April 05, 2020

Maine perseverance can pay dividends

When two fabled Maine traits — perseverance and procrastination — fetch solidly up against one another it can be a thing of beauty. This truism was brought home to me yet again in a recent exchange of seasonal greetings with former BDN co-conspirator Leo Chabot, who now labors in the employ of the Lawrence (Mass.) Eagle-Tribune.

On March 5, 1968, while serving as this newspaper’s Rockland bureau chief, Chabot had taken an aerial photograph of the islands flanking the Mussel Ridge Channel off Spruce Head. The next morning one of his photographs ran in the newspaper, identifying a prominent piece of real estate in the foreground as “Hewitt Island.”

Last July 11, more than 29 years after the fact, Chabot received a letter from semi-retired South Thomaston lobsterman Ashley Drinkwater, who enclosed a clipping of the photo from the 1968 paper. “Being an amateur historian of Spruce Head and the adjacent Mussel Ridge Islands, I believe that this is not Hewitts Island, but the island next north — Andrews Island. My family has had close ties, in one form or another, to Hewitts Island for many generations and I find nothing familiar in this picture. I write mainly out of curiosity. I realize that this was a long time ago, but any assistance you might offer will be much appreciated,” he wrote.

Chabot said he suspected that Drinkwater had kept the picture in a desk drawer for the past 29 years and every morning had stolen a look at it to exclaim, “Nope. That’s got to be Andrews…” until he could stand it no longer.

“Not so,” Drinkwater assured me when I rang him up on the last day of 1997 to ascertain if that had been the case. He and another amateur historian had been going through some old papers last summer when they ran across the 1968 photo “and I thought I’d check it out,” Drinkwater explained. The 72-year old fisherman said he had worked around and been ashore on the island — which, as often happens in such cases, the BDN refers to as “Hewitt,” the official Maine map designates “Hewett” and Drinkwater identifies as “Hewitts” — perhaps “a few thousand times.” And so you tend to trust him when he says, “I know Hewitts Island. Hewitts Island is a friend of mine. And, believe me, the island shown in that photo is no Hewitts.”

After speaking with Drinkwater, I found my Maine Atlas and Gazetteer and located the Mussel Ridge Channel islands. So perfectly did Chabot’s aerial shot coincide with the map’s depiction of Andrews Island and the lesser islands to its north, it might as well have had “Andrews Island” stamped in boldface in the adjacent Penobscot Bay waters, as on the map. The truth in Drinkwater’s assertion of mistaken geography was so obvious that even the O.J. Simpson jury could not have ignored it. Nor would they have needed Simpson’s superslick lawyer, Johnnie Cochran, to assure them, “If it ain’t Hewitt, you must eschew it.”

And so, even though the statute of limitations on such matters expired some 22 years ago, this correction is for Ashley Drinkwater and others who may have waited, with the patience of Job, for the newspaper to do the right thing:

“A photograph that ran in the March 6, 1968 edition of the Bangor Daily News purporting to show an island variously known as Hewitt, Hewett or Hewitts, was, in fact, a photo of nearby Andrews Island, also known as Andrew, or Andrew’s, Island. The NEWS regrets any inconvenience the error may have caused to cartographers, census takers, belated Viking explorers, dope smugglers, Accurate Spellers of America, Inc. or any other enterprise which may may have relied on our archives for planning purposes.”

Chabot said the incident reminded him of something equally as bizarre that had happened several years ago.

While in Rockland, he had done a photo-story on an aspiring novelist who had written a book centered on North Haven island in Penobscot Bay. The man died before the work was published. In the mid-1970’s his widow contacted Chabot, then working for the Charleston (W.Va.) Gazette, seeking photos he had taken of the author, to be included in his book.

Chabot promised to look for them, and, after a cursory unsuccessful search, forgot about the deal. Some 20 years later, in 1994, his father died back home in Maine. As Chabot was going through his dad’s belongings he found the negatives of the North Haven shoot packed away in one of those storage boxes that parents always keep for their kids. He sent them to the North Haven woman with a note that read, “I told you I’d keep looking…”

Not missing a beat, the lady wrote back, thanking him profusely. It had been more than generous of him, she said, to take 20 years out of his obviously busy life to conduct the search.

NEWS columnist Kent Ward lives in Winterport.

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