A ‘Story Kind of Nice’ from Matinicus Rock Keeper
The 1950 Christmas season was anything but normal for the keepers on Matinicus Rock. Just one month earlier on November 26, 1950, a storm for the ages battered the Rock with such fury that to this day, the meteorological event still stands as unprecedented for the New England coastline. When looking back at this storm in 2012, Connecticut meteorologist Ryan Hanrahan stated, “For a non-tropical storm there’s no question in my mind that the 1950 southeaster was the most violent windstorm we’ve seen. The unseasonably warm weather, when coupled with a ripping low level jet, led to enough turbulent mixing to mix down destructive winds – in some cases to 100 mph!”
At Matinicus Rock, which is located twenty-seven miles from Rockland Harbor, all the keepers could do was hunker down and hope for the best. Even though the Rock possesses a 50-plus foot elevation on its southeast side and the station’s granite light tower has a 95-foot focal plane, both the island and the lighthouse were well within reach of storm’s destructive force.
In the wake of the storm, U.S. Coast Guard keeper EN3 Stanley Hiller, who was serving as the officer-in-charge at the time, recounted, “The covered passage way is completely blown away – 225 feet gone like the swing of the hatchet-man in the woods, the main light lost seven panes of storm glass 77” x 33” x 1 ½” thickness…no IOV light (the back-up light source) could be kept burning due to the force of the winds and rain. The northeast breakwater wall was carried away and in turn stove-in the hoisting-engine house and the machinery – thus the sea carried right on into the main whistle house and radio beacon signal house, battering down the northeast wall and part of the east wall, cleaning out the windows, chimney, roof, and tearing all over the place inside. All machinery was put out of commission, and the light failed; also the radio beacon and all communication equipment.”
The storm damage was so extensive that it took the Coast Guard a bit of time to carry out repairs and return Matinicus Rock Light Station to a sense of normalcy. The crew was able to write a letter during the month of December to the Maine Coast Fisherman and let everyone know how things were going, but Christmas had passed when the letter was published in January 1951.
Though late for the holiday, keeper Stanley Hiller did take the time to pen a Christmas “story kind of nice” as he put it in his letter. Seven decades later, thankfully this memory is not too late for the 2021 Christmas season. Keeper Hiller’s words are a gift to us today.
An excerpted letter by USCG keeper Stanley Hiller, which appeared in the Maine Coast Fisherman’s January 1951 issue…
“Too late to wish everyone a very Merry Christmas, but we do wish the very best for the coming New Year from the Ole Matinicus Rock Light Station crew – and to our fine good neighbors, the folks on Criehaven and Matinicus Island. Their thoughtfulness in our troubles is their creed – God’s people, they are called.
“Old Santa didn’t fly this year, or we didn’t hear from him along this coast.
“There is a story kind of nice to pass on at this time. Up the coast a ways one year not long ago at one of the light stations (Monhegan Island Light), the keeper’s children were outdoors watching for the kind old man in his red suit and fat belly, flying down with good things in bundles for each and every one.
“Poor Santa he had his troubles. That day the wind was across the island, and his plane had to make allowances. It took all his attention to handle it. However, on his second try down came the ‘Hi-O-Merry Christmas’ and down came the bundle, striking the fence and smashing it in one place.
“After that when inspectors visited the island and inquired as to why the fence wasn’t repaired, the children sounded off, ‘No, Sir, old Santa Claus broke our fence, and it stays that way.’”