Out of Our Past

Boothbay Region Historical Society

The Baby That Washed Ashore at Hendricks Head

Part II

 

Barbara Rumsey

 

     

        This is a continuation of last week's article, outlining the impossible nature of the story about a live baby girl being washed ashore at Hendricks Head Light on Southport in the 1870's.  Last week it was explained that the Marrs were the lightkeeping family and that they and other local people had no knowledge of such an incident.

 

Southport Historical Society Founders

        A remarkable number of Marr descendants founded the Southport Historical Society.  Of the founders, eight came down from the Marrs (if you include Stuart Thompson's and Maurice Sherman's marriages to Marr descendants Jean Luther and Evelyn Pratt.)  Cecil Pierce, another founder of the Society, was distantly related to the Marrs by two Pierce sisters marrying lightkeeper Jeruel Marr's brothers, Thomas and Nahum Marr.  (Cecil would have been a fourth cousin to Charles Pinkham and Evelyn Luther Pratt, while Charles and Evelyn were second cousins.)  With all these Marr descendants so committed to local history, is it plausible that they would have been ignorant of the story that so intimately involved their family, if it were true?  

 

        Ronnie Orchard told me that about 40 or 50 years ago, Bob Colby of Southport, while playing cards with Arthur and Wolcott Marr, Jr. (grandsons of Hendricks Head lightkeeper Jeruel and sons of keeper Wolcott), asked them about the story.  They looked puzzled, and Bob explained some more of the details.  Finally, their faces cleared, and Wolcott said, "Oh, yes, I remember; that's the time the bowsprit came through the bedroom window, and I sanded it, and (looking at Arthur) you varnished it."  That's how seriously they took the story about their purported aunt.

 

        I speculated the story came into being as that kind of a tall tale, told simply for the fun of putting somebody on, and that it reached the ears of Edward R. Snow who printed it as fact in 1945.  I remember talking to my old teacher, Hope Hodgdon Updegraff, one day about the East Boothbay mills on the mill pond and the marsh.  After going over it for some time, I got up to leave and Hope, with a twinkle in her eye, said, "I told the last person who came here to talk about the mill that it was on that little frog pond by the Murray house."  I laughed and asked her why, and she said, "I didn't like him; he needed to come down a peg or two."  Don't get people's backs up if you want the straight story!  Or, think back to one of the Sam Woodward stories printed a month ago - the drowned couple in Adams Pond - created just to see how much of a commotion he could cause by spreading a totally untrue rumor.

 

Uncle Terry - A Story of the Maine Coast

        Though my speculating was plausible, the real answer is much simpler, Ronnie Orchard knew I was working on this article, mentioned it to various people, and Kathy Bugbee jumped on it.  She borrowed a book from Sally Wood for me to read, entitled Uncle Terry - A Story of the Maine Coast.  Written in 1900 by Charles Clark Munn, it broadly told the shipwreck/baby story as a typical period romance adventure.  Munn, born in Southington, Connecticut in 1848, worked as a commercial traveler, and died in Springfield, Massachusetts on July 8, 1917.  Being a commercial traveler, might he have been the traveling stockbroker who fleeced lighthouse worker Albert Arne, mentioned last week?  The titles of Munn's other books give the same promise of light, somewhat athletic, romance adventure:  Pocket Island, Rockhaven, The Hermit, The Castle Builders, and Camp Castaway.

 

        In Munn's novel, the lighthouse was placed on the mainland tip of Southport, about five miles south of Hendricks Head.  Incidentally, Cuckolds light, just off the tip, was not erected until 1907.  "Uncle Terry," originally from Connecticut, was lightkeeper (for 30 years altogether, like the real Hendricks Head keeper, Jeruel Marr), in residence with his wife and no children.  The vessel first struck on White Hoss Ledge (probably The Motions) off Damariscove, then struck again on ledges at the tip of Southport, where it went under just after the baby was sent ashore in the mattresses.  Enough material came with the baby or floated ashore to determine her name was Etelka Peterson from Stockholm, Sweden.  The wreck took place eighteen years before the story was narrated - that gave the baby time to grow up so the author could work in the love interest.

 

The Perennial Plot - Death, Love, and Money

        Baby Etelka (Telly) grew up on the pastoral island of Southport, devoted to her adoptive parents and following her hobby of painting.  The harbor at Southport was ice-bound in winter, and the island was inhabited with families named Leach, Oaks, and Bascom, and minor eccentric characters.  Though the author probably visited here, he didn't use local names, and he changed conditions at will - icing up the harbor and moving the lighthouse.  The plot follows the usual course.  Terry finds a legal notice in a Boston newspaper, placed for a Stockholm man searching for his Peterson grandchild, known to have been shipwrecked in Maine.  Terry follows it up and gets tangled with a villainous Boston Lawyer who cheats him.  A young lawyer, yachting on the coast, is befriended by the family, falls in love with Telly, shares his love of painting with her, and promises to handle the Peterson situation when the villainous lawyer shoots himself after a market crash.  Girl gets fortune from Sweden, boy gets girl; old couple tearfully wave goodbye.

 

        So that's where the story came from - a 1900 novel.  I wish all local legends were so easily analyzed and placed where they belong as either fact or fiction.  Serious historians often ignore such stories since to even mention them in order to dispel them can appear to give them credence.  It's a good policy, which I've subverted, but I couldn't pass up the chance to show how these legends can start.  So when you hear, "They say a baby washed ashore at Hendricks Head after a shipwreck," laugh and encourage them to while away some time with Uncle Terry.  Who can resist the opening lines?

 

                "It's goin' to be a nasty night," said Uncle Terry, coming

            in from the shed and dumping an armful of wood in the box

            behind the kitchen stove, "an the combers is just a-humpin'

            over White Hoss Ledge, an' the spray's flyin' half way up the

            lighthouse."

 

                "The Lord-a-massy help any poor soul that goes ashore

            tonight," responded a portly, white-haired woman beside the

            stove, as a monster wave made the little dwelling tremble.