We recently learned that Miriam (Dolby) Hammel, who wrote the story “My Life on Boon Island,” that was published in the May 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest, passed away at the age of 90. Our sincere condolences go out to her family and friends.
Her story and photographs helped save and preserve the history of life at Maine’s tallest lighthouse where she lived with her husband Coast Guardsman Calvin Dolby and their daughter Donna from 1944 to 1945.
Miriam Dolby remembered Boon Island as a desolate, barren, and lonely place. And she vividly recalled, all too well, her first trip to the island with her husband and baby daughter and their new Coast Guard assignment. “The day we approached the island was windy and cold. The sea was choppy, the waves were high, and I was seasick. I wished I were dead.”
A small boat that first took her husband Calvin to the island was lowered, “because,” she said,” he was assigned to this God forsaken place and he had to report in.” When it came for her turn to be lowered to the small boat for the trip to shore, the captain of the vessel said that it was too risky and they were going to turn around and head back to the Coast Guard station in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. That did not sit well with Miriam, who told the captain and crew in no uncertain terms that she was not going back to Portsmouth after coming this far. In fact, she recalled that she told them point blank that “I would jump overboard first.” This was followed by a brief and panicked discussion amongst the crew until two sailors volunteered to take her and the baby to the island. But they said that they would only take along the baby food, some clothes, and the crib; the rest of their furnishings and personal belongings would have to come out another day when the sea was calm.
The Coast Guardsmen made several tries to get the boat into the slip (boat ramp) on the island, but each attempt failed; the sea and the waves had other ideas. As she clung to baby Donna, she told them to keep trying. “I just knew I had to get to ashore. I was so sick.” Finally they made it and the boat was hauled up the boat ramp. But it was three weeks before their furnishing and other personal belongings made it out to the island.
As World War II in Europe came to a close, Miriam and Calvin Dolby were fortunate to witness the surrender of a German submarine directly off Boon Island Lighthouse. “We went to the top of the lighthouse and stepped outside, and with binoculars, we watched the sub surface where our Coast Guard boat was waiting. We saw the hatch of the sub open and the men come out. It gave us a feeling of pride and relief. I am so glad that I witnessed this event.”
To read the rest of the memories of Miriam (Dolby) Hammel’s life at Boon Island Lighthouse, please refer to the May 2003 edition of Lighthouse Digest or go to the website www.LighthouseDigest.com and click on ARCHIVES, and then in the SEARCH box at the top left of the page type in Boon Island or Dolby and you will be led to the story.
This story appeared in the
Jan/Feb 2017 edition of Lighthouse Digest Magazine. The print edition contains more stories than our internet edition, and each story generally contains more photographs - often many more - in the print edition. For subscription information about the print edition, click here.
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