Our dog, Wrigley, and I have a morning routine while we’re in Green Turtle Cay. Job one, of course, is to satisfy his physical needs. Then, we head down to the dock, so he can check on the boat and evict the seagulls from “his” dock — tasks he takes quite seriously.
Wrigley on Seagull Patrol
One morning, as Wrigley faced off against a pair of stubborn gulls, I stood on the dock, enjoying the cool air. At the sound of strange, wet breathing, I glanced to my left. Twenty feet or so from the dock were two dolphins.
Government Record of Deaths in Abaco September 1932
When the wind died down and the rain subsided, the residents of Green Turtle Cay were relieved that the worst was behind them.
But as they emerged from their battered, flooded shelters, they discovered what misery lay ahead.
Six of their own – George Lewis (85), Thomas Roberts (62), Alice Lowe (58), Insley Sawyer (5) and brothers, DeWees and Bert Lowe, (15 and 2, respectively) – had been fatally wounded. Countless others were injured.
Water from Settlement Creek had surged across the lowest part of town and out into the sea of Abaco, destroying the cemetery and unearthing corpses. (Even today, fragments of grave stones remain on the beach that borders the graveyard.)
There had been talk on Green Turtle Cay about a hurricane, but the only forecasting tools at the time were barometers. And though they were falling, indicating the approach of inclement weather, there was no way to predict where or when the storm would hit, or how serious it might be.
Thick, black storm clouds gathered in the eastern sky on Sunday evening. On Monday, September 5, New Plymouth residents woke to pelting rain and howling winds that intensified throughout the morning.
By afternoon, according to Bahamian meteorologist Wayne Neely in The Great Bahamian Hurricanes of 1899 and 1932, the first known and documented Category 5 hurricane ever to hit the Bahamas was battering Green Turtle Cay.
Sustained winds reached 160 mph, with gusts as high as 200 mph, and a storm surge of 20 feet.
For three days, the storm stalled over the cay, hurling boats and large chunks of debris around like toys. Houses flooded and were smashed. Some fell off their footings. Most collapsed all together.
Forced to abandon their disintegrating homes and peppered with sand, stones and stinging rain, families clung to each other to avoid blowing away as they crawled in search of shelter.
In the few structures that remained intact, the townspeople huddled together, singing hymns to comfort the children and to ward off panic as the settlement was demolished around them. There was no food, no light and but for the few who managed to reach the home of settlement doctor, Walter Kendrick, no aid for the wounded.
Below are two first-hand accounts of the ’32 hurricane – one from my grandmother, Lurey (Curry) Albury and the other from her first-cousin, John Lowe.
It’s unclear whether New Plymouth’s Loyalist settlers had remarkable foresight or just good fortune. Either way, the tiny settlement was well-situated to capitalize on a series of economic opportunities and by the early 1900s, New Plymouth was a vibrant, prosperous town of 1,500 residents. On September 3, 1932, however, these residents had no inkling of the terror and misfortune lurking beyond the horizon.
In the mid-1800s, Green Turtle Cay’s proximity to major shipping lanes east of the Abaco barrier reef made it the wrecking capital of Abaco. At one point, says Steve Dodge in Abaco: The History of an Out Island and its Cays, more than twenty wrecking schooners and forty fishing vessels were based in New Plymouth.
When the U.S. Civil War stifled the trade that necessitated shipping, locals turned to cultivating and exporting pineapples which, by the late 1800s, were the mainstay of New Plymouth’s economy.
Unfortunately, the cay’s soil was soon exhausted, fruit often spoiled due to weather-related shipping delays, and U.S. pineapple imports diminished with that country’s acquisition of Hawaii. But the economic gap created by Green Turtle Cay’s waning pineapple industry was soon filled.
Turns out one of the most memorable performers at the 2013 Island Roots Heritage Festival wasn’t even in the program. On the first day of the festival, Mother Nature made several unannounced – and unwelcome – appearances.
As an opening act, she whipped up a thundering downpour, trapping people indoors and delaying the festival opening by an hour or more.
Then, apparently not satisfied with the havoc she’d wreaked earlier, she resurfaced around dinner time. The eastern sky grew dark and heavy, and the winds picked up. A waterspout began swirling off the east shore of the cay.
Photo by Timothy Roberts
Festival goers took cover in nearby buildings as the funnel barreled toward shore and made landfall as a tornado at the north end of Gillam Bay.
Video by Timothy Roberts
Residents along the bay scrambled for shelter under stairwells and in shower stalls as their homes were pummeled. Though several houses and at least one vehicle sustained serious damage, no major injuries were reported and fortunately, the tornado dissipated before it reached the settlement.
For me, the festival does more than remind me of my grandmother’s stories. It brings them to life.
One way Ma May earned money for the family was by making and selling straw hats. My grandmother and her sisters collected the palm tops, dried and prepared them, and braided the raw strands. Ma May then stitched that “plait” into hats.
Though I’m lucky to have one of the straw hats she made, I never got to see her make them, so I love watching the craftspeople at the festival.
And while it’s now an entertaining festival contest, conch-cleaning was a daily chore for my grandmother. Hard to believe these days, when conchs are so precious, but back in the 1920s, Pa Herman kept them to feed his hogs. Each morning, my grandmother and her sisters would have to break a dozen or more conchs before school.
For a few days each May, tranquil New Plymouth pulses with activity as the Island Roots Heritage Festival takes over the settlement. Originally created to encourage islanders to renew ties with kin in Key West and beyond, today’s festival offers an authentic and entertaining island experience for locals and tourists alike.
Royal Bahamian Defence Force Band Marches Through Town
For visitors, Island Roots is a crash course in local culture. Bahamian artisans display native wood carvings, straw and shell work, fine jewelry and vivid paintings of tropical scenes. Traditional lime-in-spoon races, scavenger hunts, Maypole plaiting, conch-cleaning and conch horn-blowing contests and tug-of-war competitions delight kids of all ages.
Retired museum manager, Mrs. Ivy Roberts, says that while excavating the property’s latrine area, workers uncovered a number of intriguing artifacts. Their discoveries included several tobacco pipes, broken glassware and pottery, children’s toys, an inkwell, a pocket watch – and dozens of liquor bottles.
Turns out that during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the men of Green Turtle Cay, afraid their wives would discover their illicit imbibing, hid the evidence in the one place nobody was likely to look.
These interesting finds were almost enough to inspire us to excavate the site where Fish Hooks’ outhouse once stood. Almost.
As children, my grandmother and her sisters contributed to their household by collecting shells at Gillam Bay on Green Turtle Cay.
“When it was low tide,” my grandmother said, “we used to go out over the sandbanks to get Panamas. They were a pretty kind of shell, with a creature inside. You’d have to boil them to get the creature out, and then you’d sell them for so much a quart.”
It was twilight, a day or two before this year’s Island Roots Heritage Festival was set to begin. Town was quiet and still as I walked our dog, Wrigley, along the Settlement Creek waterfront. But faintly, on the breeze, I heard drums. And cowbells.
I tracked the sound west, past the ferry dock and Curry’s Food Store. The music grew louder as I passed Settlement Point and the freight dock. As I rounded the corner by Sundowners, I came upon this.
In case you don’t recognize the music, these are Junkanoo musicians, practicing for their performance at that weekend’s festival. I’ll post more about the Island Roots Heritage Festival (and Junkanoo) soon. Meanwhile, enjoy this sneak preview.
My Great-Grandmother “Ma May” Marion Mayfield (Gates) Curry 1902-1984
Last Tuesday evening, I watched a terrific TV show on TLC called Who Do You Think You Are. It’s not a new program, but somehow, I’ve missed it before now.
Each one-hour episode features a celebrity who’s interested in learning more about his or her family history. Featured celebrities travel around the U.S. (and in some cases, internationally) meeting with historians, visiting libraries, local archives, museums and cemeteries, and retracing the lives of their ancestors through birth, death and marriage records, newspaper archives, court documents, military service records, etc.
Though I found much to like about this show, two concepts in particular resonated with me, probably because I’ve found them to be true in my own genealogical research.
First, address one question at a time. Rather than taking a shotgun approach, the celebrities on this program seek to answer one specific query or research one particular ancestor. Christina Applegate wanted to learn more about her paternal grandmother, while Kelly Clarkson focused on her great-great-great-grandfather.
It was a month ago today that I took a deep breath and clicked the button that made Little House By The Ferry visible to the public. Since then, the blog has had more than 2,000 site visitors and 5,100+ page views, and I’ve received some very kind comments and lovely notes. As you can probably tell, Green Turtle Cay and Fish Hooks hold special places in my heart, and I love being able to share them with others.
A warm thank you to everyone who’s taken the time to visit, comment on or follow the blog. Your readership and feedback are much appreciated. I look forward to sharing more of our Green Turtle Cay adventures with you in the days ahead.
Each time I visit Green Turtle Cay’s Albert Lowe Museum, I uncover something I previously missed (like this photo), or I discover some recently added treasure. During my most recent visit, I found an entire new exhibition to explore.
To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Bahamian independence, the museum has assembled an extensive collection of photographs documenting key cultural events on Green Turtle Cay during the past four decades.
Recently, I spent a morning exploring the attic at Fish Hooks. Though my expedition revealed little of material worth, it uncovered many items that, in terms of family history, are priceless.
The attic (site of our future master bedroom)
I found at least four bed frames (reminders that this cozy cottage once housed a family of five), and a dining table and several other small tables that I’m told were hand-made by Pa Herman and my grandfather, Lionel Albury.
While I don’t know the origin of the wooden dining chairs I discovered, I do recall them from my childhood visits, and old photos show they’ve been in the family for nearly 70 years.
There’s a suitcase stuffed with sheets, towels and curtains, and though most are yellowed and crumbling, I’m hoping a few pieces may be salvageable.
Beneath a mismatched assortment of plates, cups and glasses, I came across a lovely (and seemingly complete) set of vintage Grindley English china.
I found a weathered old cutting board and rusty scales, likely used by Pa Herman to clean and weigh the fish he sold. And the collection of tools I discovered – saws, a hammer, a pick axe, a wood plane – were no doubt used to build this house.
Pa Herman’s scales
Among my favourite finds were a battered, dog-eared children’s “West Indian Reader,” twenty-five years’ worth of electric bill receipts dating back to the 1950s, and what I imagine was Ma May’s version of a junk drawer – a soup tureen filled with the miscellany of life: a single marble, half a dozen rusty keys, light bulbs, loose buttons, bobby pins, a red plastic toy rabbit and (no surprise) tiny weights and fish hooks.
West Indian Reader
Decades’ worth of electric receipts.
I couldn’t help but smile at the dozens of greeting cards sent to Pa Herman and Ma May by their children and, later, their grandchildren. Such simple and universal items, but sweet reminders of those who lived in and loved this house before us.
Greeting cards from the 1940s and 1950s.
Many of my attic discoveries are worn, rusted or beyond use. These, we’ll restore and display or donate to the Albert Lowe Museum.
Happily, other items, like the bed frames and Pa Herman’s tables, can definitely be reused. There’s a set of gorgeous mahogany bedposts that I hope we can incorporate into a four-poster bed, and a wooden settee which, with some spiffy new cushions, will fit perfectly in Fish Hooks’ tiny living room. Once repaired, those ancient wood dining chairs will find new life in our kitchen, and the galvanized buckets in which we kids used to bathe before the house had running water might make pretty planters or perhaps ice buckets.
But the slop buckets we used rather than trekking to the outhouse in the middle of the night? Those I can gladly live without.
Not long before she passed away, my grandmother, Lurey Albury, gave me this photograph. I recognized her in the picture, of course, and her sister, Virginia, but as time went on, I grew more curious about the group and the other ladies in it.
Once again, my generous and trusty sources came through. Shirley Roberts, Floyd Lowe, Joy Lowe Jossi and Joy’s sister-in-law, Betty Lowe, helped identify all the faces (including my grandmother’s youngest sister, Belle, whom I’d never have recognized.) Betty – who’s actually in the photo – provided details about the group.
Several members of my extended family are enthusiastic and successful gardeners. Me? I’m no expert on growing things but I love flowers, particularly tropical varieties, and I’ve developed a bit of an obsession with photographing them.
Marion Mayfield “May” Curry
Turns out we may all have inherited our interest in gardens and gardening from my great-grandmother. According to my cousin, Alton Lowe, Ma May had a passion for growing things, and her garden was one of the most beautiful on Green Turtle Cay. Any time you passed, Alton says, you’d see her outside, tending her plants.
Along with roses and carnations, Ma May grew fragrant gardenias, several types of jasmine, pomegranates and grapes. She even introduced shrimp flowers to the island.
That she was able to keep such a lush garden surprised me, given how rocky the yard is at Fish Hooks. But apparently the hard ground was no match for my great-grandmother. She simply cut holes in the rock and filled them with soil.
Having spent much of my childhood in Nassau surrounded by hotels, cruise ships, duty-free shops and sunburned foreigners, I’m not keen on touristy things. I have zero desire to parasail, jet ski, have my hair braided or shop for made-in-China souvenirs. With apologies to the organizers, and those who wouldn’t dream of missing it, I’d rather be stranded naked in a swarm of jellyfish than attend the Stranded Naked beach party.
During our recent trip to Green Turtle Cay, I wanted to do something different for Tom’s birthday. Several friends suggested a day trip with local guide Lincoln Jones, and though I secretly suspected it might end up being a rum-soaked, reggae-blasting booze cruise (nothing wrong with that – just not my thing), I decided to give it a try.
Turns out – and my husband will love this – I couldn’t have been more wrong. The day was lovely and low-key, and, given that boating, fishing and beach cookouts are practically built into the Bahamian DNA, as authentically native as it gets.
The entire day evoked fond memories for me: conch diving with my cousins in Hope Town, hand-line fishing from the seawall opposite Fish Hooks, Sunday beach picnics and public holiday cookouts with my extended family in Nassau.
Lincoln collected us from our cottage around 9:30 am. In addition to Tom and me, there were three other guests. We headed north in the Sea of Abaco before veering right between Munjack and Ambergris Cays and into the Atlantic.
Fifteen or so minutes out, Lincoln shifted the boat into neutral and tossed a line overboard. When he landed a mutton fish in less than a minute, we dropped anchor and baited the remaining lines. Despite competing with a shark and a barracuda, both intent on stealing our fish before we could reel them in, we had a productive morning.
Shortly past noon, with the cooler stocked with yellow tails, snappers, grunts and mutton fish, we puttered into the clear shallows at the north end of Munjack Cay. A welcoming committee of young sharks trailed casually behind.
The braver souls, including my husband, hopped overboard off the stern. The saner members of the group waited for the crunch of the hull on sand before scrambling over the bow and onto dry land.
While we explored “Lincoln Park,” our captain retrieved a giant cast-iron skillet from the bushes and kindled a fire. He mixed a batch of Goombay Smashes (a pineapple-based rum drink invented on Green Turtle Cay), cleaned and floured much of the morning’s catch, sliced and seasoned potatoes and set out a fresh salad.
Before long, the six of us were gathered at two weathered picnic tables, enjoying our fresh-from-the-sea lunch.
It was great to get to know Lincoln – turns out that as kids, he and his brother used to go fishing with my two uncles when they’d come to Green Turtle Cay on school holidays.
The other guests – a married couple, both psychologists, and a country music publicist – were interesting and intelligent and much fascinating conversation and laughter ensued.
It felt so much like the family outings of my childhood, I could almost hear my dad and uncles debating politics, and my grandmother warning we’d get cramps for swimming so soon after eating.
Not that we swam after lunch. Once we were done, Lincoln marched a pan of fish carcasses down to the water. A dozen or so small sharks swam lazy circles in the shallows. Lincoln tossed in a fish head and the sharks darted simultaneously toward it. Two stingrays hung back, waiting for the sharks to clear out before gliding in to nibble the leftovers.
Truth be told, getting up close and personal with rays and sharks isn’t typically Bahamian, but perhaps more locals would take conservation seriously if they could experience these amazing creatures up close.
After a few minutes, I was more fascinated by the sharks than scared of them, and by the time we were leaving, I was comfortable enough to wade out into the water to board the boat.
Of the many things I enjoyed about our day with Lincoln, one of the best was sharing it with the foreigners in the group, all of whom seemed to really enjoy the trip. It was terrific to see tourists have the opportunity to experience the real Bahamas, rather than some generic, manufactured facsimile.
“Lift up your head to the rising sun, Bahamaland.” Thus begins the Bahamian national anthem, first sung 40 years ago today by the 50,000 or so Bahamians who gathered in Nassau’s Clifford Park to celebrate their country’s independence from Britain.
At one minute to midnight on July 9, 1973, the Union Jack was lowered for the last time. One minute past midnight on July 10, a new Bahamian flag, black, turquoise and yellow, was raised and the celebrations continued past sunrise.
To commemorate the dawning of that first Bahamian Independence Day, a few of my favourite Bahamian sunrises.