Monday, April 19, 2021

April Showers Evoke Poetry and Flowers

e’re moving again—riding bikes, cleaning up dooryards and backyards, flying kites, strolling on beaches, and walking downtown—and the daffodils are shouting, “Warmer days are coming!” On the first of April, my husband and I were walking through Bath’s City Park, the green space surrounding Patten Free Library, and we discovered poetry in motion, the library’s clever celebration of National Poetry Month. Scattered on the soon-to-be green grass of Library Park, there were more than a dozen kelly-green signs, bearing the verses of beloved American poets. Thrilled to see poetry set free, I ran from sign to sign, reading “April Rain Song” by Langston Hughes, “First Fig” by Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Fog Moves In” by Gary Lawless, and “All Right” by Alice May Douglas (Bath, 1865-1943). Like a fool on the hill, I smiled and laughed and searched for more, feeling the energy of poets near and far. 

Sometimes, when I read a poem, I feel the urge to hum, a true sign of happiness; and one of my go-to songs is “Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head.” Of course, I can’t hum that tune without thinking of  B. J. Thomas singing it on the radio and watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, the 1969 western starring Paul Newman, Robert Redford, and Katharine Ross. Ross played the role of Etta Place, the beautiful school teacher who rode with Butch Cassidy on a bicycle built for one. 

In 1970, a sweet and happy tune about raindrops was a long shot to win an Oscar for best original song, but it did.  At a time when the United States was reeling from the shock of three assassinations—JFK, MLK, and RFK—as well as the escalation of the Vietnam War, the rise of LSD, Flower Power, and violent protests, no one expected a song that evoked the quaintness of the end of the nineteenth century to become an overnight sensation, but it did. The music and lyrics of Burt Bacharach and Hal David—poetry in motion—helped a nation endure the worst of times. 

On April 17, 2021, the Wall Street Journal printed the sixth stanza of Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” next to his portrait at forty-two-years old as part of an essay by Mark Edmundson called, “Walt Whitman Knew About American Democracy.” When I saw it, I paused, then I read the article and the verses twice. The theme is timeless. In 1855, when Whitman was in his late thirties, he wrote a volume of poetry, Leaves of Grass. “Song of Myself” is part of that collection; in it, he uses the pronoun I in a cosmic way, and he uses grass as a metaphor for democracy. 

A child said What is the grass? Fetching it to me with full hands;
How could I answer the child? I do not know what it is any more than he.

I guess it must be the flag of my disposition, out of hopeful green stuff woven.

Or I guess it is the handkerchief of the Lord,
A scented gift and remembrancer designedly dropt,
Bearing the owner’s name someway in the corners, that we may see 
and remark, and say Whose? 

Or I guess the grass is itself a child, the produced babe of the vegetation.

Or I guess it is a uniform hieroglyphic,
And it means, Sprouting alike in broad zones and narrow zones,
Growing among black folks as among white,
Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same,
I receive them the same.

Mark Edmundson’s essay reveals the beauty and power of poetry; Whitman’s metaphor for democracy still rings true. Many blades of grass can merge to be one. Poets are brilliant teachers. They know how to simplify.

If you’re near and have the time, visit City Park before the first of May. Read the verses of Robert Frost, Emily Dickinson, Rachel Field, and others on the grass. In Bath, the poets have left the library; they’re outside and ready to play. But if you’re away right now, don’t despair. Wander in to your favorite bookstore or reading room, and find a poet that speaks to you, like Ginny Freeman (Skywriter), or Sarah Carlson (In the Currents of Quiet). Maine celebrates poetry every season of the year. Its beauty is everlasting. If you don’t believe me, I have a friend, who lives in Bath, and she’ll convince you. Since last spring, when COVID-19 cancelled social gatherings and forced us to stay at least six-feet apart, Joanne Marco has written a poem every week and posted it online for her friends who used to gather on Friday nights for a glass of wine. On April 2, 2021, she posted Poem #55:

That sunny sky keeps teasing me
Beatrix Potter, TM (Mr. McGregor's Garden)
With blue that covers all I see
As crocus pop their colored heads
The signs of spring wash out my dreads. 
Soft rain will soon turn browns to green
As trees and grass await the scene
The smell of freshly dark turned soil
Will welcome planting and lawn toil.

The flowers, herbs and bushes wait
For friends and neighbors at my gate
Fresh pansies, lavender and thyme
All complete that glass of wine!

With Joanne’s poetry in mind, I have no doubt that we will gather again. And like Whitman’s grass, the one and the many will merge.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Five Historic Inns of Bath

                            The year 2020 will stand out in American history for events we’d rather forget, but I still believe every day is a gift, and I’ll cherish the time I’ve been given to stay home and explore my own neighborhood. Since March, I feel as though I’ve been running in place and connecting with people by learning to Zoom. The world may not be spinning in its old familiar way, but I feel lucky to live in Bath. If you love maritime history, nineteenth-century architecture, and people who think it’s important to be kinder than necessary, this cool little city will hug your heart and make you feel better. When the Corona virus began to limit travel, I started to take long walks. While rambling, I discovered green space laden with Queen Anne’s Lace, old brick buildings with new purpose, impressive statues, historic markers, carefully restored homes, and beautiful gardens that I had barely noticed before.

All the history around me moved me to take out my phone and snap pictures, and I wasn’t alone. Even when standing at my own front door, I saw passersby taking pictures of the flowers crowning the white fence across the street and then stopping again to take another picture of the Japanese maple tree next door. The streetscapes of Bath invite us all to savor every step, but they also remind us that change is inevitable. On one of my walks, I realized two historic inns have gone missing since my husband and I arrived here seven years ago. Perhaps this loss is due to the Airbnb phenomenon or the new hotel on Route 1, or maybe the innkeepers simply wanted to move on to a new adventure. Whatever the reason, two inns have closed; the B&B experience once enjoyed at the Mulberry House (formerly the Galen Moses House) and the Kismet Inn is no longer available. I’m saddened by this loss because if my husband and I hadn’t stayed at one of Bath's historic inns, we may never have found our home on Washington Street. In 2013, in the middle of a February snowstorm, we stayed at The Inn at Bath because the Brunswick Inn was full; that unexpected turn of events was pure serendipity. On a snowy Saturday morning, sitting around a beautifully set table at The Inn at Bath, Joe and I met George Smith, the beloved Maine columnist, and his wife, Linda. For well over an hour, we chatted with the Smiths, and the innkeeper, Elizabeth Knowlton. After that fabulous breakfast, we decided to go exploring with a local realtor, and we found a house we couldn’t resist! Whether you call it kismet or serendipity, Joe and I have met dozens of people who share a similar story. Our experience suggests that innkeepers are more than ambassadors; they’re magicians who turn visitors into residents. Before another historic inn disappears, let me count the five that are continuing to make magic. 

At 360 Front Street, you’ll find The Pryor House. Gwenda and Don Pryor purchased this classic B&B in 1999, and they’ve been welcoming guests there for twenty years—the longest stewardship at a Bath inn. This Federal-style colonial was built in the 1820s by a member of the Moses family, one of the most prominent families in Bath during the boom years of wooden shipbuilding. When Gwenda and Don decided to return to Maine from Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Lindsey’s inn was up for sale. Gwenda, a social worker at the time, was looking for a creative outlet that would allow her to be a stay-at-home mom, and Elizabeth was over eighty-years old and ready to retire. As fate and Bath would have it, The Elizabeth B&B became the Pryor House, and two wishes came true. 

Sitting on a hill, near the corner of Pearl and Front Streets—where the Moses shipyard once built square-rigs—this inn by the Kennebec River invites people to stay a while. With the Sewall and Patten shipyards flanking the Moses yard, it must have been a noisy spot in the 1800s, but now it’s quiet. In June, the Pryor’s daughter graduated from Morse High School as a varsity runner; in August, she left Bath to attend college. Her brother, however, continues running and studying (not in that particular order) at Morse. For the Pryor family, serving guests, like the man who invented the chip for Visa, has afforded them the opportunity to work together and to do what they love. Before COVID-19, the Pryors used to organize a block party every summer. One of their annual guests would drive up from the south with his smoker in tow, set up a sound system, and barbeque. All the neighbors would bring a side dish or a dessert, and everyone, including me, would eat and dance until dark. Looking back, I think we all enjoyed some magic on Front Street!

A block away from the Pryor House, nestled into the southeast corner of North and Washington Streets, you’ll find a garden with a bench, and behind that garden stands The Inn at Bath, a truly happy place. In 2001, the innkeeper, Elizabeth Knowlton, moved to Bath from Montana after selling her adventure-travel lodge, Bear Creek, which she ran for six years. I suspect Adventure is Elizabeth’s middle name because prior to owning a fly-fishing lodge, she taught school in Buenos Aires, Argentina. On her quest for adventure, Elizabeth has certainly discovered how to make everyone feel welcome, and how to prepare the heartiest breakfast with fruit, yogurt, granola, bacon and eggs, and sometimes a little red pepper. In 2004, when Nick Bayard, the founder of the inn, asked her if she’d like to buy his B&B, she said yes within 24 hours. (Nick had purchased Marsha Dearborn’s elegant Greek-revival home, circa 1840, from her family in 1988 and successfully converted it into Bath’s largest B&B.) Recently, Elizabeth filled out a questionnaire that I sent to local innkeepers. She answered the fourth question—What is the occupation of your most famous guest?—with the word Writers; then she wrote: “Irene and Joe Drago, and they were here with Linda and George Smith!” Herein lies the secret to Elizabeth Knowlton’s success. Like magic, Elizabeth can make you smile! 

Two blocks north of The Inn at Bath, near the corner of Washington and Pearl Streets, you’ll find the Benjamin F. Packard House. In December of 2004, Amy and Mark Hranicky decided it was time to live their dream. On their honeymoon in 1990, they had their first B&B experience in Cape May, NJ, and they glimpsed their future—someday they would be innkeepers. Fast forward back to 2004. After reading an article in Yankee Magazine about up and coming towns in New England, they narrowed their search for an inn to Bath. They visited that December and fell in love with the City of Ships. (This sounds like a familiar story.) When they returned for a second look in February, 2005, they uncovered their future at 45 Pearl Street. 

Like a fairy tale with lots of twists, the Italianate-style home, circa 1845, had been built around a simpler, 1790 house; 140-years later, it was converted into an inn by Liz and Vince Messler. Later, it was sold to the Haydens, who kept it as a B&B for a number of years before converting it back to a private home in 2002. Amy and Mark bought their storied house with the intention of adding another bedroom, and returning it once again to a B&B. Clearly, the history of the Benjamin F. Packard House proves that change is the only constant. I’m convinced that the shipwright Benjamin Packard—the most famous owner of 45 Pearl—would agree. By all reports, Packard, who was also an owner of two shipyards, lived a bold life by keeping his eyes on the horizon. In their own way, Amy and Mark are following his lead. Recently, they told me their most memorable guests are quilters, a group of friends from north of Bangor who visit every year. Oh, the stories quilters tell—they must be unforgettable! 

A few months after Amy and Mark purchased their inn on Pearl, Rachel and Ken opened The Kennebec Inn at 696 High Street—a short walk from their first inn, the William T. Donnell House, which they opened in 1997 and later sold as a private home. This detail fascinates me because I’m a docent at the William T. Donnell House at the Maine Maritime Museum, which was the home of the Donnell family when William T. was building ships with Gardiner Deering next to the Percy & Small yard. Once again, the beauty and success of The Kennebec Inn highlights the long reach of Bath’s shipbuilding history. (And let’s not forget, Long Reach was Bath’s original name.) In 2005, Rachel and Ken started to restore the circa-1850 Italianate on the south end—not far from the site of the South Church and the once bustling shipyards of Houghton, Rogers, and Deering & Donnell. If you love sea stories, this inn is brimming with them. The original owner, Captain James B. Perkins, was a master mariner during the “Halcyon Days” of Bath; in 1869, a few years after selling his home in Bath to Captain Samuel B Reed, he became the first director of the Eastern Steamboat Company, which operated out of Phippsburg. Sadly, the second owner, Captain Reed, was lost at sea, but his grand home still welcomes guests from near and far. In fact, at the Kennebec Inn, there are guest rooms named in honor of Captain Perkins and Captain Reed. 

In 1843, John Bosworth Swanton—a descendant of William Swanton who is credited with building the first year-round shipyard in Bath in 1760—built a Greek Revival-style house at 888 Middle Street. Today, that stellar home bears the name Middle Street Inn. And it also carries the lovely distinction of being Bath’s newest, historic inn. In 2016, Chuck Spliedt and Jude Smith, discovered this gem after a year-long search; in 2017, they began the Herculean task of converting it into a comfortable B&B, and they welcomed their first guests the same year. Three years later, these new innkeepers have had the arduous task of adapting to ever-changing guidelines for health and safety. However, true to their new home, they have stayed the course. Chuck hails from Baltimore, Maryland, and he honed his hospitality skills there; Jude, born and raised in western Pennsylvania, left a corporate career to make heavenly breakfasts at a warm and cozy inn on Middle Street. (There seems to be a thread here—Bath innkeepers tend to come from away.) When I asked Chuck and Jude what was the occupation of their most famous guest, there answer surprised me: “Well, it’s not an occupation, but we had a granddaughter of a former U. S.  President stay with us.” It would have been sweet to join that guest at the breakfast table! 

For the inns of Bath, the pandemic of 2020 has been difficult to navigate, but my research shows that innkeepers have an enormous capacity to adjust to change. For innkeepers, a typical day starts with a freshly made breakfast, new guests at the table, and new stories to share. At the end of today, the good news is five historic inns remain in Bath.  

While I was writing this blog, I learned that Elizabeth Knowlton has sold The Inn at Bath to a new innkeeper. Over a year ago, Elizabeth told me she was ready to pass the baton, and now she has gracefully passed it. Though we will miss her tender heart and her gift for listening kindly, we wish her fair winds and following seas and hope she visits us often with stories to tell.

Have you stayed at one of Bath's historic inns? If you haven't, please do. If you have, leave a comment and share your first impression.  

Thursday, April 30, 2020

In Corona Time


One day in the middle of March, our world took a deep breath and paused. At that moment, many of us looked up and asked, “Why?” In a flash, all of our plans, and some of our dreams, changed. Why? As a wife, mother, grandmother, sister, and friend, I have no answer. Even when I stood in front of a high school classroom on the morning of 9/11 as the adult-in-charge, I struggled to find words. Finally, I embraced the fact that words are seldom enough when it comes to life-and-death questions. Perhaps having the right words doesn’t matter. Experience has taught me that kindness helps more, and acts of kindness are necessary. In Corona Time, we’ve witnessed the saving grace of kindness all around the world and close to home. As we’ve stayed in place, we’ve had time to observe and applaud the courage and generosity of the everyday heroes who often go unnoticed: the nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists, first-responders, grocery-store employees, mail carriers, reporters, teachers, and good neighbors who are working every day to keep us safe, well, and connected.

I live in Bath, a city known for building the best sailing ships in the world. What many don’t know, and I’d like to share, is that Maine’s Cool Little City is also known for its kindness. The City of Bath even created a local, August holiday called Kindness Day. This year it’s on the community calendar for August 15, 2020. By then, I hope we can gather on Front and Centre Streets and celebrate the importance of being kind! In the meantime, I find courage in the kindness all around me. If you’ve ever seen a purple bumper sticker that says “Be Kinder Than Necessary,” that driver has been to Bath and wants to spread the word.

In 1845, Alexandre Dumas, the author of The Count of Monte Cristo, wrote, “All human wisdom is contained in these two words: Wait and Hope!" In Corona Time, those words still ring true. In the midst of COVID-19, all we can do is wait and hope, and in Bath, Maine, we’ve been following that plan the best we can. For a city respected for building grand homes with beautiful doors and granite steps, side porches, cupolas, and wrought-iron fenceswooden docks, red brick stores, churches with magnificent spires, and a fairy-tale library, our streets are unusually quiet these days, but neighbors are still planting seeds, making bread, leaving books in the door, and sending homemade masks to friends and strangers in need! Like people around the globe, they’re connecting in new ways with Zoom and Facebook Live. Without a doubt, we’re in touch with our CREATIVE side! And oddly, as we put on masks, we’re showing our feelings more clearly than ever before.

In the early weeks of staying at home, little toy bears appeared in windows as the word spread that moms and dads were looking for ways to entertain their children. My neighbor sent me a link telling how his son’s neighborhood had created a window safari, not dissimilar to the quest for Waldo, Carmen San Diego, or gold bug in Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go. I immediately found my daughter’s old teddy bear and placed it in one of our front windows. As time went by, more and more bears, and even a few dogs, an elephant, and a friendly moose, showed up in windows all around town. One afternoon, I went out for a walk and, much to my surprise, spied two bears in the window of the Patten Free Library’s reading room—a sign that the library wasn’t closed forever; it was just napping.

As spring rolls in, the sun is shining more; people are out more, and they're walking, biking, and running with a sense of purpose. We have to keep moving forward, though when it's necessary, we need to stop, or step off the sidewalk and onto the road, to keep our social distance. Driven to be out, but trying to follow the rules, I started running a new route. Along the way, I’ve found big hearts and lots of inspiration. My favorite stretch is along High Street between Harward and Park; I’m especially fond of the intersection at High and Whiskeag, which offers a stunning view of Governor William King’s stone house. Honestly, the only reason I’m motivated to run up Harward, a steep hill, is the promise of peace at the top. And I’m not the only one who seeks that feeling—I’m rarely alone when I reach High Street. 

Last week, the flower booth at High and Whiskeag, spruced up with a new wooden frame, opened for “curbside” business. For five dollars (cash or PayPal), you can take home a bunch of cut flowers. It’s the best deal on High! If flowers don’t draw you to that peaceful part of town, read the signs. Just a little over a hundred yards away, there’s a house with a yellow door that posts an inspirational saying every week. Whenever I pass that door, I slow down to read the message, and the kindness fills me up. I don’t know who lives there, but I’m glad they do. Between the flower booth and the yellow door, there’s another act of kindness. A few days ago, my husband and I walked by a woman who was putting the finishing touches on a giant heart—made of white stones and framed by dozens of small clay pots. She told us it was her sign of hope. Her daughter is an ER nurse in a Massachusetts hospital. We kept our social distance, but we talked for a bit. I told the woman with the heart covering her yard that my son was a critical care doctor in Connecticut. If it’s possible to hug from six feet away, we hugged. It certainly felt like a good, strong bear hug.

I’ve always believed that laughter is a healing force, and in Corona Time, I’ve come to appreciate the gift of laughter more than ever. In towns across America, the comedians among us have kept us laughing. In Bath, the Chocolate Church Arts Center brought us “Live from Home with Johnny Ater!” on April 25th, and in our too quiet house, my husband and I watched and laughed out loud. When we moved to Bath seven years ago, John was the first tradesman we met;  it was an auspicious beginning. Since then, John Ater has painted our house inside and out. When he's not painting, he's on stage performing. I think he's a magician who turns ordinary events into knee-slapping humor! The greatest comedians are wicked smart, and Johnny Ater is wicked! Of course, he isn’t the only humorist in Bath. While strolling through City Park one afternoon, I spied a hot pink bra on Zorach’s beloved “Spirit of the Sea." Wouldn’t you love to know who landed that joke in the heart of Bath?

Next to laughter, I think the deep blue sea and all the rivers that flow into it are medicine for the soul. We’re blessed if we live near water, but even if we don’t, we can always imagine the smell of salt air, the rhythm of rowing a boat, the freedom of sailing, and the joy of splashing. In May, boats will begin to slip into the water, and people will begin to enjoy their watercrafts in old familiar ways, but “sitting on the dock of the bay, watching the tide roll away”  will not feel the same. On land or at sea, change is inevitable, and this season is bound to change our view, but the salt air will still smell good, and the water will still refresh us. Together, let’s hope for a big summer splash and a bright, healthy future! 


Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Sarah Sampson, Bath's Lady with the Lamp

If you had asked me who were the most famous nurses in history when I was in grammar school, I would have answered Florence Nightingale and Clara Barton. Somewhere between eighth grade and college, I learned that Dorothea Dix was also a famous nurse. Born in Hampden, Maine, in 1802, Dorothea was raised by her grandmother in Boston because her parents suffered from alcoholism. As a young woman, she was driven to reform mental health care across the country. During the Civil War, she served as the Superintendent of Army Nurses and recruited dedicated women to care for the sick and wounded. Recently, proving that you’re never too old to learn, I added a fourth nurse to my list. In 1861, Sarah Sampson from Bath, Maine, followed her husband and his company to the battlefields of the Civil War. The redoubtable Sarah Smith Sampson was born in 1832 and married in 1855. When her husband, Captain Charles A. L. Sampson, left for Washington D.C. to serve with Company D of the 3rd Maine Volunteer Infantry, Sarah insisted on accompanying him. She told the newly commissioned captain, one of the best ship carvers in Bath, that she would make herself useful as a nurse. The Sampsons had no children at that time, so Sarah was determined to take care of all the boys from Maine. 

Savage's Station Field Hospital (June 1862)
Mrs. C.A.L. Sampson was thirty-years old and fearless, but she had no formal training as a nurse. At the time, no one did. Florence Nightingale had established the Nightingale Training School for Nurses in London in 1860—after serving as a British nurse in the Crimean War— but nursing schools in America were still a twinkle in Dorothea Dix’s eye. Sarah Sampson, however, would develop her healing skills in tents near the battlefields of Bull Run, Gettysburg, Battle of the Wilderness (Fredericksburg), Spotsylvania Courthouse, Savage's Station, and other blood-soaked places. She would spend four weeks caring for the wounded at Gettysburg, she would serve four years and six months near the frontlines, and she would remain in Virginia through the summer of 1865 to plan for her “Maine boys” return home. Florence Nightingale once said, “How very little can be done under the spirit of fear.”  To that point, Sarah Sampson’s courage saved lives, including the life of a seventeen-year old soldier stricken with diphtheria and declared dead by two Army surgeons.

C.A.L. Sampson, Bath ship carver 
In 1862, Lt. Colonel Sampson became disabled in the swamps of Chickahominy, and he left the battlefield without permission. Later, he was arrested. His disability, however, proved to be genuine, and he was completely exonerated. His wife, Sarah, accompanied him home to Bath, but she quickly returned to the fight and continued to care for the troops. After the war, having witnessed the death of so many fathers, Sarah returned to her home and husband determined to establish the Bath Military and Naval Orphan Asylum. In 1866, her wish was granted. The orphanage opened on Walker Street; a year later, it was moved to a larger home on South Street. 
       The mansion on the corner of South and High Streets was conveyed to the state of Maine in trust by William Rogers on July 21, 1869. The circa-1800 house, built by Samuel Davis, had been the home of William M. Rogers, the father of the grantor, for many years. In 1870, responding to a growing need, Sarah brought fifteen orphans from the children's home to Augusta to appeal to the legislature for financial support. Once again, her wish was granted. Bath’s orphan asylum was made a State institution and the governor appointed John Patten, J. Parker Morse, General Thomas Hyde of Bath, and N.A. Farwell of Rockland as trustees. 

The orphans' home as it appears today 
        Because of the determination of Sarah Sampson and the passion of her board of “lady visitors,” including Mrs. Wm. F. Moses, Mrs. J.T. Patten, Mrs. G.C. Goss, Mrs. John Shaw, and Mrs. N.F. Gannett, the State Military and Naval Orphan Asylum became a safe harbor for hundreds of children. The president of the ladies’ board, Sarah Gannett, reported on the status of the home in 1874: “The number of children in the family at the commencement of the year was 57. To this number, eighteen have been added, and twenty have been removed in various ways, as follows: fifteen returned to mothers, four adopted, and one died.” 

Col. Sampson's figurehead "Belle of Bath" 
           Sarah Sampson served as the director of the orphans' home until 1881. Her husband, Colonel Sampson, is credited with creating some of the most stunning figureheads for Bath-built ships, like Belle of Bath, Florence, and Alice M. Minott. After his death, Sarah moved to Washington D.C. with her adopted daughter, Beatrice, and continued helping Maine veterans by working for the Pension Bureau.
For as long as she lived, Sarah Sampson returned to Maine for the reunions of the 3rd Maine Regiment, and she was regarded as one of the “old comrades of the march.” At the 1906 reunion, the last before her death, Sarah was interviewed by the Bath Independent about her choice to serve. She was quoted as saying, “There is a good deal of the gypsy about me, and I always thought it would be fun to live in a tent.” She also described her meeting with President Abraham Lincoln: “He was the best man I ever saw on Earth.”

"Tea with Sarah Sampson" at Winter Street 5/9/2020
Sarah Smith Sampson is buried at site 1261 in section one of Arlington National Cemetery. She is buried with Army nurses, an honor only bestowed to the brave. If you would like to learn more about Nurse Sarah Sampson, visit the History Room at the Patten Free Library. The room’s manager guided me toward a wonderful file of articles, letters, and images. She also posed a question: Does Sarah Sampson’s grave at Arlington receive a Maine Christmas wreath every year? I don't know the answer, but I would like to find out. If you can help, send me a message. And if you happen to be in or around Bath on May 9, 2020, come to the Winter Street Center at 2:00 p.m. and have “Tea with Sarah Sampson.” Sagadahoc Preservation, Inc. is sponsoring this inaugural tea as a fundraiser. Borrowing from Campobello’s “Tea with Eleanor,” two local history buffs will share their favorite stories about Bath’s lady with the lamp, and in the spirit of Sarah’s loving heart, homemade cookies will be served.    

Saturday, December 7, 2019

The Pearl Harbor–Bath–Shirley Temple Connection

Shirley Temple attends a birthday party for captain's daughter
In April, 1940, Lydia Diane S. Grant—born at her grandparents’ home at 1054 Washington Street in Bath—was living in Hawaii with her mother, Lydia Baxter Gillette, and her stepfather, Captain Claude Gillette. Her parents threw her a thirteenth birthday and invited all the children in the neighborhood, including Shirley Temple, the visiting movie star. After the cake was cut and the gifts were unwrapped, Diane and her friends posed for a picture. In the photo, the captain's daughter and the Hollywood actress stand out because they’re the ones wearing lies. Both blue-eyed girls went on to live remarkable lives. Shirley Temple Black died in 2014 at the age of 85. After entertaining millions on the big screen, she became a mother, an advocate, and ultimately a U.S. Ambassador to Ghana and Czechoslovakia. She was also one of the first American celebrities to talk publicly about her battle with breast cancer. Diane Smith Grant, known to many as Snooky, is now ninety-three years old, and she’s still telling stories about her life, including her adventures in Hawaii, the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the evacuation of military families on Christmas Day.
Mrs. Claude Gillette, the sponsor of U.S. Submarine Gusk 1945
By the time WWII was over, Diane was 18, a young woman who had seen the horror of war but chose to be optimistic. Looking back, she prefers to talk about serving General Marshall and a handsome RAF pilot at a Washington restaurant. Diane’s younger brother, Tom Gillette, was 14 when the war ended, and he returned to Bath ahead of his parents to attend Morse High School. After Rear Admiral Gillette retired, he renovated the historic Queen Anne at 1111 Washington Street, and Tom has fond memories of that home. Diane and Tom are both survivors. Perhaps they appreciate life more because of their experience. Tom speaks highly of his dad. Claude Sexton Gillette met and married their mother in the 1930s when he was a commander working with the Bureau of Ships to coordinate Bath Iron Works’ efforts to rebuild the Navy. In the months following the attack on Pearl Harbor, he was a captain, one of the most experienced engineering duty-only officers in the Navy, and he was in charge of salvage and fleet repair. Later, he would be promoted to Rear Admiral and awarded the Legion of Merit, the nation’s highest non-combat medal, for his exemplary work at the Pearl Harbor and Puget Sound shipyards. He is buried with his wife in Bath’s Oak Grove Cemetery.
Shirley Temple on the USS Pennsylvania
William Faulkner once said, “History is, not was,” and I agree. Because of history, I met the Gillettes. While I was signing copies of Daughters of Long Reach at the Common Ground Fair, a man read the back cover of my book and said he had friends who would enjoy reading it. When he started telling me about the Gillettes at Pearl Harbor, I was enthralled. The man told me that Tom was having trouble adjusting to life at Pearl, so his dad’s friend, the captain of the USS Arizona, invited him to have dinner, watch a movie, and sleep on the ship. Tom thought that would be fun and spent a night on the Arizona in November, 1941. (Diane told me later that Captain Van Valkenburgh, her dad's Annapolis roommate, invited her and a few of her friends to dine with him aboard ship on December 7, 1941, but that date was cancelled because the Arizona was sunk and the captain was killed with 1,177 aboard when the Japanese attacked.) Needless to say, I was moved by the Gillettes' story, and honored when the man at the fair asked me to personalize a copy of my book for Tom and Diane. A few weeks later, I received an email from Tom. He and his sister were in Maine for the summer; they were going to make their annual visit to Oak Grove Cemetery, and they wanted to take me to lunch. 
Miss Temple with sailors at the Hollywood Cafe
           Since our lunch at Mae’s, we’ve been  corresponding, and I’ve learned so much history from these two amazing Bathites. Because Tom is the salt of the earth and the sea, he sent me matchbook covers from 1941. He used to collect them from sailors on liberty, and he had a few from my dad's ship, the USS Northampton. Like Tom and Diane, my dad was lucky. His ship was escorting the USS Enterprise the morning of December 7th. They were about 150 miles west of the harbor when the Japanese planes attacked. The next day the Nora pulled into Pearl and witnessed the carnage. She soon left the harbor to pursue the enemy and managed to wreak havoc until she was sunk at the Battle of Tassafaronga—the last battle of the Guadalcanal campaign—on December 1, 1942. My father was never merry at Christmas. He didn’t relish putting up the tree or hanging lights. Growing up, I didn’t understand why, but now I do. Sometimes it’s the invisible wounds that hurt us the most.
Tom Gillette went on to become a naval architect. He told me he studied the sinking of the Northampton. The swift actions of the crew that night saved lives. Over 700 sailors were rescued by U.S. destroyers and PT boats; fifty perished. My father was a nineteen-year old machinist mate when he swam away from his burning ship. He watched it slip into a black hole, and for the next fifty-six years he remembered the fifty. He talked about them shortly before he died in 1998.

A movie star and a submariner
My dad always loved Shirley Temple. One Christmas he bought me a Shirley Temple doll. I still have her, and she’s still wearing that blue and white sailor’s dress. During the war, Shirley Temple sold War Bonds and boosted morale by making movies with happy endings. In 1942 and ’43, she entertained and served sailors, Marines, and soldiers at the Hollywood CafĂ©, an organization chaired by Bette Davis. Until I met Diane and Tom, I hadn’t thought of Shirley Temple’s contribution to our nation. She helped us through the Great Depression, WWII, and other challenges by being hopeful. Prior to WWII, she had made several trips to Pearl Harbor, and she made a lasting impression on the U.S. Navy. In fact, when she visited the USS Argonaut on August 11, 1937, an officer gave her a gold dolphin pin, which is unheard of—only submariners have that insignia.  
           At Christmas, I wonder what our children and grandchildren will say about us. I hope they say we were brave, and never gave up believing in the possibility of peace. We are the lucky ones.