Artifact: Photographs of “Miss Wood’s Babies”, Northeast Harbor Swimming Club, circa 1945-1950

Description:Three photographs brought in by Moorhead (Mike) Kennedy depicting “Miss Wood’s Babies” at the Northeast Harbor Swimming Club. The photo was taken before 1950. Kennedy talks about the Swimming Club in the 40s and 50s, and St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea, a church in Northeast Harbor.

Oral History:

Oral History Transcription:

Moorhead (Mike) Kennedy (MK) interview with Tim Garrity (TG) on August 22, 2018.

This is Tim Garrity interviewing History Harvest participant Mike Kennedy at the Sound Schoolhouse on August 22, 2018.

TG – So, Mike, thanks for bringing this material to us. Would you tell me please what you have brought us, what these materials are?

MK – This was some commemorative event which I don’t think I participated in, but I knew about and that was Ms. Woods who was the secretary of the Northeast Harbor Swimming Club. She was given this tribute by members of the summer community.

TG – So these are photographs that you’re holding, three photographs and they all seem to depict the same event.

MK – It’s the same event. Here is a sign, “Miss Wood’s Babies.” Anyway, she helped bring them up. Parents sent them down there for the day and she played a very large role in the character formation of young people in the summer community. At the same time, you see some of the board members. They put on their mothers’ or grandmothers’ costumes to take it back to the time when this was started there and they were marvelous costumes.

TG — So this picture may appear to be older then it is because of the costuming?

MK – Yes, I think definitely appears to be much older we think. I would say somewhere after the end of the war and maybe before 1950 something like that.

TG – What was Miss Wood’s first name?

MK – I don’t remember [Willie Granston thinks it was Lucille A. Woods] but she was definitely Miss Woods as far as I was concerned the short time I overlapped with her and nobody would dare to call her by her first name.

TG – Can you describe her?

MK – No, not really, except for this picture. I wish I could. This lets me think from the kind ofbathing suits and things that this is definitely the before around 1950, and this is before they put in a modern pool. Now they have two pools and the ocean. [Pointing to a boy in the front row, third from left in the photo without a “Miss Wood’s” banner] T this could be me, but I’m not sure.

We started at the pool, we came over in the Northeast Harbor. We started as Bar Harbor people. We came in 1944 I would’ve been 13.

TG – Can you tell me memories of your days at the swim club

MK – Yes, I remember one thing that characterizes the event. Shortly after the war when China was still in the hands of Chang Kai-shek a Chinese military attaché family decided to come up to the Kimball house which was then the big hotel for a week and then went down and asked if they could use the club, being diplomats. He was turned away because he was Chinese. I even know the name of the board member turning back. Schofield Andrews, whose son is here now. His daughter in law runs the library.  And actually, people who I knew were anti-Semitic or anti-black or all the rest were still angered by that. They said it’s diplomatic [?} we never should have done this.

Well, time goes by and my younger nephew, Dickey Story, married a young lady from from Taiwan and they have a child. My mother has a Chinese-looking grandchild. The time has come to go down pool. So my mother with Chou Dickey as he was called by his Chinese name, went down to the pool and people kind of looked up when Mom showed up with little Chinese boy. My mother looked at them all and she said, “Chou Dickey comes from an ancient civilization.” And it was never any question of Chou Dickey’s family being able to use the club.

It gives you an idea of the attitude people still had in the 40s and 50s. Maybe we’ve outgrown. We see people of color, something that really nobody worries about. But then, Northeast Harbor was still a very closed place. People had been there for generations. My mother, when she moved us during the war (the Bar Harbor house had been closed forever) thought that Northeast Harbor wasn’t as good as Bar Harbor.

It was different for relative snobberies going on and…

TG – Bar Harbor was more snobby than Northeast Harbor?

MK – Yes, and a lot more money there. And then of course Brooke Astor moved up and a lot of very rich people began to move to Northeast Harbor. I think what did it was no the fire but being overrun with tourists. It changed the character of Bar Harbor and people really didn’t want to stay there much anymore. But still in my youth, once I was 14, 15, 16 I went to dances at the Bar Harbor club and we wore Tuxedos. I mean it still was quite fancy and Northeast Harbor had the reputation earlier of being a simpler place where people play bridge but didn’t give cocktail parties. But then of course as the rich begin to move across the island as it were, the character of Northeast Harbor changed. At the same time, there was also no question and still is, that the more elegant club was the Seal Harbor Club. But people who’d always been in Northeast Harbor stuck with the Northeast Harbor swim club.

I remember once talking to Sydney Roberts Rockefeller and the question was what to do with the church. Not exactly the pool but describing the Northeast Harbor of our youth and she said they would we go down there after church and everybody would swim then all the ladies went up into the special open area in the ladies area called the Solarium. They took their clothes off and lay in the sun. This always fascinated us young men as to what to the solarium would look like. Miss Wood’s successor I remember, when the pool closed for the season allowed us to go into this so we could see.

I think girls worried about their reputations more than they do now. I think it was a simpler place. But a little bit older than the generation that was building up in America.

And of course, a higher percentage of the community would sail daily and so the pool was used in the earlier morning and people would often leave for race. I don’t think people spend as much of the afternoon as they do now, but they do to avoid the children.

My mother commented, she said one difference now with the pool. Then, of course, a lot of people had nurses those days but it was always the wife who took care of the children and not the husband. Now it’s very often the husband who has got the little kid in the pool and showing her how to swim.

The husband, she noticed (my mother was very observant) played more of a role in the children. I notice my eight-year-old twin nieces use the pool all the time . They come down there on their bikes and I suddenly hear a voice, “Hello Grandpa!” and the parents don’t bother to come down. They are a little more independent.

I am not a great swimmer but I like to lay there in the sun then cool off in the pool so it’s still a part of my life and definitely a part of life for people in Northeast Harbor.

I might’ve added at an earlier point, everybody went to church and that was, except of course the church that was built for the maids because they were Catholic.

We went to St. Mary’s by the Sea at the end of the street. Some went to the Union Church but less. I know a family that did go there, but generally speaking, Northeast Harbor as a summer community tended to use St. Mary’s and that played a much bigger role. Everybody went there. You saw everybody you knew. And now you see some older people and some young parents bring their kids and I think it’s good but it doesn’t have the role that it definitely played in Northeast Harbor.

When the church had to go into enormous repairs and they had to raise a lot of money. I was very active at the time. This is 20 years ago. I stood up up and said fewer and fewer people going to church and maybe instead of rebuilding it, we tear down and use the money for programs that would get people interested in having the kids and the rest more active in community activity. There was a dead silence. Some people never forgot that terrible remark I made about tearing down the church and one person once said to me, I would throw myself in front of the bulldozer before you tear it down. Well, they did spend the money and they repaired the church. The church is certainly full for weddings and funerals but doesn’t have the role in the life as it did in the time of the swimming pool.

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Resourceful Links:

Kennedy Oral History Transcription.pdf