Frank Gray describes an event that took place on Thanksgiving, 1939, when two of his young friends fell through the ice near the Shea Farm, the location of the Stone Barn. Two young boys were rescued from drowning.

Frank at age 10, Shea Farm in Winter, Frank Gray and Ada Hatch in 2020, The Stone Barn, and a news clipping of the near-drowning episode

Oral History Transcription:

Frank Gray (FG) and Ada Hatch (AH) interview with Tim Garrity (TFG), October 16, 2019

This transcript has been edited to make it more concise.

TFG — This is Timothy Garrity on October 16, 2019, and I am conducting this history harvest with Frank Gray and Ada Hatch. We are looking at early days photographs of Frank. Frank, can you tell me what we’re looking at and what memories they spark for you?

FH – This is me and my new scooter. I think these are probably school pictures. That was my Dad’s sunflower plot.

TFG – And what year to these go back to?

FG – Probably ’38, ‘39

TFG – So, you were ten here, maybe?

FG – Nine, ten years old. I was ten years old when we moved.

TFG – Where was the Shea Farm?

FG – The Stone Barn

TFG – It was at the Stone Barn, that now Maine Coast Heritage Trust has purchased? What are some memories of your days as a boy on the Shea Farm?

FG – Oh…

AH – How about the boys on the ice on the creek?

FG – It was… I don’t remember the exact year. It would have been late ‘30s, Thanksgiving Day, that we were skating on the marsh, off what we used to call the Salisbury Cove Road. They call it Old Norway Drive now. Before you get to where the Stone Barn is, out behind the property. We’d been skating, my brother and I, went home for lunch or Thanksgiving dinner, and while we were there, Warren Haslam came down. And we were going to go back out skating but they made us lug in some wood first. While we were getting the wood, we heard Mary Watson, the mother of Charlie and Milton, screaming. We could look over and see George, the father, running towards the marsh. Charlie Watson and Milton Leach had fallen through the ice. George went into the hole where they were and got them out. They were brought over to the house at the Shea Farm, which was the nearest. Milton Leach stayed there for several days and Charlie overnight. They almost drowned.

TFG – Now, can you go through those names with me again? Who fell through the ice?

FH – Charles Watson

TFG – And how old was he, about?

FH – Twelve, thirteen?

TFG – And the other was Milton Leach?

FH – He was probably eight or nine.

TFG – How deep is the water there?

FH – Well, George was up to here (indicating his neck). George was Charlie’s father.

TFG – So the water was well over his son’s head.

FH – Yeah. Milton was a couple of years’ younger

TFG – So you were about ten, the age you see here (indicating the photos). So were they skating?

FH – Yeah, we’d been ice skating and they went out towards the channel, the actual brook. In the fall and spring it floods out covers out to that area so it was a big area to skate. But in the channel were the water flowed the ice was much thinner.

TFG – What are your memories of that moment? What was it like to experience, what were the emotions?
FH – It was scary. And as I say, this was Thanksgiving day. We were out there skating.

TFG – I wonder how long they’d been in the water?

FH – Oh, when we first heard Mary, I’m gonna say not more than five minutes. But George, it was like running from here to that house down there, at least that far, maybe 200 yards from where he lived to where they were.

TFG – And they brought them into your house. You had just fetched wood, for the fire, so that came in handy.

FH – Oh yeah, I can see them now, standing in the washtub by the kitchen stove, undressing them. Milton was in the water longest and they got him up on top of Warren Haslam’s shoulder and he was right stiff. Warren had a heck of a job trying to hang on to him because he was so stiff, but when he tried to run with him, he just all relaxed and the water run out of his mouth. That must have been what artificial respiration would have done for him, for Warren to run with him. In my estimation he probably would have died if he hadn’t [run with him]

TFG – Did you think about them differently after this experience? I mean, you were close friends as boys, you probably got into all kinds of adventures and mischief I think, right?
FH – Yeah, plenty of mischief.

TFG – Did they seem a little different to you after that experience? Did you feel a little different after that, like a coming of age experience?

FH – I don’t know because I’m talking about eighty years ago. No, we were always close in the neighborhood and doing things together.

TFG – How long did you go through life with them? How did they fit into the years that followed that experience?

FH – Trying to think. I met the Watsons when I was maybe four years old and met Milton when we moved onto the Shea Farm in ’35. I was about five years old when I met him. Warren was about my brother’s age.

The Bar Harbor Times used to have an article, “50 Years Ago” and that made it into the Bar Harbor Times. [A Bar Harbor Times article from December 14, 1939 is clipped and filed with this transcript]