Fittingly born a pioneering firecracker on the Fourth of July 1895, Hazel Marion Eaton also is distinguished by being the only person born in the West Quoddy Head Lighthouse. Not the family’s living quarters, but the tower itself.
Her father, Edwin Eaton, assistant lighthouse keeper at West Quoddy from 1895 to 1900 was overseeing the painting of the main house when her mother became nauseous from the paint fumes. Eaton ushered his pregnant wife into the tower for some relief, where she promptly went into labor, and Hazel was soon born.
Five years later, her father would be transferred to the Portland Lightship LV-74 off the coast of Portland, Maine and the family would move to South Portland. Hazel Eaton was apparently always attracted to extreme excitement, and despite strong parental disapproval, in 1910 at the age of 15, she left home and joined the Johnny Jones Exhibition as a high dive act in Bangor. After a few years, she met Ira Watkins, who lured the vagabond adventurer to join his “Wall of Death” motordrome.
In those days, it was a rarity for young women to engage in such behavior, but she eventually married Watkins, and a year later they had a daughter, who would be raised by Watkins’ mother in Rutland, Vermont. Forever lured to the circus circuit, their nomadic lifestyle didn’t lend itself to home and children,
Hazel Marion Eaton became the first of the “mile-a-minute” girls to ride her Indian motorcycle in a carnival motordrome labeled the Wall of Death. This motordrome was a barrel-shaped track made of smooth 2x4 boards that angled upward at a sharp angle. She would ride her motorcycle – often with no hands – at speeds up to 60 mph along the inside of the barrel. Exceedingly dangerous, the thrilling race attracted crowds of onlookers who stood around the top of the barrel. During one ride, her rear brake locked and she fel1 to the bottom of the motordrome. Eaton would spend several weeks in the hospital recovering from severe head and face lacerations, but the episode never dissuaded her from returning to the races.
Even though death was common in the motordrome, Hazel Eaton would persevere, loving the thrill of the sport. Physically attractive and always willing to venture far afield, she also was an experienced swimmer, high diver, hoop roller, and trained and performed stunning acts with monkeys. She spent a year or so modeling, often striking outrageous poses in the costumes of the day.
After 15 years of motordrome trick riding, Eaton divorced Watkins and managed her own shows for several more years. In 1928, she married Jesse Reis, who also travelled and worked in the circus. Together they traipsed throughout the world, visiting every state in America in the process.
In her later years, she returned to Lubec, Maine several times and is still fondly remembered. “My father’s mother, Sybil, was Hazel’s sister,” says Dickie Eaton of Eaton Enterprises in Lubec. “So, she was my great-aunt. Her husband came down to visit after she died.” Several people still alive remember her commanding presence and sense of humor. “I remember she came down in 1957. She just showed up. She wanted to meet everyone. She was very nice and a sharp dresser,” says Rhoda Eaton, Dickie’s mother. “Very outgoing and friendly,” she recalled. “After that, we went to visit her at Rainbow Farm, where she lived in Yarmouth (Maine). She really wanted us to come, so we did and we had a wonderful time.”
Hazel Eaton moved to Florida in 1958 and was there when she died in 1970. The headaches that started after her crash in the motordrome had continued for the remainder of her life. But there was no question that a pioneering bright light had been extinguished in the universe when she died on December 22, 1970, a light that was born on July 4, 1895, in that candy-striped tower in Lubec, Maine.
This story appeared in the
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