About ten years ago, my family and I were browsing a touristy roadside flea market in Searsport. As I browsed the booths of books, antiques, and vinyl records, I found a stack of books amid towers of CDs and junk. I gently teased a slim book with gilded edges from the stack. A tattered leather book with colorful flowers and the word “Album” embossed on the cover looked back up at me. I briefly flipped through the album, noting the yellowed blank pages. It looked like it was probably an old scrapbook from the 1970s that someone had failed to use.
Twenty bucks later, I was the proud owner of the worn journal. I gave it little thought until returning home, when I opened the cover to start journaling. I nearly dropped my pen in surprise. Swirling delicate calligraphy graced the title page with the author’s signature: Bertie M. Lowe. So, the journal did have an owner.
It seemed strange that the book would be blank, though. Hurriedly, I flipped through and stopped about three-quarters of the way through. The book wasn’t empty. An entry in a similar, swirling Copperplate font lay in plain view on the page:
“Be sure you are right, then go ahead. Respectfully Yours, S. S. Foster, Deer Isle, Maine. June 6, 1886.”
I flipped through some more, landing on an illustration of a seaside paradise complete with palm trees and a waterfall with the inscription:
“Best wishes are gold coin, mine are thine. Your Cousin. Clara B. Torrey, March 9, 1883.”
“Scud’s compliments to Biddy, John K. Hooper. Franklin, ME.”
Most other entries were by friends and family signed and dated with locations in Maine and Massachusetts. Suddenly, I realized this was probably the best $20 I’d ever spent.
I had to find Bertie. Multitudes of questions bubbled to the surface. Who was she? Where did she spend her days? Who were the other people in the book? And does her family know that they misplaced this family heirloom?
I dove headfirst into researching Bertie on the internet, with little luck. After a while, I put the project on a back burner as I focused on preparing for college and almost forgot about it.
After I landed at UMaine, I often spent my time in the Fogler library to study. Sometimes, I would go to the special collections to research Bertie. I felt like I got a little closer. There were a couple of Alberta Lowes in various census records, but I wasn’t sure which one was my Bertie.
More years passed, and I stowed Bertie’s book in the darkest, driest corners at home to preserve it as long as possible. I eventually wandered into an antique bookstore in Hallowell and shared my journey with the shopkeeper. Within minutes, he’d found Bertie in a Deer Isle census, listed with her siblings and father. I felt a zing of excitement as a piece of the mystery unfolded. I learned the names of her immediate family and that she was a Deer Isle resident.
Alberta “Bertie” M. Lowe was born in Deer Isle in 1860 to the retired Capt. William Parker Lowe and Marietta Torrey. Bertie had four brothers (William P. Jr., Samuel T., George T., and Frank A. Lowe), some of whom were yachtsmen and boatbuilders.
Bertie married Fred Hatch and moved to East Boston, where she had three children: Grace, Robert, and Seth Parker. Fred passed away around 1895 due to “phthisis pulmonalis,” known today as tuberculosis. Bertie ran a boarding house in Boston and eventually remarried into the Watts family. Bertie passed away in 1937.
Last year, I joined the Island Institute Fellows program which placed me in Deer Isle to work with the local after-school program. It felt as if Bertie was calling me home. My advisor urged me to contact the local historical society.
Dropping by the Deer Isle-Stonington Historical Society after work, I picked up a potential lead for a seasonal resident with the same family name. Further searching led me to a hardware company in Rockland with roots in Deer Isle.
After placing an awkward call to Lowe Hardware (how does one explain that you just happened to have someone’s family heirloom?), I connected with the father and son team who own the company, Bill and Elliot Lowe. As it turns out, their family is the last of the Deer Isle Lowes. We’re making plans to meet soon to look at the journal together.
For the last decade, I’ve journeyed on this quest to return the journal to Bertie’s family. Hours of research, numerous phone calls, trips to historical societies and libraries, and I feel tantalizingly close to this story’s end. I hope this book can land somewhere that it will be appreciated and preserved for future generations.
Katie Liberman is an Island Institute Fellow serving on Deer Isle and working with after-school and summer programs.