never whole once he left. I am grateful that she remained as long as she did but she needed to go be with him again.

Together again, where they belong.

    It's hard to sum up a life so long and full which had an impact felt by so many. She was the glue that held things together allowing my Grampa the chance to run those businesses. Her legacy lives on in all of us that were raised by her or raised by her teachings. We all are her legacy. We will all do our best to take care of that legacy she left behind. We will hear her in things we say. We will see her in things we do. We are all the Tiger Lily seeds she spread throughout her 9 decades on this earth. I am filled with gratitude, sadness, and joy. Even forever goodbye's are not forever though. I love you Nina and I will see you again in a place far better than this.

Monday, March 15, 2021

In My Footsteps: Finding Your Way Back To the Right Road

     'It is never too late to be what you might have been.' George Eliot

    That quote, those words, and the meaning behind them have stuck with me for several years. In a time of self-doubt my grandfather, the man who I model myself after, wrote that quote on a piece of paper for me. I still have it attached to a mirror I see multiple times daily. Two years after his death, and several more after he wrote it down as a way to light my path, I find myself using them once again.

    The last three years were necessary. Let's just get that out of the way first. Anything I say after does not take away from the fact that if I hadn't done the things I've had to do over the last three years I have no clue where I'd be. However the end result as I prepare for a new chapter is the idea of taking a wrong turn and having to double-back to the road you're meant to be on.

    Flashback three years to early 2018. I was working in a pair of local gyms as I had worked hard to become a certified personal trainer a few years earlier. After many years of having cooked as my day job while I pushed my creative outlets, specifically writing, I felt that if I was going to have to have a day job it might as well be something I enjoyed doing. What better choice than helping people get healthy?

    The problem that came with working in a gym at the beginning was the sales pressure necessary to sign new clients up. I wanted to train those who wanted to be trained, not pressure those unsure into spending money they weren't sure they had. Bottom line is a personal trainer is a luxury and I knew that and I had trouble shutting off the empath part of my brain to be the shark necessary to get people to spend their money.

    In early 2018 I left one of my gym jobs to focus on the other, picking up more hours there hopefully in the process. Over the course of a few months the hours increased only slightly with my boss hanging the carrot of more paying clients equaling more hours. It was fair looking back but the sales pressure got to me. It was also at this time that I found myself running out of money. My bills and life expenses were outdrawing my income. Being stubborn and blindly faithful I believed that eventually things would turn around. In April I had reached a tipping point.

    This was when I had nearly bottomed out financially. I had opened a credit card to use as a crutch but had maxed it out. This came as I was so depleted of funds in my bank account that I had days that I could not afford a protein bar and water for lunch. I wanted badly to make it work as a personal trainer but also saw a fork in the road fast approaching. So when an opportunity came I jumped.

    An old friend I worked with cooking was moving to Maine. He called and asked me if I wanted to take his job cooking in a retirement home kitchen. With barely a cent to my name I happily accepted. I did not want to cook again, but I also did not want to be so stubborn that I ended up destitute. I gave my notice at the gym and told my boss there it was one hundred percent financial which it was. I left a job I was passionate about due to financial reasons only.

    That being said having a good, steady income, and a relatively easy job which cooking in a retirement home is, was good for my mental health. I was smart and began saving money immediately, and also managed to keep a foot in training by snatching up a few old clients to train in-home.

    However something began to happen. I began to grow accustomed to my surroundings. The more that I assimilated into the cooking routine again the harder it became to keep up on the training aspect, both clients and my own physical health. As the weeks and months passed it became harder to still call myself a trainer. It got depressing. I saw my adventure into training as a fail and here I was back doing what I had tried so hard to get away from. This is where alcohol became a big part of my life. It helped me to forget that I was not where I wanted to be. When you're unhappy inside, unhappy where you are, feeling like you're lost on a different path, you could have the greatest job ever but it won't matter.

    I worked with a lot of great people at the retirement home I was at. A few of them are among the best people I ever worked with at any job. My heart though wasn't in it. I needed to begin to make my way back toward training. The plan was to leave the retirement home for another job in another retirement home at the start of 2020. The difference was that it would be fewer hours allowing me to start to acquire more in-home training clients. It sounded perfect and I made the switch in February 2020. Only a few weeks later though the Covid-19 pandemic fully struck and shut down any chances I had of in-home training for the foreseeable future.

March 2020 when this became the new normal.

    When the pandemic first began I decided to just roll with it. I would take on a few more hours cooking and consider myself lucky that I even had a job when so many millions had lost theirs. For several months I kept my head down and my mouth shut in the name of self-preservation. This second cooking job was far different from the first though.

    In the interest of being magnanimous since I no longer work there I will keep it as vague as I can. I can say that being the newest member of that kitchen I saw there was a small clique of workers that adhered to their own set of rules. There were many things I saw that went against everything I was taught in coming up in restaurants, things that frustrated and confused me. I had times I thought I was on a reality show, as there could be no way certain things were being allowed to happen. I was at a crossroads.

    Things began to swing in the other direction in September 2020. It was right after Labor Day that I finally stopped my drinking that had plagued me from my waning days working in the gyms. I feel as though the alcohol kept me stagnant and accepting of the toxic environment I was living and working in. My head began to clear. I got a brilliant idea for a podcast as a creative outlet. As the days passed I also began to see more clearly that I needed to formulate my exit strategy for the retirement home job. I was again becoming accustomed to my surroundings and not in a good way. When people around you are toxic, when the job is done poorly with no repercussions, you start to drift toward that side yourself.

The time is always right, to do what is right.

    2021 dawned and I decided to start putting my own feet to the fire as far as getting away from cooking and filling my schedule with training, writing, and podcasting. An interview with a friend for the podcast led to a potential gig training later in the spring, while I signed up for a new certification in health to pair with being a personal trainer. I felt momentum building but still had several months to go before I could make the change. However circumstances sort of forced my hand.

    Going back a little over a month from when I am writing this I had a 'final straw' type of moment. One of the higher ups in the kitchen pushed their toxic narcissistic agenda on me for the last time. There's no way someone should accept being bullied and/or spoken to like they are beneath someone else. I finally had enough of that after months of just letting it slide off my back. After that interaction I stepped back and weighed whether to stay until May or leave the job early to get away from the toxicity. I chose the latter.

    In my exit interview with the general manager I vented all of my frustrations with the atmosphere of the kitchen. I summed things up by telling him it was so bad in there that I chose basically being unemployed for a couple months but being at peace mentally over staying there and getting paid but being unhappy. He understood.

It's not always easy finding your way back to the right road.

    I consider this new chapter as a way of betting on myself. There are no guarantees in life for success or failure. You have to try to know for sure. The pieces seem to be there. I was smart and saved money during my three years back in cooking which allows me to have a solid base under me as I take a few months between jobs. The new certification I am going to get will only make me more attractive to perspective clients for training whether in-home or in a gym. I have a new book coming out in May, my 6th overall, which lends some credibility to my name as a creator. Hopefully this leads to an increase in opportunities as a writer. Finally there is my podcast which I really enjoy working on. I have to be patient building an audience but who knows where that could lead in the coming months and years.

    The key points of this entire post are as follows. Life does not give you a GPS, you might get sidetracked on your journey, and the longer you go down the wrong road the longer it will take to get back on track. You only get so many kicks at the can as far as following dreams and passions. There will be plenty of time to take a job that is safe yet mundane. Chase dreams while you're capable. Finally, always bet on yourself. Don't be reckless, but don't sell yourself short. If you don't believe in yourself why the hell would anyone else? That is what I am doing now, betting on myself. Here's to a great rest of 2021 with many brighter days ahead for me, for you, for all of us.

    It is never too late to be what you might have been.


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Friday, March 5, 2021

In Their Footsteps: Cape Cod History - Charles Hardy and Chatham Bars Inn


    The Chatham Bars Inn is and has been one of Cape Cod's most iconic and beloved resorts on the peninsula for more than a century. It has roots steeped in the fishing industry of Chatham's past while remaining at the cutting edge of the 21st century. Every story has a beginning and every idea has a creator. What about Chatham Bars Inn? The story of its creator is one of a mix between triumph and tragedy. The story of a man who brought the Cape one of its landmarks yet whose life has been lost to time. This is the story of Charles Ashley Hardy.

    The man who would create the Chatham Bars Inn was linked through heritage to Chatham although he did not grow up there. Charles Hardy was born in Auberndale, a village of the city of Newton located ten miles west of Boston, in 1874. He was the son of Edwin Hardy and though he grew up near Boston Hardy's family for three generations before his father had lived in Chatham. As a young man Hardy frequently visited Cape Cod and partook in his favorite pastime of hunting. After attending Harvard and MIT and making money as an investor and mining engineer in the first decade of the 20th century Hardy decided to make Cape Cod a bigger part of his life.

    Hardy began by buying a house on the bluffs overlooking Chatham's Mill Pond in 1911. It sat near the Godfrey Windmill and had been built in 1908 by Nelson Floyd. He then got down to business buying real estate plots in town, specifically along the ocean-paralleling Shore Road. After shelling out good money for some elite-level property Hardy put together an idea for a summer lodging conglomerate including several cottages and a hotel that would also double as a hunting lodge in 1912. Chatham had been an up-and-coming tourist destination, as the entirety of the Cape had been, for a few decades. Only a few years earlier in 1910 Chatham's original luxury resort, Hotel Chatham, had finally been demolished after years of sitting in limbo on Nickerson's Neck. It was only fitting that a new resort rise up to take its place.

Chatham's Godfrey Windmill

    The new hotel was built under the banner of Hardy's new company the Chatham Associates with George Hopkins winning the bid for the actual construction. Seeing the potential as a travel destination Hardy downplayed the hunting lodge part of Chatham Bars Inn opting for a straight up luxury hotel. The anticipation was high for opening night in the weeks leading to it.

    On June 10, 1914 Charles Hardy's Chatham Bars Inn debuted. It was originally 50 rooms, nine guest cottages, a 9-hole golf course, a pool, and a tennis court. A pier connecting the mainland to the barrier North Beach was added later that summer. Hardy's new hotel was an immediate and massive hit for Chatham. He rode the wave of success for the remainder of the decade. However Hardy had another Chatham icon to be a part of.

    Decades earlier Cape Cod's first luxury resort, Hotel Chatham, had been built on a 250-acre peninsula known as Nickerson's Neck. In 1917 Hardy began discussions for a golf course in the area. By 1920 the plans had been created by London architect W. Herbert Fowler who was widely considered as the most gifted golf course architect in the world. There was one man to be trusted to do the work as designated and that was Charles Ashley Hardy who had created a golf course with his Chatham Bars Inn.

    Hardy went with Fowler to England to tour his most famous creation, the Westward Ho! golf course. Construction began in 1921 with Fowler and Hardy shouldering the load. It actually opened for playing in 1922 long before it was considered complete. After two years of work the Eastward Ho! Golf Course opened to members with ownership certificates available for $1,000 ($15,500 in 2021).

The fabulous views at the Eastward Ho! golf course.

    Though a success today Eastward Ho! was initially a financial bust. This came to a head when in January 1927 the property was put up for bid at auction after its mortgages were foreclosed upon. Being a savvy businessman and not wanting to see his hard work fall into a stranger's hands Hardy bought the property outright and ran it under Chatham Associates in 1927 and 1928. He eventually sold it in the fall of 1928 to Roy Tomlinson for $75,000 ($1.1 million in 2021). Tomlinson sold it to the group of original creators, known as the Chatham Country Club, paving the way for the establishment of Eastward Ho Country Club, Inc. and a stable future.

    Charles Hardy had created an iconic resort and helped create and then save a picturesque golf course. He had become a beloved figure in Chatham during his time living there. In addition to Chatham Hardy had real estate ties to his home near Boston as well as endeavors as a New York City stockbroker. For all of his work it seemed Hardy had an endless supply of energy. Sadly it would be his leisure time that spelled his end.

Looking back toward Chatham Bars Inn from its private beach.

    Always making time for hunting Hardy visited Chatham in November 1929 to check on Chatham Bars Inn. On the day of November 30th he decided to take a walk from the home of Roland Snow, with whom he was staying, to look over some property. He brought along his gun in the hopes that he might get off a few shots on his walk. When Hardy failed to return after sunset Snow set out to look for him. He was joined by several others with the search going into the following afternoon.

    One member of the search group, Harold Sawyer, found the lifeless body of Charles Hardy slumped against a tree not far from Godfrey Windmill. He had been walking through the woods and caught his leg trying to step over a barbed-wire fence. Hardy tripped causing his gun to go off accidentally, shooting him in the chest and killing him instantly. One of the most important people in Chatham's 20th century was dead at 55.

    The town was in mourning through his funeral with flags flown at half staff. His death was reported on throughout Cape Cod, Boston, and New York. Hardy's family and his Chatham Associates group maintained control of Chatham Bars inn until January 1953 when it was sold to a Boston-based group headed by E. Robinson McMullen. It has since passed more than a century in existence.

The view from the entrance of Chatham Bars Inn.

    Though it has been nearly a century since his passing, and his name is not spoken of nearly as much as it should when it comes to Cape Cod's vibrant tourism industry, Charles Ashley Hardy left an indelible mark on the region. Anytime anyone, local or visitor, spends a night at Chatham Bars Inn or hits the links at Eastward Ho! they have Hardy to thank in some way, shape, or form for that.


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