Penguins Are Penguins




We all know about Star Island Pelicans but did you know there’s another kind of bird that inhabits the island? Penguins, as the senior staff used to be called, are a tough old breed of bird that was known to migrate to the island during summer months. Their main habitat was the 3rd floor Atlantic. In recent years there has been less distinction between the older island staff and their younger Pelican peers and the Penguin title has all but fallen out of use; except among the ranks of former Penguins.


Twice a year they flock together to revive old friendships and remember. Diana Sterling, Island Registrar from 1986-89, hosts the Penguin gatherings at her horse farm in Goffstown, NH. One such gathering of former staff and volunteers took place over Columbus Day weekend and included Dave and Edith Pierson, Albert and Edith Doolittle, Carol Allen, Allison Brayton, and other beloved friends. A typical Penguin reunion includes a potluck lunch, walks or skiing in the woods, and trips to the barn to snoop among the treasures in the Sterling’s ongoing book and barn sale. In the summer we celebrate Christmas with a Yankee Swap around the same time as Pelican Christmas. (Although, this year, time got away from us and Christmas was celebrated in October.)


But mostly it’s a chance to get together around the wood stove and share news of the day and memories of days gone by. Many Penguins started out as Pelicans. Allison and Carol were waitresses in the 1930s, when only women waited tables and staff got no days off and no showers all summer. The waitresses wore black uniforms, black stockings and shoes with starched white collars, cuffs and aprons. For banquet night and Sunday dinner the uniform was all white. The girls were responsible for hand washing and ironing their uniforms, which they dried on bushes or on the rocks. Tables were set with linen cloths and napkins, that were changed mid week. (Conferees maintained the same seats all week long and reused their napkins. If a place setting got too messy Allison remembered covering it up with a napkin until the next linen change). The current dish room was where the girls hand washed all the glasses and flatware used by their conferee tables in big wooden sinks. For each meal the waitresses pulled buckets of water from the front lawn well to fill their tables’ drinking water pitchers. Speaking of water, Carol also remembered a buzzer system in the guest rooms whereby a guest could ring once for bellhop service, twice for fresh water. There was also a code to ring for salt water because, in those days the “old ladies” didn’t swim but liked to sponge bathe in salt water to get the feel of it.


They remember working hard, but also boat trips across the harbor and laughing all summer long with friends. Some things never change.





The recent serious consequences of the lightning strike that knocked out the fireboard got me thinking about a while ago and a less serious consequence of increased fire safety. Back in 1986, when I was head of Paint Crew, the island increased its fire training for the maintenance staff. We were the first line of defense against any possible fires and, to strengthen that defense, a professional fire fighter was brought out from the mainland to train the maintenance staff. In addition to learning cool lingo like APWs (air pressurized water extinguisher) we got hands-on training in extinguishing actual fires. It was an intense and valuable two days of training.


In true Pelican fashion, we learned and then we had fun. The maintenance crew decided that, if we were the island fire fighters, then it only made sense to have a firefighter’s ball. We picked a Saturday night, one week after Pelican Christmas and began planning the ball. Esther Kennedy was head of Truck Crew that year and she deduced that since three of the maintenance crews were headed by women (Ruth Ewing was head Carpenter) we ought to form a ladies’ auxiliary of the firefighters. Several of us got together and made a quilt for the auxiliary to auction at the ball with an appliqué of an APW on the front. The ball was held in the Art Barn and the lucky winner of the quilt brought it to college and proudly used it on her dorm bed. The firefighters ball eventually evolved into the Pelican’s New Year’s Eve party.