In partnership with the Maine Memory Network Maine Memory Network

Lubec, Maine

A Border Town Shaped by the Sea

The Gardner Lake Tragedy

Miriam Kelley as a young woman

Images from the family of Miriam Kelley Doherty

Research and text by Seth Doherty, Emma Page, Ronald Pesha, Austin Serrato, Robert Wallace, and Stephanie Wright. Seth, Emma, Austin, Robert, and Stephanie became interested in the story related below as fifth grade students under Mrs. Molly Avery at Lubec Elementary School.

Twelve Lubec school children drowned that day, June 19, 1936. A summer day, after school ended for the year, created for picnics and the usually placid waters of Gardner’s Lake, east of Machias in far Washington County.
They gathered from Ridge, Split Hill, McCurdy, and Straight Bay, rural schools all, with teachers and some parents and friends. And Calvin London, a good man giving his time to the kids as in preceding years, with his dinghy and its outboard motor.
Fifteen gleeful youngsters, only three of whom would live.* Including nine-year-old Miriam Kelley, sometimes known as Mimi (pronounced MIH-mee), the last living survivor who tells the story in her own voice.

“The boat was gunwales down, and as she turned on her heel, rolled in the water, and sank beneath them.”1 Confusion bore conflicting accounts in the rush to rescue. The Lubec Herald says that “”Miss Stella Burhoe plunged in and succeeded in saving Miriam Kelley” along with Leah Wilcox.* The Portland newspaper published photos of Miriam along with high schooler Wyman Ramsdell who “managed to grasp Miriam the hair just as she was going under. The Kelley girl was eventually carried to shore by Miss Stella M. Burhoe, Ridge School teacher...”

Miriam Kelley & Wyman Ramsdell

Miriam Kelley adds the vital role in survival played by her father in this recorded account.
Coincidentally, the calamity occurred on the 125th anniversary of the state legislature acceptance of the Charter to establish the Town of Lubec; the burials two days later 125 years after the Governor approved the Charter on June 21, 1811.
Washington County remembers the tragedy, the anguish, the helpless torment. An heirloom of horror, handed down even unto the schoolchildren of today.

The fifth graders observations
“One day in 1936 school children went to spend the end of the year by going on a boat at Gardner’s Lake. The boat flipped over. Miss Mimi Kelley who was saved by Wyman Ramsdell is the last living of the three children who survived. This made me feel a little sad because so many died.” Robert Wallace, 10.
“Terrible. It was terrible. When you hear a word of it, you can see it in your head. You feel so bad; Miriam’s friends were gone. She never went back to Gardner’s Lake for 27 years! I would’ve waited longer, maybe never. She handled it far better than I would have, although she was not to speak of it. Ever. Mimi was lucky Wyman Ramsdall was there to save her. They arrived children, students, and friends. They left crying, grieving, a smaller crowd. Wyman Ramsdell lived near to Miriam, and the day of the accident saved her life. I wouldn’t have been able to bear such a tragedy.” Emma Page, 9.
“It is terrible to read, hear, and think about. It was so sad to hear about all the children dying. Miriam Kelly the only survivor living today (2009). She was so lucky that Wyman Ramsdell grabbed Kelley by the hair of her head to stop her from drowning. Kelley said, ‘I just wanted to lay down and go to sleep.’ Kelley’s sister Ellen was the last person to get in and luckily she jumped out before the boat took off. Wyman is a lifesaver for helping Mimi stay alive. When I hear about this tragedy I feel bad for all the people that died. But we always have to remember it wasn‘t anybody’s fault. It was an accident that happened that day.” Stephanie Wright, 10.
“When I first heard about the terrible drownings I felt sick. I feel badly for all the people who lost their lives. I wanted to know more. I really do hope all kinds of people think about this day of sadness. There were only three survivors among the children and one of them is Mimi, my best friend’s grandma.” Austin Serrato, 10.
“I hate to think of these children drowning. I thank the people who saved them. Wyman Ramsdell is like a hero to me because if he didn’t save my grandmother then I wouldn’t he here right now. My grandmother used to tell me this story. I didn’t know how bad it was until now. It shocks that there were only three survivors and my grandmother is the only living survivor. It was very brave of the people who saved the three.” Seth Doherty, 10.
*Other survivors were Barbara Tyler and Leah Wilcox. Those who perished were Leverne Dinsmore, Roland Eaton, Jerome Kinney, Raymah Knowles, Merle Lewis Jr., Evelyn and Aaron Mahar, Daniel McCurdy, Glenn Morey, Frank Reynolds, Christine Sleight, and Doris Small.

References from primary sources
Lubec Herald, “Tragedy Takes Lives of Twelve Children,” Thursday, June 25, 1936.
Portland, The Press Herald, “Wyman Ramsdell, Lubec, Added To Heroes Of Drowning Tragedy,” Tuesday June 23, 1936.
For further reading, see Vicki Reynolds Schad, Remember the Children, published by the author, 2006. The book was not used as a source in this exhibit.

Young researchers, Lubec 5th grade 2008-2009 Robert Wallace, Emma Page, Seth Doherty (Miriam's grandson), Stephanie Wright, Austin Serrato
Miriam Kelley Doherty and grandson Seth Doherty