the legend of harry meyers

horace beck (1997)in september of 1998, by a fire in his wooded retreat in the green mountains of vermont, horace beck (right) told matt bonner the story of harry meyers over a glass of cockspur rum. the DAT recorder was running. this is the unabridged tale he told, excerpts of which appear throughout gauge:

Years ago, before a young man got married but after he became engaged, certainly in New England, they would go off somewhere and seek their fortune. Sometimes they might be gone for a month, maybe a year, in some cases - especially if they went to seek their fortune on the whale ships - they'd be gone six or seven years. And they'd come back, and the girl would patiently wait, and they would be married, and things would go on from there. Sometimes of course, they never did come back. They might drown or they might find another girl or something and stay away.

And there's a story that's almost unbelievable told about a man named Harry Meyers. Harry was a young man, and he became engaged to a girl on Vinylhaven Island named Delia Orcutt. And after they became engaged, he decided to go to sea, and see if he could pick up a little money for the marriage, for the wedding. And he got on a vessel loaded with - a three masted vessel - it was loaded with lumber, and they set out from Maine in the wintertime to go to the West Indies. And it was a very unfortunate time to set sail, because the vessel ran into the famous Gale of '98, which sank so many vessels and wrecked the steamer Portland and so on. And the schooner got in big trouble, and Harry was washed overboard. And at the same time, the cargo shifted, the deck load shifted, and the vessel went on her beam's end, and the lashings that held the deck cargo down parted, and somehow or other all the lumber went overboard, and somehow or other Harry managed to get on some of these logs.

He was somewhere down off Cape Cod - nobody knows exactly just where - and he was in the water for a long time, and finally he was picked up just about at the end of his string by a Brazilian vessel bound for Rio. And when he came to, he didn't have a clue where he was. He didn't have a clue who he was. He didn't have a clue of anything. He was in a hospital in Rio De Janeiro with a severe case of amnesia. And he learned down there to speak Portuguese, and then he learned to speak English again and learned the seafaring trade all over, became a navigator and worked his way over to Australia, where he became a Captain. And he worked on trading vessels in the Pacific.

And World War II came along, and he was still suffering from amnesia. And he was bound in for Sydney, I believe it was, and he was torpedoed. And again he was blown overboard, and he floated around, and some vessel picked him up and brought him to port. When he came to, he had no memory of the time of his life from the time he had been washed overboard in the Gale of '98 till the time he'd been torpedoed in 1942. He remembered that he was going to marry Delia Orcutt from Vinyl Haven Island and he thought it would be a good time to try and get home*.

So after the war was over he managed to get back to New York and he got on this steamer which ran then, and he went up the coast of Maine, and he went over to Vinylhaven and no one had ever heard of anybody named Delia Orcutt. And he found out there were some Orcutts living here and there, and he wandered all over the state of Maine - couldn't find her. He decided then that he would go back and go down to New York and go back to Australia and try to pick things up from there.

And just as he was getting on the steamer, the postman ran down to him and said, "Were you looking for somebody named Delia, from Vinylhaven Island?"

And he said, "Yes, I was."

''Well," he said, "there's a woman....her name is Delia Raines, and she's married to old Del Raines, and she lives over there on, ah, Matinicus Island, and you just might want to find out who she is." So he went over, got off the steamer, got a lobster boat and they went over to Matinicus Island. And sure enough, she was married to Del Raines.

She had heard that he had been lost at sea, and after a few years she met Del and married him. And Del, in his turn, had been wound up in a winch, and was about three-quarter crippled. This made a very interesting little triangle, with Harry Meyers still quite chipper, hopping around....and poor old Del, a wreck in a chair.

And Del said to Harry one day when I was there, he said, "You know," he said, "I know what you come here for. You can't fool me. But I'll outlast you."

And that winter, Harry Meyers went back to New York. On the way he got pneumonia, and he died. Three years later Del died. And that's the end of the lesson.


*at the time harry meyers got washed overboard and developed amnesia in 1898 he was a young man. he 'came to' in 1942 - when he was in his sixties. he lived his entire adult life at sea....and then, after 44 years, remembered that his fiancee had been waiting for him - and, somewhere, still might be.

strongly recommended reading: horace beck's folklore and the sea.


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