Lubec, Maine. Grammy (Elizabeth Keegan Rier), three of her daughters, and two sisters.
Pictured above L to R: Patricia Rier, Marion Rier, Grammy, Carollee Rier Dinsmore, Mary Keegan Foley, Teresa Keegan.
Lubec, Maine. Grammy (Elizabeth Keegan Rier), three of her daughters, and two sisters.
If you look carefully, you will see the sign below the shuttered windows upstairs on the right. Miss Means was my grandmother Harriet Means Johnson. Photo courtesy of Michael Hoyt.
A close up of the sign.
There is a woman in the upstairs windows on the left. She is not my grandmother. I expect the upstairs was divided – or perhaps she is a parent waiting for a child to finish their piano lesson.
This is the first photograph I have seen of Harriet’s studio in Machias, Maine. Before today, I did not know the location of her studio above the Machias Lumber Company on Main Street. The building is still there.
Harriet studied piano under the renowned Frederick Mariner who had a summer home on the Penobscot River. Mariner’s studio was in NYC but he accepted gifted students at the Bangor Piano School.
Harriet Putnam Means 1906: Graduation from Bangor Piano School
Later Harriet moved to Bangor, opened a piano studio there, then eloped with Ezekiel “Zeke” Johnson in February of 1908 – without telling her parents.
Read the Harriet stories, gleaned from her 1908 letters, here.
My grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier, worked in the sardine industry in Lubec most of her life beginning in the early 1900s into the 1970s. According to my Uncle Barney, she left school in Trescott at age 13 and went to work in the Lubec sardine “camps.” She, and many other women from Lubec, have fond memories of their work in the sardine factory. Grammy Rier always said, it was work, but yet, a very social event for the women and a friendly competition every day.
The following is an excerpt from the book 200 Hundred Years of Lubec History, 1776 – 1976 by Ryerson and Johnson, published by the Lubec Historical Society. It is a great reference book to learn more about my family history and can be found at the Lubec Memorial Library.
The last page of this history “Yesterdays Sardine Factory – Today” was written by my Uncle Barney who established a Sardine Museum in Lubec after he retired, which he opened when he felt like it, but mostly he collected and worked on antiques and old machinery.
“We are the storytellers– called by our ancestors. In each family there is one who seems called to find the ancestors. To put flesh on their bones and make them live again, to tell the family story and to feel that somehow they know and approve. Doing genealogy is not a cold gathering of facts […]
My paternal grandmother, Elizabeth Keegan Rier was born in Trescott, Maine, September 15th, 1892. I never knew the names of her father and mother except to know that her maiden name was Keegan. Grammy told me that her mother died when she was about four years old and she had no memory of her. I could not imagine what it would be like to lose your mother as a little girl, and wondered how her father had raised her. I never knew the name of all of Grammy’s siblings. She talked about two sisters, Mary who lived in Leominster, Massachusetts, and Theresa, who lived in Boston.
According to the 1910 census, one Keegan family lived in Trescott. James Keegan was the head of household, had four daughters and one son who lived with him, but had no wife. Two daughters matched the names of Grammy’s sisters, Theresa (spelled Tresa in the census) and Mary. The son was named James E which may be James Eugene, my father’s name.
Where is Grammy? She would have been 17 or 18 years of age at the time. Grammy told me that she had only completed school through the third grade as she criticized her own penmanship writing letters. Her writing was meticulous, but I sensed that Grammy was self conscious about her lack of education. My Uncle Barney said that Grammy went to work in the Lubec sardine industry as a young girl to help support the family. I searched the 1910 Lubec census and found Lizzie Keegan (her nickname) age 17. She is listed as a domestic servant in the household of Henry and Ella Godfrey at 18 Summer Street, Lubec. There are two boarders and another domestic servant in this home. In 1910, Grammy was working for a family and lived in Lubec. She probably worked in the sardine industry too, work she enjoyed into her 80s.
I note that the eldest daughter of James Keegan, Winnefred, age 23, is listed in both the Trescott and Lubec census. Winnefred was a domestic servant in another Lubec household, the Trecartin family.
I don’t know why Grammy never talked about her brother and sisters, except Theresa and Mary. Perhaps they moved away and she was disconnected from them or they died before I was born and didn’t hear their stories. My father is likely named for her one brother. Her sister Katherine is listed as the same age as Grammy but I doubt they were twins or I would have heard about it, perhaps they were only a year apart, and Grammy turned 18 in September of 1910 after the census.
I searched for the burial site of James Keegan and found his grave at the Chapel Hill Cemetery in Trescott. He was born in 1847 and died in 1927 at the age of 80. He is the son of James Keegan, my great great grandfather who first came to Trescott from Ireland.
From his gravestone, I learned the name of his wife, my great grandmother, Margaret Murray Keegan, date of death 1897. Their eldest daughter, Winnefred died in 1918 at the age of 31, was buried with her parents. It was the year of the great flu pandemic that killed millions of people worldwide, but I do not know if flu was the cause of her death.
Now I must document my Keegan ancestors using vital records. I found Grammy Rier’s birth certificate although she was not yet named. This verifies that she is indeed the 5th child of James and Maggie Keegan, born September 15th, 1892 in Trescott, Maine. James Keegan’s occupation was farmer. I’ll bet he had a fine Irish root cellar in his home.
I found the death certificate for Maggie (Margaret) Keegan. She died May 21, 1896 at age 38. Cause of death: Pneumonia/Bronchitis. Place of birth: St John, New Brunswick. Gravestones and websites are not always correct.
Grammy Rier lived with us in Machias at the home of my maternal great grandparents every winter when I was growing up. She taught me how to knit mittens when I was barely 10 years old. I can still smell her bread, hot from the oven. Her bedroom was at the end of the hall, close to mine. As I drifted off to sleep, Grammy whispered the rosary, kneeling beside her bed. “If you don’t finish the rosary and drift off to sleep, the angels will finish for you,” she told me.
Grammy died in April 21st of 1985 in Lubec at the home of her son Barney and his wife Rebecca, just months from her 94th birthday. I still miss her.
I celebrate her life.
The Early Years: 1920 – 1942
Mom was born January 19, 1920 in Machias, Maine, the third child and only daughter of Ezekiel and Harriet Means Johnson. She had two elder brothers: Warren, born in 1908, and Robert, born in 1918.
She was a towheaded toddler who explored the outdoors in a sweater and boots. The back of the photo reads:
Mom loved to play in her grandparent’s barn at the house at 24 Broadway. One day, she romped with her brother Bob and cousin Charlie on the upper floor where the hay was stored. While big brother Warren stacked hay, Mom got carried away, forgot about the hole to throw hay down to the horses, and fell through to the lower barn. When she told the story to me over 30 years later, she vividly recalled her surprise descent but didn’t get hurt. There was soft hay below to catch her. She remembered that Grandmother Nellie was not pleased.
Mom entered first grade at age four. I asked her why she started school so young. She told me that her brother Bob was entering school that year and her mother thought it best to send them together.
This photo of the first grade class at Hemingway School is kindly provided by Irene Vose Robinson. Mom is in the back row, 5th from the left, the little girl with the hat. She is beside Irene (on her left). Mom’s brother Bob is in the front row, 3d from the right.
Mom and Bob graduated from Machias High School together in 1936. Mom had an Italian boyfriend, Giouvanucci. Her mother did not like him much but didn’t interfere.
“He had the most gorgeous Chrysler car. We used to ride all over the place,” Mom said. From her grin, I knew the guy was as gorgeous as his car. Mom had an Italian boyfriend? In Machias? Now that was news. More investigation of old photo albums revealed that this intriguing boyfriend was the brother of Mom’s close friend Sue.
After graduation from High School, Mom got a job at the Washington County Court House in the Registry of Deeds office and lived with her mother who taught piano lessons. Soon, Mom met my father, James Eugene Rier, one day in downtown Machias. Dad said he knew she would be his wife the first time he saw her. I asked him how he knew he had found his true love.
“When I first laid eyes on her that day, I tingled. All over. All the way to my toes,” he replied with a twinkle in his eye. Dad always had that Lubec sense of humor.
In 1937, Harriet inherited the house at 24 Broadway after her mother, Nellie died in December the previous year. She and my mother could not afford to heat the house, in spite of their combined incomes. They moved to Portland that year and rented rooms at the boarding house of a friend at 15 Bolton Street. Mom snagged employment as a administrative assistant for a prominent lawyer, Albert Knudsen. She loved the work. As Mom turned the pages of the old album and showed me the news articles on Knudsen, she said fondly, “He was so intelligent. A good man. I learned so much from him.”
Harriet and friends 1939. Her family, my father and his sister gathered there too.
L to R. Standing. Evelyn Rier (Dad’s sister), Lillian Johnson (wife of Warren), Dad, Harriet, Bob. Kneeling. Warren Johnson (Mom’s eldest brother) and son Billy.
For Mom, there was time for horseback riding. She became an enthusiast, joined a club in Portland, and made many friends there.
In 1939, Mom and her mother traveled to the World’s Fair in NYC. Dad was their escort. Or perhaps Harriet was Mom and Dad’s escort? Most of one family scrapbook is dedicated to the sights they saw and the memories they made there.
Dad took a photo of the two of them in front of a warped mirror…
One of the highlights was the precision formation flying exhibitions. Dad was entranced. Then and there he decided to become a pilot. That dream would be fulfilled. In 1942, he joined the US Army Air Corp, went to boot camp in Texas, was assigned to Stewart Field in Newburgh, NY, and trained as a flight instructor. Mom was still living and working in Portland. They decided to marry.
BANGOR PIANO SCHOOL
A SCHOOL OF PUBLIC PERFORMANCE
FREDERICK MARINER, Director
Bangor, Maine Mch. 13, 1905
Miss Harriet P. Means
My dear Miss Means,
It may be a help to you in your teaching work if I write you these few lines, in a way an unsolicited testimonial to your advancement under my instruction during the past few months.
I found you ever a most painstaking and careful student and your progress was marked, and very pleasing to me, you instructor.
I am sure that in the work you have gone over with me and in its application to pupils you are most competent to instruct others and after sufficient experience in this particular time of your musical development will not only be pleased with your own work but will find your class of pupils and their parents must [be] appreciative of your efforts and the good results obtained from your systematic instruction.
Wishing you all success. I am ever
Yours very truly
Mariner included a newspaper article with his unsolicited reference letter, as my grandmother Harriet formally begins her career as a pianist. It is rather tattered now, 106 years later. She graduated from Bangor Piano School in 1905 and became an instructor under the renowned Frederick Mariner who had a summer home on the Penobscot River. Mariner’s studio was in NYC but he accepted gifted students at the Bangor Piano School.
The Bangor Piano School was located in The Morse Oliver building at the corner of Exchange and State Streets. It was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1911.
“Unquestionably the worst disaster to strike the Queen City, the Great Fire of 1911 reshaped the city’s landscape, burning 55 acres, destroying 267 buildings, damaging 100 more and causing $3,188,081.90 in losses and damage. The conflagration left 75 families homeless, most of whom had lived from Harlow Street to Center Street to lower French Street. It destroyed more than 100 businesses during a nine-hour span.”
The Music Scene in Bangor, Maine 1907. Published in The Musical Courier, Volume 54, Column two.
Music in Maine
January 21, 1917
“Bangor Music teachers resumed teaching January 7, the date of the reopening of public schools. Mrs. ET Wasgatt who might be styled the dean of vocal instructors in the city, spent several weeks in Boston, enjoying rest and inspiration thereby.
Harriet Means, instructor at the Mariner Studios, spent her vacation at her home in Machias.
The regular Thursday recitals were resumed at the Bangor Piano School January 10, with a program of nine numbers, three of which were vocal the entire class singing, with different pupils accompanying at the piano. This feature has been lately introduced to promote broader musical culture to fit pupils for playing accompaniments when called upon by Mrs. Tilton in the public schools. Graded material is used, so that pupils of all ages can have this training. After this part of the program was completed the director presented in condensed form the story of the leading events of the early life of Beethoven….”
Original Letter from Frederick Mariner to Harriet Means