Published 7 March 1938 in the Bangor Daily News of Bangor, Maine

 

Henry Buxton says..

Eben B. Hodgkins of Trenton Still Studying at 93

_______________

 

Former Teacher, Self-Educated, Mastered Spanish at 85.

________________________

 

After spending two intensely interesting hours with Eben B. Hodgkins, 93, of Trenton I became an advocate of the theory that at some future time the span of human life will be increased to such an extent that human efficiency will be at its peak around the century mark.

  At the age of 93 Eben B. Hodgkins is nothing short of a marvel.  He is as active physically and mentally as the average man of 50, and his capacity for learning is comparable to that of a bright student just beginning his college career.  At the age of 85 he mastered Spanish to the extent that he not only reads and writes the language but speaks it fluently.  At 93 he is writing hymns and poems, and making research into astronomy and higher mathematics.  He also whittles out ship models and makes house furniture.

  I grasped something of this man's genius and versatility as a carver when he showed me replicas of magnified snow flakes, carved in wood.  He has reproduced the exquisite lace-like patterns of the flakes with artistic fidelity and understanding.

  An amazing thirst for knowledge has inspired this man since 83 years ago when at the age of 10 he went fishing on his father's fishing schooner, the pinky Trenton, to the Bay of Fundy.  With the advantage of only a few terms of school, this boy was faced with the necessity of picking up an education without instruction.

  Buying some text books on astronomy, algebra, arithmetic and geography for two cents a pound at a waste paper junk shop in Rockland, the boy Hodgkins studied by the uncertain light of a whale oil lamp during the dull hours of fishing in the Bay of Fundy.  Later, he managed to get in a term at the Bucksport seminary, and another at East Corinth academy.  With this as a foundation, Mr. Hodgkins began a teaching career at the age of 19 and taught school for 48 years.  These years of teaching included 560 terms of high school.  He taught three generations of pupils in Trenton and vicinity, and built up a wide reputation in Maine as an educator of unusual force and ability.  During summer vacations he went fishing to the Grand Banks, clerked in hotels, and did other jobs to earn money while the schools were closed.

FOUGHT FOR EDUCATION

  This remarkable man's unquenchable thirst for knowledge put me in mind of the hardships suffered by Lincoln in his early struggle to obtain an education.

  A model carved by Mr. Hodgkins of the Trenton, he regards almost in the light of a shrine, for it was in the cabin of that ancient vessel that he worked tirelessly to pick up the rudiments of an education.  And as he told me about it I could almost see the schooner classroom of the boy Hodgkins at anchor on the rocking fishing grounds of this Bay of Fundy.  In my imagination I could see him bending over his books in the flickering light of the whale oil lamp, with wind whistling through the rigging and waves dashing against the hull of the vessel.  Usually the weather was rough when he studied, for on fair days every hand aboard was expected to be in a dory catching cod.

  The life of this retired educator, poet, hymn composer, and carver, provides a fascinating cross section of Maine’s seacoast history during the past 80 or 90 years.  It takes one back to the days before the coming of the railroad to Ellsworth, and when there were no regular steamship lines to the seacoast of northern Maine.  Much of the traveling was done in schooners.

  Mr. Hodgkins was born February 23, 1845, in Marlboro, which two years ago was annexed to the town of Lamoine.  He was the son of Captain William E. Hodgkins, a fisherman and coasterman.

FATHER WAS FISHERMAN

  “Father,” said Mr. Hodgkins, “began fishing in the Bay of Fundy 100 years ago, and he kept at it for 24 years.  That was before Maine fishermen paid much attention to the Grand Banks.  The railroad hadn’t arrived at Ellsworth, and things were very primitive along the coast.  Father owned four pink schooners, the Rival, the Splendid, the Trenton, and the Maine.  He went fishing to the Bay of Fundy six weeks before haying time, and at the end of the six weeks would return to the Marlboro farm, harvest hay, and dry his fish.  Then he would sail back to the Bay of Fundy for another six weeks of fishing.  In the fall he would load his pink with dried fish and sail to Boston, where he would exchange the fish for groceries and other necessities.  It was mostly barter and exchange in those days.  There was very little actual money in circulation.  Maine had not yet been thought of as a summer resort.  Bar Harbor was just a fishing hamlet and was known as Eden.

  “Father had nine children, six girls and three boys, and I was the oldest of the boys.  I have one brother living, Charles W. Hodgkins of Ellsworth, who is 81.  Being the oldest boy, I had to start to work early to help father, and at the age of 10 I went aboard the Trenton.  At that time I had had only two terms of school.  That pink was practically my only alma mater.

  “One day while my father was [at] Lewis wharf in Rockland I saw a lot of waste paper and old books, stacked up in the basement of a warehouse.  I bought some of these books from the junk dealer at the rate of two cents a pound, and included among them were text books on astronomy.  I shall never forget the fascinating hours I spent aboard the Trenton delving into the mysteries of the heavens. Since then I have had a passion for astronomical research.

FISHED ON GRAND BANKS

  “I made two trips to the Bay of Fundy on the Trenton and later spent five summers fishing off the Grand Banks.  I made my first voyage on the schooner H. S. Boynton, skippered by Captain Hazen Jordan, and the next season signed articles on the schooner Charles A. Ropes, commanded by Captain Isaac Bowden.  Twice off the Banks, Captain Bowden had vessels sunk under him, and each time was picked up by an English ship and carried to Liverpool.

  “Other schooners on which I voyaged to the Banks were the E. H. King, skippered by Captain James Bunker and the Irving Leslie, commanded by Captain Haggerty.  It was while serving as a hand on the Irving Leslie that I experienced my first bad hurricane.  We had just anchored when the hurricane tore down on us, ripped away ou[r] three-cornered trysail, smashed our booby hatch, and stove in three of our [hatches]. The cabin filled up with water, and most of us sought refuge in the rigging.  Sea after sea rolled over our decks, and most of the time the storm lasted only our masts were above water.  None of us expected to come through the ordeal alive.  The storm lasted from Saturday to Monday, when it died out.  It was during this same hurricane that the vessel of Captain Door of Bucksport was lost with all hands.

  “Another time while we were hove to in a gale under a foresail somebody saw an oar sticking out of the water some distance away.  On the crest of the next big sea we saw a dory, and sure enough an oar stood upright in the boat.  Lying in the bottom of the boat were two men who belonged to the French trawling fleet.  One of them had just strength enough left to hold the oar upright in the home of attracting our attention.  They had been adrift four days and nights in the dory without food or water, and their hands were swelled up like boxing gloves.  I took charge of them and fed them sparingly, and a few days later we returned them to their vessel.

  “At that time 13 vessels owned in Lamoine fished off the Grand Banks, and on one trip we brought in 200,000 pounds of fish, a big haul in those days.

SELF-EDUCATED TEACHER AT 19

  “At the age of 18 I put in a term at Bucksport seminary, and another at the East Corinth academy, and I taught my first term of school at the age of 19 at Sunshine, Deer Isle.  After that I taught here in Trenton, and one of my pupils was Miss Florence M. Davis, who later was to become my wife.  I boarded with her parents.

  “At the age of 93 I am still studying, writing and whittling.  I am interested in anything educational, and if I live to be over a hundred shall never be too old to learn.  I picked up algebra, geometry and astronomy myself, and in teaching astronomy made many of my own instruments.  I also learned Latin and French without help from anybody, and at 85 learned to read, write and speak Spanish.  Recently I wrote a four page letter in Spanish to my nieces in California.  A little while ago I wrote the Lord’s Prayer in Spanish, and have just completed a treatise entitled, ‘My Philosophy of Life.’  I am now writing hymns and poetry.

  “I have always been interested in carpentry, cabinet making and carving.  At the age of 91 I made all the furniture for my sun-porch, including two couches with 40 spiral springs.”

  “To what do you attribute your longevity and mental activity?” I asked.

  “I have never used tobacco or rum,” he replied, “nor have I ever danced or gambled.  I have faithfully observed every know[n] hygienic law, and I have always been careful about my diet.”

  “At 93 how do you view the world today?”  I inquired.

  “In one way,” he replied, “the world is degenerating, and in another it is showing improvement.  We have murders, kidnapping and cruel wars, but on the other hand we have improvement in hygienics, hospitalization and the care of children.”

  Mr. Hodgkins has seven living children.  They are Miss Susan F. Hodgkins, Eben N. Hodgkins, Mrs. Florence B. Moore, and James R. Hodgkins, all of Trenton; Ernest L. Hodgkins of Dixmont; and Almon B. Hodgkins and Mrs. Myra E. Bowden of Bar Harbor.

-end-