Blue Hill characters, distinguished and slippery
A gentleman in whom I am well pleased stopped by with his family and said they were going to Blue Hill for a vacation. Myself, I hadn't been to Blue Hill in many a year, so when they were gone, I tipped my head back and imagined riding Down East for another look at beautiful Blue Hill Bay.
Blue Hill is a coastal Maine town that has a big summer population, but is a pretty good place to live in the winter. It is often surrounded by fog that spoils the spectacular seascape and landscape view from Blue Hill, for which the township was named.
Blue Hill was a busy seaport in the 1800s, and had a rhodium mine. In those prosperous days of sail, Blue Hill had so many ships on the oceans that there wouldn't be a "gam" anywhere in the world but a Blue Hill vessel was there. (A gam was a meeting in foreign ports with only Maine ships.)
Blue Hill was the birthplace of Mary Ellen Chase, a Maine writer whose books included seafaring novels and a biography of Parson Jonathan Fisher, another native who had a career worth writing about. [See story and picture on facing page.]
Every Maine town has its historical high spots, such as the year the sawmill burned, and Blue Hill qualifies. I might as well recount a few Blue Hill incidents and facts that come to mind.
First, there are Jimmy Kenney's eels. In the old days, Jimmy set eel pots, or traps, in various productive places in Blue Hill Bay and shipped eels to the Fulton Fish Market on the afternoon westbound train. He had a sailing dory, but usually rowed it to make the morning run to his traps, which he'd rebait and set again.
Now, eels are not like other fish and can live quite a time out of water. Jimmy would open the gate on a trap, tip the "get" into his dory, and go to the next trap. So, as he arrived back at his wharf, he had a dory with eels squirming and writhing about in eel fashion, a sight to be seen. Jimmy would snatch them up one at a time and transfer them into a hogshead on his wharf.
When the hogshead was full of eels, Jimmy would fit in the head, cooper down a hoop, and the barrel was ready to go to New York. Eels didn't get iced, as did lobsters and groundfish, and the lively things would squirm around in the barrel all the way to New York.
This routine took up the forenoon. In the afternoon, Jimmy would entertain summer folks until train time, when he'd take the barrel to the depot with his horse and two-wheeled cart.
On this particular summer afternoon, Jimmy was taking his barrel of eels to the train, and he came upon a procession of the local lodge of Ancient Free and Accepted Masons, which was making an official visitation of some kind. The members were in their regalia, all wearing the traditional craftsmen's white aprons, and the oldest member up front with the Holy Bible, square, and compasses as the three lights of the fraternity.
It was sheer coincidence, but Jimmy's barrel of eels was just about midway of the parade. And it happened that the hogshead tipped off his jumper and fell to the ground. The jolt burst the barrel hoops, and the eels got loose and joined the Masons.
This Rev. Jonathan Fisher was an early Congregational minister who had many talents. He was an artist, inventor, and a citizen of the world who did many things for the town. His life story was written by another talented native of Blue Hill, Mary Ellen Chase. She was professor of English at Smith College, and wrote several books, including novels about Blue Hill seafaring families.
Blue Hill Fair comes every Labor Day weekend, and I attended once and made a big success. The livestock judging was completed, and a bunch of 4-H boys were trying to get their pigs into crates for the ride home. The animal sheds were a bedlam of squealing pigs being chased by frustrated youngsters.
I'd been a 4-H boy in my time, but never had a pig project. I took poultry. But Grampy told me never to chase a pig. Sheep and lambs you can catch by chasing them, for they get winded and lie down, but nobody yet has winded a pig. Grampy told me to get a bucket.
My Grampy would put a crate for a pig in his farm wagon, with the hatch open, and lay a plank from the ground up into the open hatch. He'd make his pig walk up the plank and into the crate. All he needed was an empty pail.
He'd sneak up on the shoat, or even a sow of great heft, and clap the pail over the animal's snout. Finding himself, or herself, alone inside a bucket, the animal seeks a way out. A farmer, or any 4-H boy, can make swine go anywhere by steering one backward out of a pail. They didn't know this at Blue Hill Fair until I showed up.
One more thing: At that time, a Mr. Partridge kept an apothecary shop in Blue Hill, and he had a beautiful daughter who married a minister. This minister was James William Lawes Graham, and he delivered the baccalaureate address when my high school class was graduated in 1926. Mr. Graham was tall and impressive in the pulpit, and had a resounding voice, which he used with professional effect. I can, as we say, hear him now after so many years.
Perhaps, like Demosthenes, he developed his oratory by yelling off over the Down East sea. His text was from the Old Testament: "Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it." I've tried.