Digest>Archives> December 2005

Florence Idella Batty: Memories of Maine's Boon Island

By Timothy Harrison


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Boon Island Lighthouse as it appeared when ...

This was taken word for word from a recorded interview with Florence Idella Batty when she was 90 years old. The recording was donated by Elizabeth Prevost. Florence was the wife of Fred C. Batty who served as the assistant keeper at Boon Island in the 1930s. When reading this, you will soon understand just how brutal life was out on the island in the 1930s:

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Fred C. Batty is shown here at Maine’s Boon ...

No indoor plumbing here... I went in the house and I heard this screeching and yelling. Oh my goodness, it was… I didn’t know what it was! And in comes Arothusa... And there was a square tin bucket that 5 gallons of kerosene oil used to come in and that’s what they cut the top off of it. They had three or four of them and they used to sink them in a puddle of water so they wouldn't smell when it had emptied. It was two-thirds full and when the sea come, it struck the back of the toilet and it knocked the windows out of the back of the toilet and all that stuff come right out of the square can right onto Arothusa! Right in her hair, and she had black, bushy hair and it went all in her hair... oh my goodness, and I had to clean her. She wasn’t worth cleaning and I told her she wasn’t! She says I’ll never go out there when it’s a storming ever again and she never did either. I said, ‘take a pail and put it up into that little room that’s up at the head of the stairs and you’ll be safe.’ So after that, she started using the chamber pots. I told her not to let them little girls go out to the toilet. I was scared they could be killed.

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The children of Fred and Florence Batty at Boon ...

“A little while after that... that same storm, Hutch went into his toilet. (she is referring here to Harold Hutchins, the head keeper at that time) We had three toilets. We had one for each family and he went into his. He put the teapot on the stove to get the tea hot and he got up to go to the bathroom and out there in the sea, the sea took bathroom and all and took it all out back on the high rocks all…

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Florence Idella and Fred C. Batty at Boon Island ...

“Best memory on the island: When the sea come in the front room.

“We had this wicked storm and Fred’s watch was from 6 when he lit the light till 12 o’clock at night and then he’d go call another keeper to relieve him. Well, I always set up to keep him awake. He’d read, I’d sew, I’d crochet and I crocheted a whole spread that winter.

“I heard this awful noise in the front of the house sound just like thunder when it’s rolling. I asked Fred, ‘What is that noise out there?’

He says, ‘that’s rocks coming off the bulkhead.’ They had made a bulkhead right on the whole length of the tower that went up to the tower to light the light and that was right in front of the houses. The government had made this bulkhead of great big rocks, granite and such. Clear way out. It took them rocks, a lot of them right down and put them right down in on the walk and couldn’t hardly get out of the house.

“I was reading a book called The Harvester that was really interested in it and had it pretty near read and I said to Frederick at 12 o’clock I wanted to finish the book. About a half an hour afterwards, and my Lord, first thing I heard this terrible racket and Fred come running down the stairs and the sea had come up and had hit the front of the boathouse and the house and come right into my front hall and filled that front hall. And what made me the maddest was that I had just washed my…all my curtains for spring, you know, and put them in the chevenier drawer and I had the chevenier out in this little hall.

“We had two front halls: one you come in from outdoors and the other was one outside. Well, they used to put the ashes, burnt ashes out in between these places on top of the bulkhead so it would give anybody a little bit of a place to get up on if they’d wanted to. I used to put plants on it. Even that was a little bit of mud on that island, not even little bit of earth. The ashes all come right in with the water and filled the chevenier full with all those nice curtains. And I was shy on water. Oh my heavens, I never was so mad in my life. The water come in, it broke the front door right down, broke the front door where the latch come.

“They had a latch on it just like the cavel of a barn door. It was that thick. It come in, it broke that and it filled that front room chock full thick, the ashes and everything went right out. When it struck the furniture and stuff, up it went. I said, ‘that’s going to come in here.’ When I heard that …… I said, ‘I’m not going to be surprised if a rock come in any time.’ I hadn’t gotten that out of my mouth when in come this rock... Broke the door down, and he happened to have a board, a piece of plank and he got that into the house and braced the door back as best he could and we bailed water all the rest of the night. That was on the turn of the tide and that’s what made that so terrible. You couldn’t get off that island for a month, I swear. Nobody could get off it.

“The men got off but they had to have the Coast Guard boat to help. Oh, it was terrible. I was frightened to death and I was mad ‘cause I had done up all those curtains and they all had to ironed, every one.

“We used to use rainwater, for drinking and all. If we got shy on water, the government would bring us up water and enough to fill up everything we had, all the cisterns and everything.

“There were two cisterns, in the ground cisterns. My God, it was scary that night and I was scared. And you know, that very night, it went over it…went over to the Cuckolds and it got in the bedrooms and hit and struck the side of the house. It bent the bed where the weight of the mess that come in. They had never had that happen before.

“I was glad to get off that place. I was scared out in that place.

And May had typhoid fever out at that station during the storm and we couldn’t get a doctor. Of course we couldn’t get a doctor out on there. We had a medicine chest with government supplies and there was everything in it.

“The head keeper, instead of letting Freddie call, he wouldn’t let him and he called up ‘cause he was saying he was the head keeper. He called up the doctor and asked the doctor what to do and tell him how she was and then we’d come in, get it out of the medicine chest, and give it to her. Every so often, we had to tell him how she was. That typhoid fever was terrible, all the sores.

“It was an awful life.

“The whole back end of the boat house where the seas were so bad got all smashed up so they had to send workmen out there to fix it up. My Billy was 3 years old then so it was around 1932. The storm was around 1932. It was terrible and you watched what washed up the next day. It was vacation and all the kids were in Portland except Billy.

“May never got fully over it…I don’t think ‘cause we couldn’t get a doctor. But he (the doctor) said he couldn’t a done anything more if he had been there since we had everything in that medicine chest. It was a great big medicine chest piled full of bottles of medicine.

And nobody had to go to the doctors if they took the medicine the way he told them to. She was some sick, I’m telling you that. It was the first winter, I think.

“Did her daughter spend much time there on the islands?

“Not very much. She went to school in York Harbor. If they had a chance to go out on vacation, she would. You couldn’t bring them out over just any day because you might not get her back for a month. So she used to stay over at Sadie Gray’s. She stayed there for two terms. She graduated grammar school there.”

This story appeared in the December 2005 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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