NARRATOR: Paul Morris
INTERVIEWER: Peter Schmid
PLACE: 5 New Mill Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts
DATE: July 14, 2000
SCHMID: This is an interview with Paul Morris. The interview is being conducted May 26, 2000 at Mr. Morris's residence at 5 New Mill Street, Nantucket, Massachusetts. The interviewer is Peter Schmid, photo archivist for the Nantucket Historical Association, Nantucket Massachusetts. The interview taking place at approximately 10:00 a.m.
Okay, want to just start out by telling me where you were born, and--when and where you were born? Where were you born?
MORRIS: I was born in Youngstown, Ohio. That's a long way from here! But are you recording now?
SCHMID: Yeah. That's fine.
MORRIS: Okay, I was not raised there. I was raised in Rye, New York, and I went through grade and high school in Rye. That's where I first found salt water, you know. That's where I met the Benjamin Packard. That was the Playland Park. I wrote the book about the Packard! And fell in love with the water then. I was only six years old when I first saw the Packard. It was a long time ago. [Chuckle] That's 70 years ago come this summer. I'll be 76 in June seventeenth. And when you look back, that's quite a ways.
I was much enthralled with everything about salt
water then. That was 'cross on Long Island Town.
We didn't get to Nantucket until the late 1940s.
Gene Breaire[sp?], who owned 113 Main Street, was
a friend of ours, and he and I worked together at
Long Island City. And one day-- We used to take
the bus from the subway to get to work at Long Island
City, and we used to gab along the way. One day
we were having lunch, and I told him that Signey[sp?]
and I were going to go on a trip to Provincetown,
and he said, "Well, you won't like it."
And I said, "Oh?" He said, "No."
He said, "I have a house in Nantucket."
And he said, "You'd be welcome to go there."
And I wasn't quite sure where the heck he was talking
about! [Laughter] But I said, "Well, no, we've
already made up our minds to go to Provincetown,
and we did! We had a nice trip, but it was interesting
in that I met Chappel[sp?] Thurber and Bill Trip
in the Whaling Museum over there at the ____.
And we went out to Provincetown and came back, and I saw Gene Breaire again. He said, "Well, how'd you like the trip to Provincetown?" I said, "Oh, I didn't like it." He said, "Ah, ha! I told you." And he said, "I tell you what." He said, "My wife and I have this house in Nantucket, and we're going to open it up in the spring." That was about this time of the year--Labor Day. He said, "I want your wife to meet my wife, and if they get along, why--" he said, "the two of you guys could come up help us open with the house." And the girls met, and they just got along fine, and we did. That's the way we came to Nantucket. That was in the late forties. And we both fell in love with the place. And over the years I eventually went to work in New York City itself. Gene helped me get a job there, as a matter of fact, in a studio. And eventually I left that studio, and I went to work for Lionar[sp?] Rubican as one of their art buyers. But I hated New York with a passion! I always felt like a sheep going up the ramp in a slaughter house when I went up that ramp in Grand Central Station.
And it wasn't long before we decided to come down here. We came down every time of this year, you know, in May and June, over-- Well, what's this holiday that's coming up?
SCHMID: Memorial Day.
MORRIS: Memorial Day, yeah. And we helped Uncle Gene and Aunt Polly open up the house. By this time we had a baby girl. We were sitting in Gene's kitchen one day, and Freddie Gardner was there. Did you know Fred?
SCHMID: I have--yeah.
He had an agency in New York at that time. He has
a terrific collection of scrimshaw. And we talked
about buying a house. We had to several. And that's
back in the days, you know, when you could buy a
house for three or four thousand dollars. And we
said that we hadn't seen anything that we really
liked. Freddie said, "Well, I know of a house,"
and he said, "Well, it's right over on New
Mill Street." And he said, "Why don't
you come over?" He said, "I know the woman
who owns the house," because he actually had
a house just around the corner.
So we came over to this house, and Freddie knocked on the door. And Dorcas Sealey opened the door, and she said, "Hello, Freddie," as everybody knew everybody in those days. And he said, "Hello, Mrs. Sealey." He said, "I understand you have this house for sale. She said, "That's right, I want $12,000, and I won't dicker!" [Laughter--Does her voice] So that was a little more than we had in our pockets in those days, but we said, "Well, we'd like to see the house." So we went through-- And on the way up Signey asked, "Does the furniture go with the house?" And Mrs. Sealey said, "Nope!" She said, I'm going to use the money from this house to finish off one that my husband," who was ____-- He was dead then-- "--who started this house, and I'm going to furnish the one that he started and finish it up with the money I get from here. And the furniture from here goes there, too." So she said, "I do have some stuff in the attic if you'd like to see it." And we said, "Well, sure," because we explained to her we were living in a small house, an apartment actually, in Mamaroneck. It was just three and a half rooms, and we had--you know--little kids. So on the way up to the attic we saw this beautiful sloop with a Bailey & Diddy[sp?] box next to it. And Freddie, who was quite a collector of Scrimshaw, said, "Oh, Mrs. Sealey, I see you've got some Scrimshaw?" She said, "Yes, Freddie, would you like to have it?" He said, "Oh, you bet!" And it disappeared! [Laughter] And the attic was full of antiques. And we said, "Okay, well, we'll buy the house." We gave her a $500 down payment, and we bought the house.
Well, somebody came along a week later and offered her $13,000, and she said, "Alright, I'll sell the house to you!" Well, when she went down to the bank, George Lake said, "Dorcas, you've already sold the house to the Morrises! You can't sell this to somebody else, now!" So she got ripping mad, and she sold all the furniture in the attic! [Laughter] So, when we came back, we were living on packing crates!
And we moved in, of course, and it was quite a struggle for awhile. And one day there was a knock on the door, and there was Freddie with his hands behind his hand behind his back. And he presented "The Sloop." He said, "Here!" He said, "You bought the house, you ought to have "The Sloop." And he didn't bring the Ditty box back! But I was glad to get "The Sloop." I still use it in my lectures on scrimshaw and Wayland, and-- I think I showed it to you, the one that had the woman in costume. It's a very nice piece of work.
So we moved down here in 19-- We bought the house; that was in 1954, and it wasn't long--four years later--that I left New York, left Lionar, and came down here to live permanently. It was kind of-- I had started Paul's Boat Livery then. I started it with-- I think it was four skiffs. I had Mike Todd build four of them, and then I had another two ____ skiffs that I'd bought over--had made in New Bedford, brought over. And eventually I started buying these little rainbow cats, you know? I had quite a fleet of cat boats. Matter of fact, I had eight cat boats, three of which were large. They were cuddy cats. And then I had four smaller ones, or five, actually--cats in the fleet. I had a license, then, to carry passengers for hire, and I had five kids working for me then, most of whom lived right here in this house, up in the attic. [Chuckle]
MORRIS: And it was a nice arrangement. The kids got along. We still hear from ____ MacMillan, who was my sailing teacher. She was a nice girl. And she's married, and her husband died. And she's got two grown kids now, but that's water over the dam. Several of the kids I hear from or about as time goes along. One of the kids now, Mike Quinn, lives in Switzerland. He's a timpanist. And a couple of the other boys I hear from occasionally. Danny Poore[sp?] was one of them, and there were several others. So, it was quite a-- It was a nonprofit organization that I managed for 12 years. [Laughter]
SCHMID: Oh, nonprofit?
Yeah! But my best summer I had a net of $1,200.
That was it! I had the first shack on Island Service
Wharf, and the whole end of the wharf between Island
Service Wharf and Spate[sp?] Wharf--that was mine.
And they charged me $250 a year for rent. And they
went up to $300-- I was mad as ____, because that
was more money than I wanted to spend! [Laughter]
But times changed. Back in those days we could live
on $35 a week for food, and live pretty well. But
it was a different place then. Nantucket was entirely
different, and there were only 3,700 people living
here on the island year 'round when we came down.
Everybody was on a first name basis. By the time
we came here and got well acquainted, we knew most
of the people on the island, or a lot of them, anyway.
And they knew me. And fortunately I was accepted
as a waterfront person, and Charlie Sales[sp?] became
a close friend. And we, of course, knew other people
such as the Lindquists, and there were others as
well. So, that-- It was very nice. And eventually
we met the Greers[sp?], Bill and Ruthie, and we
had a very nice ____. And we met Ralph and Norma
Hammond. That's where I got interested in arrowheads.
And it was good. I got to know Ownie[sp?] Dunn and
learn more about the island's history, as far as
the Indians are concerned. But I was always interested,
pretty much, in the waterfront.
The first year we had come down here, I spotted Charlie's little argonaut, which is now back again. It's been repaired. And my son-in-law, Kenny Agward[sp?] had gone out for a sail on it just recently. And we saw that little Argonaut, or I saw it, tied up down on Island Service Wharf one day, and there were a bunch of the fishermen sitting down there. And I was oohing and aahing about this old boat, and these guys were watching me, and sort of "We need to see what was going on--" And I walked over to one of them, and I said, "Can any of you gentlemen tell me who owns that little sloop?" And finally one of them looked up, and he said, "Fellow that lives over on Union Street." I said, "Well, could you tell me what his name is and where he lives?" "Yeah, his name is Charlie Sails, and it's-- You go over there; you look for a sign with 'Howard' on it." He meant a quarter board. And he said, "That's where he lives." And I said, "Well, do you suppose he'd sell that boat?" And one of the other guys looked over, and he laughed. He went "Huh! Sooner sell his wife!" [Laughter]
So I went over to Union Street, and there was the sign--quarter board, "Howard" on it, tacked up on the side of the house on the front door. And I knocked on the door. And Charlie came to the door in his usual flannel shirt and dungarees. And I said, "Are you the gentleman owns that neat little packet down there called The Argonaut? And he said, "Yep." And I said, "That's a very nice little boat." And I said, "Have you had it long?" He said, "Yep." Conversation was a little difficult! [Laughter] So I said, "By any chance would you be willing to sell it?" He said, "Nope." [Laughter] I just kind of stood there, waited around awhile, didn't know what else to say. And finally Charlie said, "Would you like to have a glass of rum?" [Laughter] I said, "Well, yes!" He said, "Well, step aboard, then." And I stepped in, and he meant-- What he meant by a glass of rum, he poured a drinking glass full of dark rum! Wow! [Laughter]
SCHMID: A large glass?
MORRIS: I guess it was large! So that's how I got to know Charlie Sale, and we sat there and we talked ships and boats and schooners and stuff. And we got to be pretty good friends. Vickie and Charlie were good friends of ours for a long time after that. In fact, I was the guy that did the eulogy for Charlie at this funeral.
MORRIS: And I told that little story about how we met and the glass of rum. And, of course, Vickie has just died recently, so their family has all gone now except for the kids. In fact, their funeral lot's very close to ours up on the Prospect Hill. So we've been here ever since 1958. That's when we moved down permanently. And Paul's Boat Livery was in operation then, and it didn't break up until the late sixties when Walter Bineke[sp?] started to change things down here.
SCHMID: Oh, yeah?
MORRIS: And we then went into the ivory business. I taught school for a number of years. I taught art. I was the art teacher for almost ten years here.
SCHMID: At the high school?
At all the grades! I taught from first grade right
through high school. And my art room was wherever
they wanted to plant me. I carried the art room
around in a cardboard box and in my jeep. [Chuckle]
I taught in the Cyrus Pierce School, in the Academy
Hill School, in the high school, and also in the
one-room school out in Siasconset. And all of those
places I had to go to through that-- I had just--actually,
it was about three days a week that I taught. So
it was an interesting thing, and then eventually
we started to-- I needed to make a little more money.
And somebody told me, "Well, there's a fellow named Stevie Gibbs who's had a fight with his ivory carver-- And he was talking about Althea Macy, who was his ivory carver. And he said he needs somebody to carve ivory, and if you've got an art background, you ought to go over. That was Herman Mitchell that was telling me this. And he said, "You ought to carve up a ____ of--" he said, "You know, the light ship baskets. You know about those?" And I said, "Yeah, my wife has one." So I carved up a wooden whale and took it over to Stevie and showed him. And he said, "Well--" he said, "We can make changes here and there. He gave me some ivory to start with, so we started carving ivory. And that's how Morris's Ivory Shop got started. And we did pretty well with that, with Stevie and Loretta Goods. And actually I got emphysema, and I became very allergic to the ivory dust, so that's what-- I don't do any carving anymore at all. I engraved a little bit. I showed you that one ____ that I did of the Essex, but I don't do much in the way of carving at all. I sometimes help out with cutting the stuff on the saw, but I have to get right out of the place because of the dust. And Signey does all the carving now, so we've been in business for quite a long time as an ivory shop.
And then, of course, after that I got going, and I started writing. And my first book was American Sailing Coasters in the North Atlantic. And I've had nine books published since then, all on a maritime basis, you know. They're all marine histories of sort or another.
MORRIS: And I've still got a ninth that's sitting in limbo right now, about Crow and Thurlow, which I hope to heavens will see the light of day as far as publishing is concerned. I spent six-and-a-half years working on that thing, and then it sat in a box over on the cape for almost four years--for over four years, now. And it's just still in limbo, and I'm hoping we can someday make the ____ same "possibles" for publication--never know. It would be nice to see it come out, because no publication has come out yet with the complete history of Crow and Thurlow. Are you familiar with them?
SCHMID: I'm not.
Well, they were-- He was-- Peter H. Crow was a Boston
Skipper who went from rags to riches. He started
going out as a cabin boy on his father's vessel
when he was just a teenager. And after he worked
a year on that, his father paid him a sum total
of 25 cents, [Chuckle] which he returned to his
father, because his father couldn't afford it. And
then eventually he had a fishing vessel built and
eventually then went into coasting, and got married,
as most of the young people in those days did. And,
of course, he took his wife to sea with him. And
then eventually he began to buy into shares. They--
When they had new vessels built, they divided them
up into sixty-fourths, you know, and he bought several
shares in several vessels. And eventually, when
he retired, he owned an interest in three or four
vessels. And then, as he continued to invest and
become interested in maritime holdings, be began
to own more and more. And before long he owned a
company which established itself first on the cape
and then in Boston. And they eventually-- And he
got a partner, Louis K. Thurlow, and they owned
83 sailing vessels, and they managed 13 steamships,
too, most of which they owned.
So it was quite a large operation. And he actually became-- He had a yacht which he called Gracie Bell, which was after--named after his daughter. And he was friendly with the governor of Rhode Island who used to come down and stay with him. And he became Mr. Riches from the rags that he originally started with and became quite a well known person. And they were the last big fleet of sailing vessels, really, that large. That was to be owned up until-- When the depression hit, of course, they all folded up. But they were laid up in Maine, many of them. And they were finally sold off. And they-- They also owned the Cape Cod Steamship Company, too, for awhile. So they were quite influential as far as maritime managers and ship brokers were concerned.
SCHMID: That sounds like it will make a good book.
MORRIS: Oh, I think it will be a good book, and it is a good book. And it's just a question of too many people hanging onto it and not saying--doing enough. And I just can't get-- Theresa Barbo has it right now. Bill Crew had it for three-and-a-half years and didn't do anything with it. And Barry Homer, who married a descendant of Peter H. Crow--Silvia--was very helpful. So, we'll see. It might get published. But that's moot.
SCHMID: Yeah. Now, back to the Nantucket waterfront. How did it change when Walter Bineke came along? Do you remember? I mean, you were ____.
Oh, yeah! Well, there was a lot more color down
there in those days. Of course, he changed Straight--
I mean, that's Straight ____. He changed all the
wharves, actually--really. He cut the Island Service
Wharf off on the end and they dredged a lot of that
out. And they rebuilt some of the areas on Straight
Wharf. They had those-- They put a lot of new pilings
down and new footings for the wharves. And they
put cottages on Commercial Wharf, of course. And
they changed things around there. They built that
stockade out there for the boats to come in, you
know. They used to have-- They called it the Fort
Apache [Laughter] because of the stockade. And they
built the slips for the yachts to be berthed at.
And, of course, the prices changed immediately.
Prices on the island went up as soon as Mr. Bineke started to pay large prices for real estate. And, you know, I understand he paid $60,000 for a rundown building that was on Commercial Wharf. And right away you couldn't find a house on the island for under $60,000! [Laughter] So it went, and I don't know whether that's true or not, but that's the story that was circulating then.
So the waterfront rapidly changed, and the cost of maintaining a boat on Nantucket rapidly went up, too. I got rid of all my boats. I sold the Conjurer, which was the biggest one, which was built in 1909 by Crosby, over on the cape. And I sold the Reggie Cricket, and I sold the other boat--the one little cat that I had for quite a long time. And that's owned by the Historical Association. They've got-- I don't know where they have it now, but--
SCHMID: It's out at the Gosnold[sp?] Center.
It is? I hope-- Unfortunately, when they got that,
Rennie was down there, and they sawed the mast off
so they could get it in the museum, which I was
upset about. But that's the way it goes. She was
a good little cat, and I carried a lot of passengers
with her. I think, perhaps, in my book Maritime
Nantucket there's a good picture of it, if you've
seen that. So, I hope that they will treat her with
tender loving care. And the Rainbow is the little
middle cats. I sold all those.
So they-- Then they got a Marshall cat. That's that one over there in back on the wall.
SCHMID: Oh, yes.
MORRIS: And I had that up till a few years ago and sold that. And then, I had my fishing boat that you can see there, which I had for a number of years. And I just gave that to my daughter. So I'm boatless! I feel naked! [Chuckle] But I don't have any boats anymore. And the only thing I can do is talk about it. [Chuckle]
SCHMID: So, would you take-- You'd take paying customers out on the harbor?
MORRIS: Oh, I used to have--yeah, with the license I was allowed to carry six passengers, although the Conjurer was huge for a cat boat. We had twenty-some family members and friends on there one day for a picnic.
MORRIS: But, of course, I was only allowed to carry six for hire. That was the law. And that's all. The smallest cat, the Mitzie-- I was only able to carry four passengers in that. She was a nice little cat boat, though. I had an outboard for power on the Mitzie, and I also had an outboard on the Reggie Cricket, which Billy Greeter skippered for awhile. And so we had a strict rule that we'd never sail out of the harbor. We always powered it outside, and then we set sail outside, just beyond the docks. So, we carried passengers. And Billy Greeter helped me build a shack over on property that I still own over on Coe Two. We carried people over there, and we had lobster cookouts and steak cookouts. And we were trying to revive the old business of sailing up harbor, you know, like they did when they went to ____. And we charged-- For the whole deal we supplied the lobster or the steak or whatever they wanted, plus all the cool drinks and the ice and everything else, plus the sail, plus the place to swim over there and change their clothes and everything, for 15 bucks a person. And these people used to say we were burglars! [Laughter]
SCHMID: Oh, my!
But we got some return business, and it was fun.
We did that for a number of years, and sometimes
we'd have two cats over there, the Conjurer and
the Reggie Cricket--or sometimes the Reggie Cricket
and the Mitzie would go over, depending upon the
number of people that wanted to go. And we'd anchor
off. We'd send one of the kids over and one of the
skiffs with the outboards to get things opened up
and also to carry the passengers ashore. So it worked
out pretty well. But it was-- As I say, it was a
nonprofit organization back in those days. [Laughter]
In the sixties, even 15 bucks a head was a lot of
money for some people, and we did not make much
money. We had a good time, but-- It was fun.
We had a lot of fun doing that and sailing, but it was not what you call the greatest business in the world. And then when I discovered I had emphysema, I wound up in the hospital. I finally sold everything off. Still have the property over there, which I'm going to leave to my kids. But the business of working out of Nantucket Harbor ended with that hospital visit of mine and selling all the boats off. The Conjurer is still afloat, I understand. It's almost a hundred years old, built in 1909. And I saw some pictures of her in one of those wooden boat books, re-rigged. They apparently put another sail on her, which is smaller than I had. But she was an interesting boat to sail.
And the harbor, of course, has changed a tremendous amount. There used to be an awful amount of fishing vessels came in here. When they came in here, the ice that they could buy here was supposed to be the best ice you could get on the coast. And, unfortunately, Mr. Bineke tore that plant down. The ice plant was ripped out.
SCHMID: Where was that?
That was right where the-- You know where the A&P
store is-- Well, just before you get to that store
was where the lumber company used to be and the
hardware company. It was there. And then the ice
plant was just to the right of that with a parking
space back in there. That's all been changed around
now. And Oscar Egar ran that. He was the guy who
ran the ice plant.
And they used to load up those huge big cakes--you know, cakes of ice, on trucks, and then they'd truck them down to the wharf. And they had a machine that chopped it up and then shove it into the boats on a belt. And a lot of the guys came in-- I can remember when they used to take those big nets that they used to use on the draggers and lay them out on the wharf and repair them right there in front of the shack where we had--when there was a road that went by. And Phil Grant and Johnny Malloy had a fish market there. And Phil, of course--father was Peter Grant, you know. And he had his boat the "Madeleine," which he used to tie up right in back of their fish market.
And many of the kids that worked in the fish market--in fact still with ____ and John McCasey[sp?] would come over and have lunch at my place. Even though they had a restaurant in there, they liked to come over and shoot the breeze. And a lot of the fishermen used to come around and hang out in my shack. And I got to know lot of the old guys like Ray Cite[sp?] and his father, who was a great old guy. They were old sail fishermen. And they had comments to make about the way we handled the boats. [Chuckle] And they were all nice fellows. All those guys were real gentlemen! I never heard a four-letter word used by any of those fishermen that used to hang around my shack.
MORRIS: Yeah, they were gentlemen, every one of them. Some of the deep sea scallopers were kind of tough. I didn't see too many of them, because they usually beat it right up to one of the gin mills and got loaded! And then they'd mainly get into fights. But the dragger fishermen were gentlemen, all of them. Morris Clattenberg was one of those fellows used to come in. And it was a different place then, entirely. And a lot of the boats would come in, of course, due to weather, and lay up, because this was a harbor of refuge. And it was not unusual to see four boats along this--tied up side by side all the way out to the end of the wharf, till the weather changed.
SCHMID: Yeah. And they still do.
They still do that to some extent, but they're not
welcome as they used to be. As a matter of fact,
I understand that somebody wrote to the Fishermen's
Association telling that their boats weren't welcome
on Nantucket anymore! [Chuckle] But they used to
come in. Of course, the gas plant was here then,
and they had a big tank down there. And occasionally
that stack that they had there would blow soot out
and cover some of the yachts, which was not too
much appreciated. And when that was changed around,
of course, they made an effort to get more yachts
to come in. And they always complained that the
yachts were more cheapskates, because they didn't
buy anything on Nantucket. They brought all their
food and help with them! [Laughter] But that's the
way it was back in those days.
The fishermen were always an interesting group. And although most of them took their catches over to New Bedford to sell, a few of them tried to unload some of the stuff here. But it wasn't done too often, and when it was done, the fish markets didn't appreciate it, because they didn't like the boats selling right off. They ____ sell lobsters right off the boat, you know. And the fish markets didn't enjoy that either. Back in those days you could get lobster for 35 cents a pound--weaks especially--35 to 32 cents. You know, the weaks were all one claws. And we always tried to buy our lobsters from Johnny Malloy and Phil Grant when they had their market, because they were right across from where our shack was. And then we bought our steaks--New York sirloins--we bought from the store came in later, the A&P. So it was an interesting time back in those days in the sixties. It's all different today, entirely.
SCHMID: How did people react when all those changes were undergoing with Bineke's buying up the wharf.
Well, he was the lord with the money, you know,
and people treated him with a great deal of concern
and deference. He was-- He owned the waterfront,
practically. And he owned an awful lot of Main Street.
And there were some people that resented what he
was doing, but a lot of people kowtowed to him anyway
because of the fact that he was spending a lot of
money here on Nantucket. So, he was going to save
the island in spite of itself. [Laughter] He did
some good. There's no question about the fact that
he did some good. My son-in-law John Nicholson worked
for him for awhile, and now he works for Mr. Carp
who bought everything up that Mr. Bineke owned,
you know, when he had German associates and all
that. That was-- Now most of that property is owned
by Mr. Carp. So-- And he's working with Mr. Carp
and doing a pretty good job. They have the White
Elephant, and they have the Wellwinnet[sp?] House,
and they have the Harbor House, and they have the
waterfront. So it's Mr. Carp's business venture
these days. And John and his friend who runs the
Wellwinnet House are the guys who associate with
Mr. Carp and get the material working for him.
It's basically the same setup as far as the area is concerned. They've completely changed the White Elephant, of course. They've rebuilt it. There used to be a swimming pool over there, which some of us went jumping into one time at a party. [Chuckle] But they've dug that up, and they've changed all the buildings around. And the properties, while they've been improved, cost more as far as-- This is typical Nantucket. Everything on the island has gone up in price. As a matter of fact, you've got to be pretty well off to get along down here. It's not a poor man's place anymore. When I lived here, you could get along on $35 a week for food with no trouble at all, and live pretty well. And you could buy a house for anywhere from four to ten thousand. And today it's not unusual at all to see a house sell for a couple of million. [Laughter] So, I mean, there's a big difference!
SCHMID: Yeah! [Chuckle]
And the costs of living here have escalated and
the chance to find a place to live if you're working
here are very difficult. The living spaces have
been taken over, and they are very expensive. So
it's difficult. Lot of teachers down here have had
to leave because they just could not afford to pay
the freight, which is too bad! But that's the way
it goes. That's progress, I guess, if you like it.
But--if you want to call it that, but that's what
you've got on Nantucket.
And the waterfront has been pretty much changed over after Bineke's takeover. It was a different waterfront than it was back in the days when I had the boat livery. And I don't think there's as much color here or interesting things going on as there used to be. These yachts are I guess, an important part of the revenue for the people who run the waterfront down there, but-- You know, George has the basin down there and takes care of the running of the slips.
SCHMID: Who is it? George--
MORRIS: Oh, Vassar--George Vassar. Nice guy! He's an ex-coastguardsman. And George's a very nice fellow. And he's done a neat job with that. And they rent out-- They ____ gas, and of course that's one of the things about the--the gas men have to have that, have to have a place to stay, and they have to have a place to fuel up. And they bring their-- They still bring the oil tankers here and the gas tankers. That was something that was going on back when I was--back then. There was a fuel dock down there then, and it's still in the same location. It's right in back of where the fish market used to be that Johnny Malloy had and Phil Grant had. And the dock runs out there quite a way. And they still tie up there and pump off. And there are still tanks down in there, too. That big black tank that was a gas tank has been torn down. In fact the gas and electric company, I guess, still owns the property. But that whole-- That property is still sitting there waiting for something to happen to it, and I understand it's soaked with oil. But they'll probably have to do something about that. The old Petrol, you know, the old fishing vessel is buried right up underneath that lot.
MORRIS: Yes! She broke loose in a storm, came back, and smacked into the bulkheads. That was there. And they just moved her back into that ____ and covered her up! [Laughter]
SCHMID: Is that right!
MORRIS: That's right. She's buried right underneath that lot. And I don't know whether they'll-- Probably somebody will have to dig some of it our, but they may cover up--uncover the old Petrol. Petrol gang fished out of Nantucket. They had weirs outside up in the ____ of the bay and some outside. And they had a big cat boat, the "Dionas[sp?]," which was an alternate boat that they used. And they used to fish out of that. And they used that for fishing and wrecking, both. It was quite an enterprise. And the "Waquoit[sp?]" was another one that was down here, too.
SCHMID: What was that?
MORRIS: Waquoit. And she was a litter steamer. There's a picture of her-- Let me get it. I'll show it to you. [Change to Side B of Tape] Here she is right here. Here she is with a deck load of mackerel.
SCHMID: Oh, yeah! Oh, this is your maritime ____?
MORRIS: Yeah, this is my book Maritime Nantucket. Peter H. Smith was the one that had her. And she also did some wrecking, too. So between the Waquoit and the Petrol, they were the two steamers that worked out of here for fishing and for wrecking purposes. And of course, Nantucket has a tremendous history of wrecks. And wrecking was a big business. So they were both amply employed over the years that they were here.
SCHMID: Yeah, so they would go out and rescue--
MORRIS: They would go out and pull people off or strip a wreck or do whatever had to be done. And I have a contract in the book here which Barrett signed. He was a skipper at the time. And they were to strip one of the wrecks that was--came ashore north of the jetties. Here it is right here. Arthur Barrett was the skipper. That was for the Petrol, and that was for the schooner Sarah and Lucy. Wrecked on the bar near the entrance to the harbor in 1918. And that was just typical of the kind of work they did. Here's the Petrol when she was fold[??] out. Here they are working on one of their weirs. Looks like a shark or a sturgeon or something they've got on board there. She was a pretty vessel--pretty little steamer. And there's the Dionas. That was their-- Oh, here's where the-- This was Commercial Wharf here. And they had a lift that stuck out there, and they used that as the Petrol's landing.
SCHMID: Okay, ____.
MORRIS: An interesting part of Nantucket's past.
MORRIS: Because actually, when whaling gave out-- There you see the Petrol in between Commercial Wharf and-- This is Island Service Wharf back here. And this was taken from Commercial Wharf.
SCHMID: Oh, yeah.
MORRIS: And they-- The fishing, as far as the waterfront was concerned, went from the whaling into the fishing end of it. And there were 47 vessels owned at one time by Nantucketers, or manned by Nantucketers and sailed out of here. It was a big thing. And packing and shipping fish products was something that they did on Steamboat Wharf. There's a picture in here that was taken in 1915 when they still had the railroad, where the whole Gloucester fleet is in the background. And they--packing and shipping was a big thing. Where the heck is that picture? Well, I can't find it.
SCHMID: I think I know the one you mean. You can see the--
MORRIS: It's got the steamer--the railroad steamer right in front, in the foreground.
MORRIS: It's in the book here somewhere. But, of course, the railroad was torn up in 1918. And all the rolling stock and the rails and everything was sent to France--help out with the war. The war was practically over, but that was the end of the railroad. The railroad was never terribly profitable.
MORRIS: And although it ran all the way to Siasconset, they did everything they could to try and attract tourists down here then, too. You know, this was another supplemental income for the islanders in addition to fishing. Recreation, the tourist business, became very important over a period of time. People discovered the charm of Nantucket by-- They barrelled down here to enjoy the bathing and the swimming and the fishing. And the railroad was one of the means that they were thinking about to get people to come down here so they could get to and from Siasconset in a hurry. Siasconset was discovered by a bunch of people from Broadway, so I'm told. And-- Well, I know the picture's in here somewhere.
SCHMID: I think I know the one you mean, Paul.
MORRIS: You know the one I'm talking about?
MORRIS: Yeah, okay.
SCHMID: But that fishing was still pretty lively when you were here? Is that fair?
MORRIS: Fishing was still fairly lively. It was dying out. You had people like Ralph Shurland and Jack McDonald-- Fellows like that, that had boats, and they were good size draggers. And they worked here, and Charlie Ryder. Charlie Ryder, in fact, owned this boat-- The Annie Louise was Charlie Ryder's boat at one time. That's the wharf that--that picture. My dad took this picture that's on the front of Maritime Nantucket. And you can see the-- This is the Robert Joseph that Jack McDonald ran. This-- They used to lay up there like this all the way out. This was the cold pockets out here on the end. And they-- Of course, that was all torn down. And this was the fish market right over here.
SCHMID: Yeah, I noticed in reading--in the book jacket that your father took that. Was he also interested in boating and--
MORRIS: My father and mother followed us down here in 1960. They bought the house up on the corner for $7,500! [Chuckle]
SCHMID: Oh, wow!
And they put another $7,500 in it to fix it up,
but I had no idea they were going to do that. But
they wanted to be around us, and they wanted to
be near their grandchildren, so down they came.
And they bought the house. I'm glad they did. But
Pop always had an off-hand interest in boats. His
main interest was photography. He was an aerial
photographer in the first world war as well as a
flyer. And so his camera was always in action. In
fact he had a dark room in the house up there which
I sorely miss today, because I had to tear it out
when we sold the house. And he took a lot of great
pictures, some of which are still in this book.
I have some pictures of the Mitzie with the family sailing in it. Pop took-- We took him on board, and we went out to-- I think Billy Greeter that was with us that day-- And we decided that we'd go out and have a tour of Nantucket Harbor. So he took those pictures. I'll see if I can find it. It's in here somewhere.
SCHMID: Yeah, I remember that. I remember those from reading the book.
MORRIS: That's Signey. There-- Here, he took this one. That's us. That's my whole family and myself on the Mitzie. And he took this one, too, of Billy Greeter and myself. We were sailing up. This is the Conjurer. That's where she was. That's at the basin. Up here we have the ____. Here-- This is the fish market over here. So it's changed so you wouldn't know the place today. It's altogether different.
SCHMID: Yeah, it is. It's much different. It's hard to recognize.
SCHMID: So, did you-- How did you get into the Wharf Rat Club? Was that Charlie?
Well, Charlie was the commodore then, and Charlie
said, "You got to come down!" He said,
"They're not going to ask you to join."
He said, "You know, the only thing you--way
you can get in the Wharf Rat Club is you come down
and come down often enough and meet the guys and
talk--sit around and shoot the breeze. If they like
you, they'll say, you know, "You're a member."
You get a card in the mail. Well, all of a sudden
I got a card in the mail, and I became a member.
That's the way you get in. And I was a member for
quite a number of years, and then--I used to pick
Charlie up, take him home, as a matter of fact--in
my car. And I drove down and parked in the A&P
parking lot, as many people did, and go over for
a meeting in the morning. And I got on the inside
there for quite a while, as far as the club is concerned
and became part of the official structure.
And then Al Silver came in after Charlie died. He was the assistant commodore, really, the job that Paul Murphy has now. And then when Charlie died he became the commodore. So it was a--just a logical thing, I guess, for me to get in there after a while, because-- They're a nice bunch of people! There's no question about that. Some of the people in there are certainly, in some ways, far removed from boating. We have doctors, lawyers; we have a general; we have an admiral. [Laughter] We have all kinds of people in there--bankers, you name it. One of the fellows is a taxi cab driver. And you just get everybody--carpenters, you know--whatever. And nobody really asks for your credentials when you're down there. You more or less take it on face value. And they sit around and shoot the breeze. It's a nice group. It's a nice group.
I'm glad they finally have the property. They bought the property, so that the club actually owns the area that they're in. And that way they can't get kicked out! [Laughter] Because properties down there, you know, unbelievable!
SCHMID: Yeah, hugely expensive!
MORRIS: Well, Al Silver's responsible for that. He did a good job and pretty much put the whole thing together. And he had help, of course. But it's worked out fairly well. And we're going to go down there next-- What is it, Monday? That's when they're opening up, and that's our next meeting.
SCHMID: Is it still-- Is it pretty informal?
MORRIS: Oh, it's very informal, yeah. There's nothing formal about it at all. And it would be a mistake to try and change that. Some of the fellows who have been in there for awhile worried a little bit about some of the new members coming in--perhaps trying to make changes. People on the island, they were for years leery of change. They didn't want to see anything change. And a lot of the members down there didn't want to see any part of the club change, either. Some of it was necessary as far as the ownership of the club was concerned, but the format of the club is very loose. And there's no accepted methods for running meetings. [Laughter]
SCHMID: Everyone likes it that way, pretty much?
MORRIS: Yeah, it's pretty much the way it should be. That's what most everybody does. They sit around on the porch out there on the dock--on the deck--and watch the steamer come and go and see the yachts coming in and out of the harbor and then talk about who's doing what to who and the politics in the island and stuff like that. So, that's pretty much the way things go down there. It's loose. And that's the way I like it. I don't particularly want to see any of that change.
MORRIS: The membership is pretty large. They have about 100 members--a little over 100 members. And there was a time when it was "the" club to belong to, if you could get into it. [Chuckle]
Right, right. So, when you started doing Scrimshaw,
had you been interested in that as an artist early
on, or was that--
Well, no. Actually I got into that because we needed
to get some income. When we first came to Nantucket,
we tried to run this place as a guest house, and
my wife did not particularly enjoy it. We met some
interesting people here, but she didn't like running
it as a guest house. And the "boatering"
was not, as I say, a going concern as far as making
any great amount of money was concerned. So we started
to think about perhaps doing some carving to make
a little extra money. And that's why we did it.
Signey and I got together-- We met each other in
art school, and we both have art backgrounds. So
there was no problem in carving, as far as that's
concerned. Signey does all the carving today. And
it's been a very important of our income, as far
as our stay on the island is concerned. That's the
basis of our stay here, really, is the ivory carving.
And she's done a very good job with that.
We worked for several different basket makers and several different stores. Sam-- You know, Sylvia's one of our major accounts. And there are a number of others, too--basket makers that we do work with. So, the stores also--so, you know, get us to do stuff, most of which is for baskets, although Signey does jewelry--ivory jewelry, as well--pins and earrings and stuff like that, pendants and stuff, very typical and very specialized stuff. We do whale boards or anything else anybody wants. Don't know whether you saw that one in the room there. I did that years ago for her as a--well, as a present, an anniversary present. But she can duplicate those things just as well. In fact, she uses the patterns that I created to work today. They're the same patterns.
SCHMID: Oh, right!
MORRIS: Exactly the same. You've been in the shop?
SCHMID: Briefly, yeah.
MORRIS: Well, you get a pretty good idea of what we do by looking at that. I wouldn't say we're overrun with customers, but it's a nice thing to have.
MORRIS: So, we do reasonably well for people in our old age. [Chuckle] We're both in our seventies.
SCHMID: Alright, well, I don't really have any other questions, I guess.
MORRIS: Well, there you've got pretty well the story. I have three daughters. Meg is the oldest, then there's Beth, and Cathy. And they all live here on the island. And I have three granddaughters, who happen to be right here on the island right now, although the oldest girl, Carrie, has been away to college. And I've made a lot of mistakes in my life, but coming to Nantucket wasn't one of them! [Laughter]
SCHMID: No regrets?
MORRIS: None whatsoever, no! No, this has been a good place as far as both of us are concerned. Signey's done well here, too. We both have our cemetery lot paid for ____ on the hill. [Laughter]
SCHMID: Alright, well, I guess I'll stop.
[End of Interview]