Digest>Archives> Sep/Oct 2018

Etched in Stone

Keeper Hutchins Leaves His Mark for History

By Timothy Harrison

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In 1907, lighthouse keeper Harold Hutchins etched ...

Recently, some visitors who spent the night at Maine’s Halfway Rock Lighthouse discovered an old etching on a remote section of the island. Apparently no one has ever seen or noticed it before. It was inscribed “Hutchins, 1907, Matinicus, Me”

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One of the two people shown in this vintage image ...

A quick check revealed that Harold I. Hutchins, known by most as “Hutch,” was most likely the man who scratched his mark at Halfway Rock Lighthouse for posterity. Hutchins started his career at Halfway Rock Lighthouse as a 2nd assistant keeper in 1907.

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Harold I. Hutchins is shown here on the right ...

If indeed it was Harold Hutchins who etched this marking, and we have to assume that it was, he must have been leaving a mark for posterity that his next duty assignment would be at Matinicus Rock Lighthouse.

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Portrait photo of Harold Hutchins who served a ...

He must have loved being a lighthouse keeper because, other than a stint to serve in the U.S. Army in World War I, he went on to have a long and distinguished career in the U.S. Lighthouse Service.

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Boon Island Lighthouse about nine miles off the ...

After Halfway Rock Lighthouse, Harold Hutchins went on to serve at Matinicus Rock Lighthouse from 1908 to 1912, Two Bush Island Lighthouse from 1915 to 1916, Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse from 1916 to 1917, Monhegan Island Lighthouse from 1920 to 1922, White Island Lighthouse (Isle of Shoals) in New Hampshire from 1922 to 1923, and Maine’s Boon Island Lighthouse from 1924 to 1933.

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Sitting on the swing at Boon Island Lighthouse ...

What little we have been able to learn about Harold Hutchins’ life has been pieced together from various sources, including old newspaper accounts and a few recorded memories.

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The step-sons of lighthouse keeper Harold I. ...

Harold Hutchins was born on May 28, 1881 in Rumford, Maine. When the United States entered the Great War in Europe, he joined the U.S. Army and saw action in the Meuse-Argonne offensive, which was the largest military offensive in U.S. history; it involved 1.2 million troops and also became the second deadliest battle in U.S. history.

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Shirley Hutchins (Kelly) on the walkway at Boon ...

The Early Years

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Lighthouse keeper Harold I. Hutchins and his wife ...

At the end of the war, Harold I. Hutchins returned to Maine, and on October 31, 1919 on Vinalhaven Island, he married Addie Sophia Linneken Brown, who had two sons by a previous marriage: Howard (b. 1912) and Harold (b. 1915). By 1920, he returned to the U.S. Lighthouse Service as a 1st assistant keeper at Maine’s Monhegan Island Lighthouse. In 1920, daughter Harriett was born, and in 1923 daughter Shirley was born. Daughter Harriett was also known at Hattie or Haddie.

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There was no yard to play in for the children who ...

In 1923, Harold Hutchins was transferred to White Island Lighthouse in New Hampshire where he served as a 1st assistant keeper, but at a higher rate of pay than at Monhegan Island Light. One time while stationed at White Island, due to rough seas, it took a Coast Guard lifeboat crew three days to get him landed on the island.

Life at Boon Island

In 1924, Harold Hutchins was promoted to head keeper at Maine’s desolate Boon Island Lighthouse, the tallest light tower in Maine.

A story in the Boston Globe on August 13, 1926 ran with the headline “SCHOOL OF HUGE FISH AROUND BOONE ISLAND – One 20 Feet in Length, Lightkeeper Reports.”

The story, which incorrectly spelled Boon Island as Boone Island, went on say that keeper Harold Hutchins had reported to shore via telephone that this was the second sighting of the largest fish ever seen in the waters off Boon Island and perhaps even the Atlantic coast. Hutchins said that “one of the fish measured 20-feet long and has a fin eight feet long.” He said that the other fish measured about 15-feet long and that they were not tuna. He said that they were “black in color and very lively.”

Although Hutchins lived with his wife and children at Boon Island Lighthouse, during most of the school year, Mrs. Hutchins and the children lived on the mainland. One summer there were eighteen adults and children living on the island. The granddaughter of Harold Hutchins said that her mother Hattie recalled how excited they were when they got to get off Boon Island and go to Vinalhaven to visit with relatives and catch up with the rest of the world. When Harold Hutchins’ daughter, Shirley (Kelly), wrote down some of her memories at Boon Island Lighthouse, she recalled, “My sister and I, my two half-brothers, and my mom had to spend the winter months in the small town of York Beach, where the older children attended school. I couldn’t wait for summer to come, so I could go back to the lighthouse. As a kid, it was my idea of Paradise!”

Lillian Dalzell, whose husband Clinton “Buster” Dalzell was an assistant keeper stationed at Boon Island Light under keeper Hutchins, recalled one Christmas when she wrote, “That Christmas, Keeper Hutchins spent the holiday with his family on the mainland. It was the first time in seven years.”

Mail day was a big day at the lighthouse when the mail, along with stacks of newspapers, would arrive and everyone would be joyous for several days while they read everything that arrived and talked about it with each other. Howard Gray, another assistant who served under Keeper Hutchins, said in an article, “Even under normal conditions life on Boon Island was hard. We would get mail and groceries only once a month, and it cost $10 for this service, which was a considerable amount during the Depression.”

Hutchins’ daughter, Shirley, wrote, “We got our groceries once a month. That was the only time we could enjoy fresh fruits and vegetables, although we could keep potatoes and onions for quite a long time. Mom bought her flour by the barrel and sugar twenty-five pounds at a time. She was always baking, especially bread. My sister and I would wait patiently for her to make some fried dough. We ate all kinds of seafood. My favorites were lobster, crab and mackerel. My dad had about a dozen lobster traps. Just before it was time to go to the mainland for groceries and mail, he would haul up the pots and take lobsters to town for his friends.

“Once a year there was a very rich man who would bring his friends on a fishing trip out by the lighthouse. Then he would bring them onto the island for a fish chowder dinner, cooked by my mom. He always brought hard candies for the kids and a five pound box of chocolates for my mom.”

In recalling life at Boon Island Light, Shirley continued, “There was always something to do on the island. We made kites and flew them anytime, as there was always a breeze coming off the ocean. On the fourth of July we sat on the rocks and watched the fireworks on the mainland. We could see them from the many small towns that dotted the coastline. It was so pretty. We sat there, drinking hot chocolate and ‘oohed and ahhhed’ every time there was a burst of light on the shore. One Fourth of July we had a hail storm and put out a big pail and got enough hail so mom could make ice cream. What a treat!”

A 1932 newspaper article described the life of keeper Hutchins and his assistants at Boon Island Lighthouse when they wrote, “One has to have a varied knowledge of things to be a lightkeeper. As one keeper here recently said, ‘I thought all one had to know how to do out here was to clean, paint, and polish brass, but I have found out that one has to be doctor, painter, steeplejack, glazier, boatman, gasoline engineer, electrician, stonecutter and even a cook when the women folks leave us in the fall.’”

Daughter Shirley recalled, “My dad had a big walk-in closet that was for medical supplies only. It was kept locked at all times. I remember once when one of the older boys cut his wrist and dad had to stitch it up. My sister and I played on the rocks and stubbed off our toenails and they bled over everything. One time a fisherman crushed his hand between two boats. He was brought ashore to Boon Island for emergency treatment. My mom was no help in this situation, as she couldn’t stand the sight of blood, so my dad called me for help. I had to hold the man’s hand in a pan of disinfectant and bathe it with cotton. Then I helped bandage the fisherman’s hand.”

In 1933, life took a dramatic turn for the Hutchins family. Daughter Shirley recalled when they went back to the mainland to get ready for another school year. The day before her Dad was scheduled to go back to the island that he said he was going down to the firehouse to “chew the fat” with the boys. He never came back home. Her mother called the firehouse and they said he had never been there. Before long, the boy scouts, police, and neighbors started a massive manhunt combing the woods for him. After two days, the police issued a bulletin about him

The headline in the Boston Globe for August 21, 1933 read:

“LIGHTHOUSE KEEPER REPORTED MISSING.”

The newspaper story went on to say, “State Police and local authorities are cooperating in a search for Harold Hutchins, the keeper of Boon Island Lighthouse. Hutchins had been on a two week leave, which he had been spending with his family, and was due to return to the lighthouse yesterday.

“Considerable anxiety is felt for his safety. He was suffering from nervous trouble and it is feared that he may have lost his memory. He was last seen yesterday in the vicinity of Cape Neddick. He was dressed in his lighthouse keeper’s uniform and was apparently planning on returning to Boon Island. Chief of Police Harley Ellis gave out a description of Hutchins this morning. He is sandy complexioned, is around 50 years of age, smooth face and weighs 140 pounds.”

The headline for the Portsmouth Herald on August 22, 1933 read:

“CAPT HUTCHINS STILL MISSING.”

The story went on to say, “Searching parties made a through scour of the woods in the vicinity of the Cape Neddick Road where he was last sighted early Sunday afternoon.”

The story went on to say, “It is believed that Hutchins disappearance is due to a mental trouble resulting from sun stroke which he received two weeks ago.”

The following day, August 24, 1933 a headline in the Portsmouth Herald newspaper read:

“CAPT HUTCHINS FOUND

AT BANGOR”

Apparently someone had spotted a man wearing a lighthouse keeper’s uniform crossing a bridge and the State Police were dispatched. The newspaper story finished by reporting that “Captain Hancock and Chief of Police Harley Ellis left at once for Bangor (Maine) to bring Hutchins back.”

His daughter Shirley recalled that when the police brought him back to York Beach, he was sent to the Marine Hospital in Portland. The government retired him from the Lighthouse Service while he was still in the hospital and thus ended the long and dedicated lighthouse keeping career of Harold I. Hutchins. Shirley recalled that her oldest brother was working in Portland at the time, and found the family a place to rent, and they moved there within a month. “I was eleven at the time, and was devastated to think that I would never see ‘my’ lighthouse again. And I never did!”

Family memories indicate that Harold Hutchins did not have any recurring affects from the sun stroke, but he never went back to work as a lighthouse keeper. Later census records indicate that he worked as a fish handler.

Harold I. Hutchins died at the age of 88 on November 11, 1969 and was buried at the Rumford Corner Cemetery in Oxford, Maine.

This story appeared in the Sep/Oct 2018 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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