When I met Bob Slaven, on July 14, 2010, I had no idea how much he would contribute to Emilie Loring’s biography nor how dear he would become to me. Bob died unexpectedly on December 3, 2020, and as I process this sad, sad loss, I’d like to share some of what he has done for me and for Happy Landings.
Our common interest in Blue Hill history and my remembrance of Bob’s parents, who had both passed by then, forged an instant connection when first we met. (See The Past Comes Calling.)
I wrote to Emilie’s granddaughter Eve:
Bob and I met several times, and he could not have been kinder or more helpful. It was he who showed me Emilie’s flapper dress in the museum downtown (He belongs to the historical society and leads tours there.), and it was he who rowed me all along the shore to look for the exact points where each of the old Blue Hill photos of Emilie were taken.
I think he had fun looking for the locations where Emilie’s photos were taken. He grew up in Blue Hill, and his family owned Stone House for the next fifty years after Emilie Loring. He knew that shoreline like the back of his hand.
When we had run out of walkable shoreline, Bob took me and his grandson, Merrin, out in a borrowed skiff. He was seventy-four then and did all of the rowing.
He gave me several old books that were in the house and belonged to Emilie, from which I learned that she experimented with recording the date that she finished a book, writing on the last page, “E. L. June 23, 1912” or some such. Her son Selden did the same in another of the books… [Bob] looked up old records, had me to his house for tea twice, and invited me to stay in their shoreline cottage when I come to Blue Hill next time. He was really so helpful, interested in the project, and generous with his time.Letter to Eve
The next summer, Bob sported a full beard to play Melatiah Chase in presentations for the Blue Hill Historical Society. Chase was a sea captain from Blue Hill whose name continued in the Chase Granite Quarries, from which Bob’s grandparents got the stone for their once magnificent home, “Borderland.”
I was writing about the Lorings’ early Blue Hill years, when Emilie bought Stone House and made friends along the East Blue Hill Road. Bob pointed out details at those friends’ homes, toured Seaside Cemetery with me, and pointed out the estate which used to have–and be called–“Seven Chimneys,” the same as Pat Newsome’s home in Uncharted Seas.
When Eve and Bill came to town, Bob treated all of us to a tour of Blue Hill Bay. How different places looked from the water! Homes seemed smaller, less significant, and the Reversing Falls more so.
Bob and I met for lunch at Marlintini’s Grill, the first of many meals we shared there. I took my laptop and showed him the book’s progress. He’d never seen a layout like mine and enthused that it was uniquely effective in showing both Emilie Loring’s life and her writing. Slogging through those first efforts as I was, his enthusiasm provided a real lift.
Over the winter, Bob read the first sections of Happy Landings for me. You can sense both his character and his courtesy in the markings here:
Unfortunately for the manuscript, my maritime knowledge was a bit like Lucy’s in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir:”
“How romantic. Reading lyric poetry up in the crow’s nest with the sheets bellying in the wind.”
“Sails, blast it all, madam! A sheet’s a line, a rope. Ropes can’t belly.”“The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”
Bob’s corrections were gentle, but his knowledge was indispensable.
He returned the manuscript with an invitation to give a presentation on Emilie Loring for the Blue Hill Historical Society that summer. He penciled next to the following excerpt, “Mention in lecture:”
Otherwise, the further out one lived on the East Blue Hill Road, the larger the boat. The Owen sisters kept a small rowboat, the Lorings had their open launch, and the next was Ned Brooks’ cabin cruiser at Elwin Cove.
Eastward, beyond the Brooks home, the scale of boat changed entirely. Ralph Slaven’s yacht Alfredine IV was 99 feet long…Happy Landings draft
Summer came, and with it my appearance on flyers about town. It was my first chance to spread the story of Emilie Loring to the broader Blue Hill community, courtesy of Bob Slaven. The Lorings came, and Bob introduced me to a small, engaged audience.
As ever, Linda and Bob invited me for tea, lunch, and happy hour throughout my weeks in Blue Hill. Bob pulled out the Slaven photo albums and allowed me to copy photographs from Emilie Loring’s era. It was fantastic to see the people and settings I was writing about, and what a help to my descriptions!
Soon after I arrived in 2013, Bob called to ask if I would like to come for a sail on “Cousin Lev’s” boat, Gandalf. Music to my ears–I love to sail! Blue Hill Bay is gorgeous, with mesmerizing shades of blue, colorful lobster buoys, glistening schools of mackerel, and frequent seals. Bob and Lev were great fun, and their easy, good humor held as I tried my hand at the helm.
Bob pointed out landmarks as we passed them–Parker Point, Woods Point, the Slavens’ stone wharf, Darling Island… Summer residents once arrived at the old steamer dock, and all of the shore from the Kollegewidgwok Yacht Club (KYC) to Sculpin Point used to belong to Emilie Loring. Lev’s grandmother was Blossom Alcott, another Loring connection.
Bob introduced me to the past and present owners of Tyn Y Coed, the Owen sisters’ home, who gave me permission to scan their photo albums and invited me to see both their home and the sunken garden that Emilie wrote about in Hilltops Clear.
From then on, Bob and Lev had an eager passenger. Our first sail in 2014–Bob, Lev, my husband Pat, and me–took us along Mount Desert and looped back past Long Island to re-enter the Inner Bay. How easy it would have been, I mused, for the Lorings to visit their friends in Bar Harbor. Sorry to say, Bob lost his Boston cap overboard that day. This is the last proof of it.
One special memory is a day when I was out on the deck of my rented cottage–the same deck you see in the header for this website–and heard Bob hail me from the water. Would I like to come out?
Of course I would, but how? There was no dock at the cottage. Bob had that figured out. He had me ask permission from my neighbor to meet him at the end of their dock. Mind you, I did not know the neighbor, and I was more than a little intimidated when I knocked at the door of the spectacular home that belonged to the long dock you see here. But when I mentioned Bob Slaven’s name, Mr. Smithgall peered out the window, “Oh, Bob’s out there? Sure! Sure! Go right ahead.”
This was no isolated incident. Bob’s name makes friends of strangers in Blue Hill; he is that well liked and respected.
I confess to a bit of pride that I was able to vault upward and feetfirst through the lines on the side of Gandalf (I’m sure there’s a real name for them–lifelines?). We motored around Woods Point, and Bob let me maneuver past a group of lobster buoys. At Gandalf’s mooring, Bob caught up on entries for the ship’s log, and I marveled to be where I was on that bright and sunny day on Blue Hill Bay.
Later in the week, Bob secured an invitation for me to a picnic at that same neighbor’s, where I could meet descendants of Emilie Loring’s Blue Hill friends. The word “picnic” has some range, I learned, when I saw the lighted tent, small orchestra, chafing dishes of beef bourguignon, and men in sportcoats. I met Henry Becton there, which led to finally finding the rock that Bob and I had searched for at our first meeting. (See When You Share the Things You Love)
“Was it the Stone House ghost?”
Bob may have been the last person to witness the Stone House ghost. Strange noises had been explained away as the wail of porcupines, but Bob told a different story.
He was seated on the steps at the back porch in the early evening. His mom had just gone inside when he heard it, the faint wail of a woman’s voice. The hairs stood up on his arms as he listened for what might come next. He heard the sound a second time. Then silence. He didn’t tell many people about it, but he always felt it was “something.”
“For your eyes only”
Having read my draft for me, Bob let me read a chapter of his “submarine novel” that summer. Bob was the “XO” (executive officer) on multiple submarines in his multiply-decorated, 28-year Navy career, and let me tell you, his prose took you there. The story was spellbinding–and I so hope it will be published, as I only got that little taste of it, and I need to know what happened! Seriously, if you see “Robert K. Slaven, Jr” on the cover of a novel anytime soon, buy it.
2015’s exploration was Emilie Loring’s second cottage, called “Calendula Cottage” by her grandchildren and “The Ledges” in the community. Bob suggested that I call its former owner, who shared photos of the original interior and exterior with me. Nowhere else would I have discovered the rabbit shutters (mentioned in Gay Courage) or the sailboat depicted in stone above the fireplace (not mentioned anywhere at all).
We caught up with Linda and Bob in Tucson the next spring. Bob responded to our offer to stop by with, “Sunday looks good, but we would like to have you stay longer. Let’s plan on you coming here, then going to one of our favorite nearby restaurants for lunch. If time permits we could have a walk in Sabino Canyon.” Which we did.
Bob’s project that summer was a hike to see the quarry holes of the old, Chase Granite Company. Three are close to the aptly named “Quarry Road,” but the others are tricky to find, even when you know where you are going. It’s a small area, and the ponds are significant in size–but still hidden. There are old wheels, an open well, chains, bits of machinery and rail lines… a whole world that used to exist, half-hidden beneath trees and moss.
This is a metaphor for all local history, really. It takes a curious and committed historian like Bob to bring it to light for all to see. That’s what he did, over and over, for me with Emilie Loring’s world. So much would have remained hidden without Bob to introduce me to the people who had the scrapbooks, the handwritten accounts, the photographs and stories–without Bob to show me landforms and artifacts that had stories behind them.
I missed 2017 in Blue Hill but returned in 2018. Bob quickly organized a group of neighbors with longtime Blue Hill connections to come to his house for an informal discussion of Emilie Loring and the East Blue Hill Road contingent. I planned to have a “toast to Emilie Loring” on her birthday, and the group obliged with a photo for me to post.
Don’t you just love a place where things like that can happen? Bob was the hub, but there were plenty of spokes on that wheel. Emilie Loring would have felt right at home.
Finally! Twenty-one years after my first trip to Blue Hill, I had a completed draft of Emilie Loring’s biography. We toasted aboard Gandalf–perfect in so many ways. I love the way that everyone raised their glasses and also their cell phones to capture the moment. How wonderful was it that a chance meeting to look for a rock turned into a group toast with friends?
We weren’t through. Bob invited Pat and me to a lecture he was giving for the Blue Hill Heritage Trust, among neighbors with deep, Blue Hill connections.
As usual, one introduction from Bob led to more. A few days later, I hiked the Trust’s newest “Penny Trail” with Mari and Chrissy of the BHHT. If you remember Len Calloway chasing Prue through the woods in Hilltops Clear, this is very much the setting–but not the mood!
The last day that I saw Bob was August 31, 2019. Linda was finishing her breakfast, and Bob was chatting with neighbor Mari and playing with her dog when my friend Lynn and I stopped by on our way out of town. The Blue Hill Fair was on, and the women were excited about entering the pan-tossing event. I gave it a try which Bob photographed and Linda cheered. We took photos on the deck before we left and said farewell ’til we would see each other again next year.
Captain Robert K. Slaven, Jr. deserves a chapter for all he has done for me, beginning with the search for a rock. In sharing their knowledge and love of Stone House, sailing, and Blue Hill’s history and people, Bob and his wife, Linda, have become dear and treasured friends.Acknowledgements, Happy Landings
Bob received his completed copy of Happy Landings in January 2020 and then heard of my sister’s death. He wrote:
Subject: Emilie Treasure One
Treasure one arrived in good order and has been consuming much of my time since. I am deeply flattered to be on the list of early recipients of the final product. But secondly, Linda joins me in offering real condolences on the loss of your sister. I have gone through the deaths of both of my brothers in the recent past and can sense your sadness.
So we send big hugs to you and Patrick, and look forward to seeing HAPPY LANDINGS at Barnes & Noble soon.
(PS: Lev Alcott’s middle name is Leverett…thank you for the nice words in the acknowledgements.)
The pandemic cancelled my planned weeks in Blue Hill. Challenge followed challenge this year, and then came the announcement from Bob’s daughter, Merrill, that her father had unexpectedly passed away. You can read his obituary here.
Nothing I say here will be adequate to the task. Robert Knowles Slaven, Jr. was a man of the type you hope is real but seldom have the honor to meet. I’ve told only a part of what he has done for me, what he means to me, and I knew him only ten years.
Blue Hill won’t be the same without Bob Slaven, nor will we, but we can carry on his kindness, his courtesy, his generosity, and the work he so valued.
“If you are so inclined, raise a glass to this good, good man and to a life well lived.”
Happy Landings, Bob, and a sharp horizon at star time.