INTERVIEWER: Peter Schmid
PLACE: Nantucket Life Saving Museum, Nantucket, MA
DATE: November 11, 2000
SCHMID: Might be nice to bring up the fact that after you closed the Madaket Station that ship went ashore at Cisco.
GASPIE: I wasn't even there.
GIBBS: I know you weren't there then.
GASPIE: I was gone.
SCHMID: You were gone what, the town?
GASPIE: No! I wasn't in the state.
SCHMID: You were out?
GASPIE: In the Coast Guard then, yeah.
SCHMID: Okay, by '47?
GASPIE: Yeah, that's right.
GIBBS: That's going to answer some things.
GASPIE: That went out in '46--June '46.
GIBBS: That probably ____, huh?
GASPIE: No, that happened in January, just over the line of '47.
GIBBS: Did you get tangled up with any of the mines at Kimshaw[sp?]?
GIBBS: Well, are you rolling now, Peter?
GIBBS: Oh, okay! Good! Well, John, I sat down and wrote some questions. Here the main thing is, you know, I don't know your background. All of a sudden I became old enough to know who John Gaspie was, but that's-- Maybe you could give us some background--where you were born and how you got in the Coast Guard and how you finally got here.
GASPIE: I'd like that very much. What happened was, I was born in Provincetown, and my dad was a fisherman and captain of a fishing boat named "Jayhawk," which was a trap boat in Provincetown. And of course we grew up as fisherman, and so forth and so on. We moved to Worcester. And from then on we just came back. I came back sometime with my grandmother and grandfather. And finally I was out of school and so forth and decided I'd like to go in the Coast Guard. So I joined the Coast guard.
GIBBS: What year was that?
GASPIE: In 1937--November 1937 they took me to the Custom House, and I was--had a physical examination, sent me to Brant Rock Station. And from Brant Rock Station they sent me to-- That's where I was signed in the Coast Guard. And I went--left from there and went to First Cliff in Schituate. I was there for just about three years. I was there till two years and ten months. And a boy by the name of Robert Hamblin from Nantucket was transferred to Minot's Light, and he came from Minot's Coskata[sp?] Station. And I was transferred to Coskata Station to take his place.
GIBBS: Sounds like it was a transfer exchange, sort of.
GASPIE: Yeah, it was-- He went to Minot's Light. I had been at Minot's Light. It was at the time when the Coast Guard too over the Lighthouse service, and I had been there for ten days. And I said, "Boy, this is-- Well, I am glad to get out of this!" They gave me my transfer orders and sent me to Chatham Station for further transfer to Coskata, Nantucket. So he asked the skipper, "Where's Nantucket?" "Oh, it's down off of New York somewhere." [Laughter] "It's an island off of New York. Anybody else around here heard about it?" "Nope! No, I have no idea where it is." I didn't myself, really, even living ____. Well, of course, I had moved to Worcester and we stayed in Worcester most of my growing up.
So they put me on the lifeboat. It wasn't a good day; it was a day like this, and we came across. And when I saw Coskata Station, says, "I think I should have stayed at Minot's Light!" [Laughter] I looked out, and all I saw was a boat house. I looked to the right, and there was nothing! All I could see was beach. Looked to the left, and eventually I saw a great white light! "Oh, this is very, very nice! I should have stayed at Minot's Light!" [Laughter] Well, within a month you couldn't have got me out of there! I enjoyed that so much! I had a very nice time. Skipper by the name of Chief Kinnocum[sp?] from Lavinia[sp?] was in charge at the time, and he was a very nice skipper.
And we had a Bosum's mate by the name of--first class--by the name of Sullivan, who came from down in Connecticut or Rhode Island. I can't remember what his first name-- We called him "Sullie." And at that time we were on subsistence, and we had a cook who cooked for us. And his name was Joe Ottava[sp?], and he lived on West Dover Street or somewhere around there. And we had a very nice time.
We were a good bunch of guys there, and we had some experiences that kind of shook us up a little bit. We didn't know what was going on. We-- When the war started, we had started to get a lot of reserves in. And when we got our reserves, we started to do double patrols each way, two men at a time. There were two to the west, and there were two to Great Point. And when they got to Great Point Well, one line there was just commotion. Nobody knew what was going on. It was very, very hush hush. Something had happened, but no-- The cars kept driving back and forth in the station. They'd go in the office and close the door. "What's going on! What's going on!" Nobody knows--nobody knows. Well, come to find out one of the boys, when they got to Great Point, had put his jacket--had taken his gun off. We had Smith and Wesson .38s at the time. He had taken his gun and his holster off and hung it on the chair. The gun came out of the holster, hit the floor; this is the story that they told--and went off and come up and hit the boy in the mouth. He was quite seriously hurt, but he came out of it okay.
They had an investigation on it later on, and it was found out that he still stuck to the story that that gun had gone off. And the guns couldn't do that, at that time. So a short time after that we had gun safety instruction from our section petty officer. And this-- I think he was a gunner's mate first class--came down with a rifle and a 45 and showed us how to use them safely. We took the-- We all sat at the mess room table. And he stood at the end of the table, put the guns on the table. He had a 30-06 riffle on one side and a 45 on the other side, and he explained all about the safety to the 45 and what you do to make the gun fire and how you hold them--etc., etc., and so forth. And everything was fine! He did a nice job. And he showed us how to use the rifle. He stood the rifle up with the barrel straight up in the air like this, and he put a shell in. He says, "Now, when you throw this bolt down, if the safety isn't locked the thing will fire! But if the bolt is up a little bit, it won't fire." And he pulled the trigger and "bamb!" right up through the ceiling, [Laughter] through the second floor that one of the boys was in the bedroom, went right on through his sea bag and right on through the roof! [Laughter] That was quite an embarrassment!
GIBBS: Now, all through this period you were doing those standard drills that-- They were still doing the beach apparatus drill and things like that in those drills at Brant Rock and at First Cliff and then at Coskata?
GASPIE: Yes, we did. We had-- Yeah, we had that, but most of it-- When we went from Coskata-- I had been there-- I had only two months to serve on my present enlistment, and then they said, "Well, you going to get out of the Coast Guard?" This would have been 1940-- "Or are you going to stay in?" Said, "Well, I'd like to stay in." So they reenlisted me for three more years, and it was a short time after that that I made Second Class Machinist Mate. And I took care of the tractor and the pony engine that started our generator and so forth and so on, and did the little things that you had to do as a Machinist mate around there. And it was in May of 1941, I think it was, that I got transferred along with one or two men from each station in the district to Sandwich Coast Guard Station for further duty as boat attendants for the-- Well, they had a transport, the Kent was the name of it, with soldiers. And we had a lot of Y-boats and B-boats. And we did a lot of training taking the soldiers off of the boats and running them. And we went through the canal. This was-- The Kent was on the north side of the canal, and we took off the--they had--threw the cargo nets over. We went out on our boats and circled--five or six boats in a circle. And they signaled us. Then we went in and picked up the soldiers and ran through the canal down to Old Silver Beach, where we had--went into the--it was a landing--wave after wave at a time. So we were there a year--for a month.
And after that we were transferred back home again, back to Coskata, or I was, and had further transfer orders to go to Norfolk, Virginia to engine school. So that was in--first of July that I went there and got out of there on the fifteenth of October. Said, "All you guys are going to go to transport. There's no other way that you're going to get out of--" Well, that's what everybody wanted. "We're going to war! We're going to war!" But I came back to the station, and I made First Class Machinist Mate, and then they said that you can't go any further than that as Machinist mate. So I said, "Well, need any bosun's mates?" So, [Chuckle] I got my rank changed to bosun's mate.
GIBBS: That's quite a change, yeah!
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, First Class Bosun's Mate! And I was First Class Bosun's Mate for-- On April first, 1943, I made Chief Bosun's Mate, and very shortly after that they sent me to Surfside Beach Patrol Station in Surfside Station. It had just opened.
GIBBS: This is the old Surfside Station reopened as a patrol station?
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, reopened-- They opened it as a beach patrol station.
GIBBS: Yeah. It had been closed legally in 1921.
GASPIE: That's right, yeah. And they had reopened it again as a-- It was still used-- The Coast Guard had a radio station there. They had two great big towers, and it was a radio compassstation for the-- I assume the Coast Guard and everybody else.
GIBBS: Yeah, a radio compass station.
GASPIE: That's right. They had, oh, a man on it 24 hours a day. They had-- And when I went there, ____ the beach patrol station, they had guards that-- They guarded the station there, which we had to continue to do besides our regular beach patrols from there. We had to patrol from our station to Tom Never's Head in one direction, and we had to go to Hummock Pond in the other direction.
Did you meet at the old Mass Humane Station out there at Hummock Pond
GASPIE: There wasn't any-- We had a key post there.
GIBBS: Oh, yeah! That's right. By 1938 it had been washed away.
GASPIE: That's right. We didn't have it.
GIBBS: Yeah, it had gone. Yeah.
GASPIE: Yeah, right.
GIBBS: So you had a key post like one of the ones we have here?
GASPIE: Right, we had a key post there, and we had-- And while we were there, the Coast Guard sent dogs down to the different stations. Each station got six dogs, and they sent down six kennels. And they had two dog trainers at each station. And they trained the boys on how to take the dogs with them on patrol, and we used to go two men on patrol and one dog at each ____. And the Coast Guard telephone crew came down from the mainland and ran a telephone line completely around the outside of the island from Smith's Point all the way to Great Point. And every so far along there was a four-by-four post with a plug on it. And patrol carried a telephone with a ____ plug on the end of it. And each station had a little console that--there was a red light on it, and they didn't just stay on the duty at all times. They just watched it because it was in the area where you could. And if anybody had anything to report, they just plugged in the connection outside the station there, and we got it in the station. And they could talk back and forth.
GIBBS: ____, yeah.
GASPIE: But I think that wire still comes up from time to time.
GIBBS: Oh, is that right?
GASPIE: Yeah, I've seen it.
GIBBS: Now, that was a powered system. It had power in it like a normal phone line? It wasn't like a sound powered phones on a ship?
GASPIE: Oh, no! No, it was-- It had, you know, everything through the stations ____, yeah.
GIBBS: Now, how about-- You were-- Would you have been at Surfside when those lifeboats washed ashore?
GASPIE: Yes! As a matter of fact, that was ____. And the patrol called in and said, "Chief, will you come out here and let me show you something?" And that was up towards Miacomet, not quite as far as that, just before you get to the head of Miacomet Pond. And there's two lifeboats laying off-- You couldn't see anything in them! All it was was two lifeboats. But we had no means of getting out to them, so ____. So we called the station at Great Point who at that time was in charge of the lifeboats. They had the lifeboats.
GIBBS: And so you had no surfboats at--____ could launch through the surf?
GASPIE: We had no kind of a boat at all. We were just were just a beach patrol station, that's all. And they sent the lifeboat around. We just sat on the beach there and watched to see-- We didn't--never saw anybody show up. Of course, they had been torpedoed off of Bermuda.
GASPIE: And they had floated I don't know exactly how many days.
GIBBS: Do you remember the name of the ship?
GASPIE: I do know it, but I can't-- I don't remember it--I did. I have it written down, but I can't remember it right now.
GIBBS: Well, my only memory was everybody was then told to bring blankets to Bennett Hall, because those that were in reasonable condition were bunked in with that hall.
GASPIE: That's right. They took them-- When their lifeboat took them in tow and carried them into the harbor, they got them into the harbor, they took them in trucks up to Bennett Hall. And like you say, they asked everybody to bring in blankets and so forth and take them up to Bennett Hall, and also clothe them. I can remember some of the Chinese. One of them there had a T-shirt on or something, and ____ said, "Aren't you cold?" "I got vest!" He had a vest on, but I mean he had only a T-shirt. I mean, thought the poor guy would freeze to death! But he was pleased to have had that vest on!
GIBBS: Now you were out at Surfside all this time. When did you move into Brant Point?
GASPIE: Well, I didn't move into Brant Point at that time.
GASPIE: We had-- I was at Surfside for six months. And in the time that we were there we had a couple of instances that were kind of--kind of get a kick out of. The patrol came rushing back to the station one night, says, "Two men just go off of a boat and ran up into the bushes!" This was south on the ____ side of the station. Well, man if that didn't cause a commotion! We checked it out, but we couldn't find anything. But the FBI came down, and they made a full investigation. And they came up with the idea that these--the two men that were on patrol and coming along, and as they were walking along coming back to the station, the ____ light was turning around, and a shadow was flipping across. It couldn't-- They went up there and showed us what it was. A shadow went flipping across and looked as though somebody would run up into the bushes.
GIBBS: And it was your own shadow?
GASPIE: It was their own shadow! [Laughter] That took care of that. Another time my-- I had a bosun's mate that used to go to town on a bicycle. And he came back from being on--off on liberty that night. And he found that right in the middle of the Surfside road somebody was painting a swastika in the middle of the road. Well, what a commotion that started! [Laughter] He came back to his station; we went down there. He had-- Whoever it was had run into the bushes. So we went down there with the truck, and there's this great big black swastika right in the middle of the road. And we called out the Navy, the Army. We had Army down there to the Springfield Lodge at the time. And we had Navy out at the airport. And then we all rushed all over the place! And we cleaned. We screened the whole area. We never found anybody, of course. And it finally quieted down, but there was quite a commotion for a time.
And the way that I got to Madaket was that when we had an inspection, and all this gold braid from Boston-- There was admirals and generals. There were about three different car loads of gold braid from Boston came down. They came to our station and put us through our run and so forth for all our drills and so forth. We did very well. So they went to Madaket, and the chief there was quite a-- I don't know. The boys didn't like him. So they had called up the town and told them that this inspection was coming. And they said, "Tell the chief that the inspection is coming up." Nobody told him! [Laughter] So here this whole entourage drove into the-- And here he is coming across--for he lived in the house next to the station. He's got-- He has his old shirt's opened. He's got slippers on, you know, and-- [Chuckle] Well, that didn't go over at all, especially with that skipper, as well as the others, of course. And from then on it just got worse!
GIBBS: What was the name of your skipper again?
GASPIE: The boys at-- Which one?
GIBBS: The skipper in command of Nantucket.
GASPIE: At that time it was J.J. Glenn. It came out of Boston. And he was regular Coast Guard. So they-- From that point on, things got worse! They went close order drill and everything. One guy would go one way; the other guy would go another way.
GIBBS: And they were doing it intentionally?
GASPIE: And they just-- Yes! [Laughter] He had been very, very mean to the boys. And so that was quite a commotion! Well, the next day I got orders to report to the officer in charge of Madaket Lifeboat Station, and he was to take my station at the Beach Patrol Station. So that's the way that I got to Madaket. [Laughter]
GIBBS: Now, when you were at Madaket, you had boats there, though?
GASPIE: Oh, yes!
GIBBS: You had-- And they were at the old boat house down on the water there, which is now the fire station.
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm. You had-- Yes, we had ____ there. We had a race point boat in the equipment building. The equipment building is now the one down at Brant Point. And of course Coskata Station is the one that's at Brant Point, too. But we had a 26-foot motor lifeboat.
GIBBS: Motor surf boat?
GASPIE: Yeah, and that was-- Brant Point still had the one lifeboat. So we had that, and we did, you know, small jobs. We had fires on Tuckernuck, and we went to Muskeget because they were checking on what was going on over there and so forth and so on. And we had not particularly anything to do except during the war when we had a lot of things come ashore. That's when that Millie came in. See, Millie patrolled the shore all back and forth all the time. It was-- She was quite a gal! She had a pile of salvage that was half the size of this building that she had picked up around the shore and so forth, which we-- She kept us very busy! She called us up and said, "Come down here! I've got something I need you to take for some ____--pick it up for or take it home for.
GIBBS: A question that's always asked here, and I've never been able to answer it is, where were the observation towers? You remember, we-- I know there were some. I know it was somewhere, but you perhaps can remember these towers they built like the one that was at Brant. There was one at Great Point. But I've been asked where were the rest of them. And wasn't there one up at the Old Mill?
GASPIE: Yes, there was, right in front of the Old Mill.
GIBBS: Now, Surfside and Madaket didn't have them?
GASPIE: No, Surfside didn't have it, and Madaket had a lookout on top of the Station ____.
GIBBS: The station?
GIBBS: We had ____ like that.
GASPIE: That's right, yeah, we had a watch all the time there. But there was only one that was-- Great Point had one, and Coskata had one.
GIBBS: Now one at Sankaty?
GASPIE: No. No, there wasn't one at Sankaty. Sankaty wasn't a beach patrol station. Well, it was, I guess, but we didn't have much to--
GIBBS: Well, I guess it could stand at the top of the light and look as far as you could see.
GASPIE: Actually, yes, sure!
GIBBS: Okay. Now, there was no activity on Tuckernuck other than the few people that lived there? I mean, it was just kind of in limbo during the war years?
GASPIE: Yes. No, there was nothing that--actually that went on there at all.
GIBBS: And you were out of the Coast Guard by the time they moved Coskata and the Madaket equipment station down to Brant Point?
GIBBS: So you weren't involved in that?
GASPIE: No, that was-- I had been out. I got out in 1946--in June of 1946.
GIBBS: Did you stay here or go--
GASPIE: No, we stayed here. Yeah, we stayed here from then on. We didn't leave here until 1979. But that-- Brant Point was-- When I was at Madaket, I was called to Brant Point one night. Well, actually I was ____, and I had been coming home from the station--or from town--and one of the boys stopped me in the truck and said, "They want you down at Brant Point right away." So this was when Yeoman[sp?] was in charge of Brant Point. So I went to Brant Point, and they said, "There's a corvette that's aground on the ____ shore. The lifeboat started out there, but they couldn't get out there." They were icing up. This was in December--I think of '44 or '45. I can't remember exactly when it was. But they were--had sent the lifeboat out, and it had returned. It hadn't even been around Great Point, and it had come back again. And they said, "I want you to go out." "You want me to go, and they haven't made it!" "Well," he says, "I don't think-- I think they're kind of afraid to go out there." So the lifeboat had been gassed up again. And I said, "Well, I'll check it and see." Because they were in charge of the lifeboat--we weren't. We didn't have the-- And they couldn't find the ____--couldn't find the 1209. [Chuckle] So--
GIBBS: And you're going 15 miles out to Rose & Crown?
GASPIE: And the weather report says-- This is nine o'clock at night, and the weather report says, "Snow, heavy at times, at 2:00 a.m." And this is dead reckoning! I mean, you know, you get there or you don't!" So we started out, and it was rough going as we went up through--around Great Point. We had ____ it down, break ice and so forth, but we get around the ____ with no trouble at all, slid across the shore, went down the outside. And we got to the-- There was a Navy tug that was requesting our assistance. And she was laying off of the shore. So we crawled up along side of her. We got there just before the snow started. The snow-- We got there just in time. And we went aboard, and the skipper said, "We got that hind drive on the shore. The only thing we can do is wait for high tide and then pull it through the other side. And then you have to take a sound man and let him sound the way out, so that we can get him out through--into deeper water."
So we went aboard. We went over and told the skipper that was--the Canadian corvette had come from up Halifax. It was headed for Venezuela. And we told the captain what we were going to do. There was only one man on board that could speak English. So we had to talk to him, and he would talk to the captain, and then the captain would talk to him and talk back to us. So we had a little problem at first there, but we got it across what the idea was. And we went back aboard the tug and stayed there for the rest-- About five o'clock they called us and got us up. And our lifeboat was hung behind like a little dory behind the tugboat! And we could just--gave us our breakfast. And we climbed back, and then we went over, took them up around the inside of the shore, showed them how to get inside. And then we harnessed her to the corvette, and that little tug whipped her right off of there just like nothing at all! [Chuckle]
GIBBS: Good thing it didn't pull it apart!
GASPIE: Right! We-- When they got it in the deep water, we showed them the way out into deep water, around the shore, and on the outside. And just as soon as he got out there, he just ____ the ____, and off they went headed towards Boston!
GIBBS: Now, these pictures we have here-- You were second in command at Brant Point at some point here, now?
GASPIE: For two weeks!
GIBBS: Two weeks?
GASPIE: Two weeks!
GIBBS: Oh, okay! I noticed that--
GASPIE: This leads to it, actually.
GASPIE: And when I came back from this job, Lieutenant Yeoman said-- The next day I got orders that Madaket Lifeboat Station was in charge of the boat house and the lifeboat, and from then on it would be in charge of taking care of the lifeboat and any jobs that came up, and so forth. So from then on Madaket took care of the lifeboat, although Brant Point was still in, you know, Coast Guard group office.
GIBBS: Now, when you say it took charge of the lifeboat, the 36 footer was kept at the boat house?
GIBBS: And Madaket had the responsibility, even though it was seven miles away.
GASPIE: That's the way it was before--Brant Point before the war.
GIBBS: Now, when was that boat house built?
GASPIE: That was-- When I was here, it was up.
GIBBS: It was already there--built sometime in the thirties, apparently.
GASPIE: Yes, it must have been, yeah. I don't know exactly when it was built.
GIBBS: So you were only ____ for two weeks?
GASPIE: Yeah, the way that happened was--
GIBBS: When that picture was taken that we have?
GASPIE: Yes, but what had happened was that Lieutenant Yeoman got transferred. And I was out at Madaket in charge of Madaket Station. So he sent another chief out to Madaket to send me in, and said, "You're in command until further notice--till you are relieved," and so forth. So two weeks later the sent down another skipper, and that was the end of my command! [Chuckle]
GIBBS: Yeah, well then your job was to check him out?
GASPIE: Then-- Well, actually no. I mean, he was a Lieutenant JG, so that was-- I was all through there. They sent me back to Madaket Lifeboat Station. I was there for, oh-- We had another instance that--on that night that Navy PBM--not a PBY, a PBM--the four-engine job--
GIBBS: Yeah, the PBM.
GASPIE: --was up in the--near the Great Point Light and low on gas, and she had to land. And she had been stripped and was headed for somewhere up north for decommissioning, evidently. There wasn't on her. And they had landed in water, and we had to go get her. We went out in the lifeboat, and when we got to that-- That little lifeboat looked up at that thing-- Wow! [Change to Side B of Tape] Now we were wondering where we were going to get some line so that we could tow her in. They had a door in the side, so we hauled up along side and asked them if they had a boat hook or something, and they put a boat hook out the door. We threw a line over--heaving line, and hauled it aboard, and then we towed them into the harbor. Well, we got to the jetties. "Is the jetties wide enough so we can get this thing in there?" But we didn't have any trouble. We got it in there. They filled it full of gasoline or refueled, and the next morning off they zipped. They went wherever they wanted to go.
GIBBS: That was a happy ending.
GASPIE: Yes, it sure was. Yeah!
GIBBS: Now, after your Coast Guard time, how soon after that did you get involved with the fire department?
GASPIE: After that, I-- It was about-- I got out in 1946, and then in 1948 I got in the fire department. And-- But then I had to work for John Hardy for awhile at the garage and then for J.G. McDonald as an electrician and then to Bob Blair as an electrician. And then while I was working for J.G. McDonald the job came up as a superintendent of fire alarm at the fire station. So I put in for it, and I got the job, and then went the rest of the way.
GIBBS: Well, yeah, you sure did! My memories of you are as the head of that fire alarm system.
GASPIE: Yeah, that's right. I was there, head of--the superintendent for fire alarm for 12 years, and then I went in as a driver for another 12 years. And then the next year I was made chief of the department and spent seven years as chief of the department.
GIBBS: What year did you become chief?
GASPIE: I became chief in '72.
GIBBS: Seventy-two, yeah, and you went until '79?
GASPIE: Seventy-nine, yeah.
GIBBS: And then you were relieved by-- ?
GASPIE: Bruce, who is still the chief.
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, yeah, Bruce ____.
GIBBS: Now, you relieved who as chief? Was it Archie Cartwright, or was that before?
GASPIE: Irving Bartlett.
GIBBS: Yeah, that's right, yeah. Now, Archie had been chief in the--after the war for--
GASPIE: Archie was chief when I-- He put me on the fire department. And he retired, and Irving got the job.
GIBBS: And Archie kind of just moved over to the whaling museum.
GASPIE: That's right.
GIBBS: And became the curator of the of the whaling museum.
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, sure. So that's what I did.
GIBBS: Now, when you were on the fire department, there's some things happened here! We had the big fires in the middle of the island here in '49--the one that started out by Surfside and came all the way over to the Polpis Road.
GASPIE: Yeah, the big fire-- Yeah, right.
GIBBS: You were in the middle of that.
GASPIE: That's right. Yeah, sure was.
GIBBS: And then there was another one on the Madaket Road that went all the way over to West Cliff to Dionis. And I even have memories of that, because I was at that house at Westcliff as the fire came leaping across the swamps, coming at us. [Laughter] I was scared!
GASPIE: You bet it was! There was a lot of scary ones! Gee whiz! That one out on Surfside Road where the peat bogs were-- We had to get help to get that one done. The forestry--Mass. Forestry Department came down to help us with that one. That was a hairy one, too, yeah.
GIBBS: Now, on the fire department you also were on the department there in the loss of the "Constance."
GASPIE: No! Oh, yes!
GIBBS: I mean, you know, that was a Coast Guard event, but you were now on the periphery of it.
GASPIE: That's right! As a matter of fact, I was in the hospital at the time.
GIBBS: Oh, yeah?
GASPIE: And I was let out of the hospital early so that I could show Jack Driscoll how to use the resuscitator in case they needed it for any of the people they thought were--
GIBBS: They could revive, yeah.
GIBBS: They only got two.
GASPIE: They only got two, yeah.
GIBBS: Now, how about the Andrea Doria. Were you in the middle of that one?
GIBBS: That was '56.
GASPIE: Yeah, mmm hmmm.
GIBBS: But I mean, the Coast Guard-- They passed through Nantucket. You were--
GASPIE: Well, the police had more to do with that.
GIBBS: The police at-- ?
GASPIE: Wendell Howes. It was state police. They flew in. You know, they came in from-- The helicopter dropped ____, and then they picked up the state police took care--and also the local care of the ones in that.
GIBBS: Yeah. I remember my father talking about that, yeah. The Sea Cliff Inn fire-- I can't remember what year that was. Was that during your tenure on the fire department?
GASPIE: That was when I first went on the fire department in 1948-'49, somewhere around there, yeah.
GIBBS: Yeah, I wasliving just down Cliff road from the fire, and we were little kids. We were told to stay away.
GASPIE: Yeah, mmm hmmm.
GIBBS: But you were involved in that one?
GASPIE: Yes, mmm hmmm.
GIBBS: That was a bad fire.
GASPIE: Yeah. No, it wasn't too bad. We got hold of that without any trouble.
GASPIE: But there were some bad ones that we did have--was that one out at Preston's.
GIBBS: Oh, yes.
GASPIE: I wasn't even here--was the first assistant chief was here--Josh Chandler. I was off island at the time. And also ____. Every time they had a big fire I was gone! [Chuckle] I don't know how it happened, I mean--
GIBBS: Coincidence, huh?
GASPIE: Just-- Well, there was the ____ Theater.
GIBBS: Just like myself aboard ship in Antarctica. Every time we had the duty, that's when we had the fire! [Laughter] How about the Northeast Airlines crash?
GASPIE: Oh, gee! that was something!
GIBBS: You were-- That was 1958.
GIBBS: I was overseas, but I remember reading about it.
GASPIE: Yeah, it was in the ____. That was very confusing. We didn't know what was going on. We didn't know what was going on. We had pulled out there, and Irving got out. They told us that there was a brush fire, and we had responded. And when we got out where it was, Irving got out there first, and he ran to us and "Do you see what I see? This is ____! This is more than a brush fire!" Things got worse from then on.
GIBBS: That was a canvair.
GIBBS: And pretty heavy loss of life there.
GASPIE: It was, yes.
GIBBS: How about any of the--while you're just living in the island here, the memories of Nantucket's fishing fleet? It seemed to me that-- It seemed about every winter we had a family that was struck by the fact that a fishing boat went out and didn't come back. And I think today's generation just doesn't remember what that was like and how it gnawed at the community when it happened.
GASPIE: That's true. When the Landry [fishing vessel William J. Landry] was lost, is that we were at a fire up on Cliff Road. And we had been there for most of the night, and when we heard about it, it was early in the morning. And they had said that they had seen the Landry--it was near the Handkerchief Lightship. And she had disappeared, and they hadn't heard anything from them. That was when they lost Ted Palasky[sp?] and Merv Blount.
GIBBS: Merv Blount, yeah.
GASPIE: And somebody else from--Hansen, who was the skipper of that.
GIBBS: ARne Hansen.
GIBBS: Now, did that-- Did the Landry get under tow at one time? Didn't they have her under tow, and then--
GASPIE: It broke, yes! It broke loose, yeah! And when she went by the Handkerchief Lightship, and they disappeared right there--you know, sunk or just went out.
GIBBS: Had a wave hit her, and that was it, yeah. I remember a lot of feeling in my family, because my father had gone to Mrs. Hansen's house to tell her that they had them under tow, and that was the first news. And then he had to go back to say they've lost the vessel, yeah. And he was pretty upset!
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, yeah, that was very sad.
GIBBS: Yeah. Well, this has been a good start, John. Can you think of anything to pick this gentleman's brain with?
SCHMID: No, he's gone through all the--a lot of the ____ we talked about, about a month ago, and we were saying--
GIBBS: Now, when did you leave the island? You know, see, I was off in the Navy and then living elsewhere, so there's little gaps in my memories. So I don't-- Some of the sequence of how things happened are fairly vague.
GASPIE: We left in '79.
GIBBS: Okay, yeah.
GASPIE: I was a ____ partner in August. And we went to Florida, which was a mistake. We weren't too happy living in ____.
GIBBS: Yeah. And you live in Maine now?
GASPIE: We live in Belfast, Maine now?
GIBBS: Belfast? Well, that's great. Peter, do you have any questions?
PETER: Well, I was just going to ask about-- You said you came first in '37 to Nantucket, and what was the waterfront like? Can you describe that a little bit, about what the wharf there is?
GASPIE: I came here in 1940. I got in the Coast Guard in 1937 and came to Nantucket in 1940. At that time Island Service Company--lumber company was where the--you know, all those little cottages are now with the little shops in them. And right next to it was the icehouse, and right next to that was a boat house. And then beyond that was the--
SCHMID: Ernie King's Boat Shop.
GASPIE: Yeah, yeah--Ernie King's Boat Shop. And then down a little further was the place that was a restaurant.
GIBBS: Barnes's Restaurant?
GASPIE: Barnes's Restaurant, yeah.
GIBBS: Oh, it was on the boat house, yeah. And that burned?
SCHMID: I can't remember the year.
GASPIE: We used to have a picture in the fire station of that burning.
GIBBS: One of the stories I had was that somebody ran over and grabbed a bucket, thinking it was water, and it was turpentine.
GASPIE: I heard that, too.
GIBBS: And when he went to douse the fire, he simply-- That was the end of it right there. And there were lives lost in that, as I recall.
SCHMID: Now, was that the restaurant that was the old coal barge? The one over by Steamboat Wharf?
GIBBS: No, that was the Skipper.
SCHMID: That was the Skipper, that's right.
GIBBS: That was the Skipper Restaurant.
GASPIE: She was a schooner.
GIBBS: ____ towed her in, and then finally they had to cut her mast up, because they were pretty dangerous. And pretty soon they had to take her out, because she was-- And that void was still sitting there where the old restaurant was kind of built on pilings, and it's sort of a wasted piece of waterfront right now.
GASPIE: Some reason they can't do anything with them. I don't know what it is.
GIBBS: It's a "can't" or "don't want to." [Laughter]
GASPIE: It was quite different, Peter, than what it is now, really! The Yacht Club came all the way out to-- Now when you get off the boat, you drive across what was the lawn of the Yacht Club. Most of that land is gone, and there's now parking for trucks and so forth. There used to be lawn with a great big anchor on it for the Yacht Club.
GIBBS: That's right.
GASPIE: So they--just one slip on that side. There's no slip anywhere else until later on, you know. And during the war we had--from Coskata Station, when I was stationed there, we used to guard the different docks. We had a guard at Island Service Dock, another one at Steamboat Dock, and one down where ____ House was--down at Brant Point. And between Madaket and Coskata, Madaket would take the first watch from dark until midnight for a week, and then we would shift. And we would take the second one until from midnight till daylight. And then we'd shift, and we'd get a week of the early one, and they'd take-- And we did that for quite a while.
GIBBS: And that's especially when you had the PT boats at the Surf--at the Steamboat Wharf, and you had a guard. You couldn't just go down on the wharfs in those days, right?
GASPIE: Right, no. That's right. No, you couldn't go anywhere.
GIBBS: You had those PT boats on the south side of the wharf where the high speed ferry comes in now, and then we also had PBYs tieing up off the Children's Beach, anchored on moorings out there at one time.
GASPIE: Not while we were there.
GIBBS: Okay. Well, I remember three of them there at one time, you know. It's just one of those images I can remember.
GASPIE: We ____-- After-- Oh, it was-- I don't remember exactly when it was, but we got a crash boat, 60 foot--one of those 50 foot crash boats with a ____. Mike Todd was a skipper ____, and he brought it over, and it was transferred to us. They brought it over to us, and it was tied up down on the south side of Steamboat Wharf there. And, of course, we had the Navy torpedo planesbombs out at the airport.
GIBBS: At the airport, yeah.
GASPIE: And that was what it was there for.
GIBBS: In case somebody went in the drink, that's how you had to rush out and get them, yeah. Now, how about the old time Nantucketers that took their boats and became sort of the shores patrol around here, like Everett Chapel and Sterling B. Yerxa and I don't know-- There were others, I assume.
GASPIE: Chappel and Yerxa, yeah. I can't remember.
GIBBS: Did they press them into service as kind of Coast Guard reserves?
GASPIE: Yes, they did.
GIBBS: Just put a uniform on them, and--
GASPIE: Yeah and used their boats.
GIBBS: They used their own boats and went out to--what, to the edge of the shores to see if any submarines were out there?
GASPIE: Mmm hmmm, yeah.
GIBBS: Clint Andrews was in on that, too. It was a good thing they didn't find any!
GASPIE: Yeah, for sure! [Laughter]
GIBBS: Because they were expendable!
GASPIE: Yes, they were. They certainly were! And they had a sick bay at Nesbitt Inn.
GIBBS: Yeah, yeah. They took that over.
GASPIE: Yes, mmm hmmm, and that's where the boys could have had those--they call them auxiliary--Coast Guard Auxiliary for their own-- That's where they were billeted.
GIBBS: You also had the Army down at North Water Street.
GASPIE: That was the Springfield House.
GIBBS: Which is kind of--the Springfield House now, and it was part of what is now Harvard House.
GASPIE: Right, yeah.
GIBBS: That was the Springfield House.
GASPIE: That was it, yeah.
GIBBS: I remember those guys down there. There was always a problem of keeping them under control.
GASPIE: Sure! Right, yeah.
GIBBS: Now, you also had a USO down on South Water Street.
GASPIE: We had a USO in the ____, too.
GIBBS: You did?
GASPIE: Right up on-- Well, who was it, Johnny, that had an upholstery shop on Main Street, right-- ?
GASPIE: Yeah, upstairs where he-- There used to be a USO there.
GIBBS: Which is now Coffin's Real Estate.
GIBBS: Yeah, over Coffin's.
GASPIE: Vincent's was somewhere right around there, yeah.
GIBBS: Somewhere in there, yeah.
GASPIE: And then it went down by Hardy's on the second floor there.
GIBBS: That's where I remember, yeah. I was going to say USO down there. Used to be an antique shop downstairs, and that was taken over by the service people.
GIBBS: Well, this has been great! I can't think of any other questions myself. Peter?
SCHMID: No, I think that's--
GIBBS: But then the thing that-- I made the arrangements with Peter is the NHA will then put this in their collection of many, many interviews like this that have been done by many, many people you know. And I'm going to get a copy of it for our archives.
GASPIE: Oh, good!
GIBBS: That's the way we're going to do it.
GASPIE: Gee, that'll be nice!
GIBBS: Well, thank you very much!
GASPIE: Well, you're quite welcome. I enjoyed it very much.
GIBBS: Now you've got to go back and see how Junior Miss plays out tonight.
GASPIE: That's right, tonight, yeah. [Laughter] My great granddaughter's going to win! [Laughter]
GIBBS: Yeah, I met her at the Rotary Luncheon. Great Gal. Well, thank you!
GASPIE: Well, you are quite welcome. I enjoyed it.
GIBBS: I hope your feet aren't too cold in here.
GASPIE: No! You know, when you said, "Dress warm ____, maybe we should get some warm underwear." So I'm feeling quite comfortable!
GIBBS: Yeah, this place-- It holds the heat. It gets to a certain point, and then it stays there, and this slab is-- But in the springtime, this slab presents a real problem. And the problem is, as soon as the humidity goes up, then this starts weeping. I have to puddle-- This floor actually puddles!
GIBBS: Yeah, yeah. What's that?
FEMALE SPEAKER: Oh, it's a preview.
GIBBS: Okay, alright!
FEMALE SPEAKER: "The Three Musketeers."
GIBBS: "The Three Musketeers."
SCHMID: Yeah, right!
GASPIE: Well, I'll get that ____ holder down to you.
GIBBS: Hey, I really-- Anything that we--
[End of Interview]