Christmas day Boston Globe 1890- A True Story of Gloucester Fisher Folk

This story was the first time I was acquainted with anything written by one, “Tom Herbert”, a reporter the Boston Globe featured regularly pre 1900.

This heartwarming read published on Christmas day in 1890 has enough convincing details to engage readers of all ages with a Christmas wish come true story. Is it fairytale or truth enchanted? The mention of a charming cottage in East Gloucester piqued my interest enough to research surnames, just in case, and the off chance I might locate a house story to boot while re-discovering work by this writer. One article was another in this vein I categorized ‘fairytale reporting’ which I shared yesterday ; and a third from a tuna fishing trip he covered for the Boston Globe (embellished with a fantastic headline).

Local details mentioned: Norman’s Woe, Proctor’s Store, ferryboat Little Giant, James (Jim) Lawson, Jeannette Olsen (children Andrew and Alfred), Eastern point, fisherman, Swedish immigrants, East Gloucester, Swedish consul, Court Square Boston, Grand banks, Nova Scotia, Newfoundland, shipwreck, Cunningham & Thompson’s wharf, Boston’s salt fish dealers

Her Christmas Present, A True Story of Gloucester Fisher Folk

By Tom Herbert

“Shaw! Jeannette, don’t talk of Christmas presents: you should have dropped those childish notions when we were married. Here am I, a poor fisherman, with a few hundred dollars, and you know I want to build or buy a house in East Gloucester, so that we can have a home of our own next year, and now, the middle of October, I am almost forced to make a fresh halibut trip, or stay home and eat up my hard earned money; and we must be saving, for the owners have promised me a vessel next spring.”

The next day he was to sail, and with tears in her eyes, Jeannette hurriedly got together socks, mittens and the rest of his sea clothes, all of which were neatly patched and darned ready to be placed in the calico pillowslip and taken on board the vessel.

“You’ll buy me a present this year, won’t you, Jim?” said she the next morning.

“Well, I don’t know. It’s according to whether we make a good trip or not, and even so, you must not expect anything that will cost much.

So they parted with a kiss, at the door of the little house on a side street in Gloucester, and were it not for the cry, “Pa-pa-pa” of little Andrew in the crib up stairs, she might have lingered at the door and watched the passage of the vessel as her prow was turned towards Norman’s Woe.

“Jim will be home before Christmas,” mused she, “and if ‘twas only a cheap pocket-book he’d buy for me, I would cherish it so much.”

That night, after “baby” was sound asleep, she visited a friend, and as she passed Proctor’s Store and the post office on her way home she heard a fisherman say: “The ‘glass’ is down 2-10 below 29.”

This was news for her, as almost every Gloucester woman understands the working of a barometer, and surely a heavy westerly was coming that night.

It was 12 o’clock that night when the expected nor’wester burst, and she was awakened by the noise of a swinging blind.

‘Tis a fair wind for Jim, thought she, as she secured the shutter, and if it lasts a day or two he will make a quick run to the Grand banks. Little she knew at that time what misery the same gale brought to her husband.

The next day everything went wrong about the house, the fire went out, although there was a splendid draft to the chimney, things seemed to be strewn around the kitchen in all directions, the baby yelled like mad, and tried to get out of his crib alone for the first time, and in the afternoon she scalded her foot with hot water while making a pot of tea.

Jeannette was not superstitious, yet she could not help paying some attention to what seemed to be presentments of trouble, and were it not for a letter from a lawyer that she received asking her to come to Boston to transact important business she might have and had a good cry.

“I wonder what it can be,” said she, as she put on her best wraps,” surely it cannot be any news from home so soon, and now, come to think of it, I’m sorry I didn’t tell Jim that the property in Sweden was being settled up.”

The train seemed to move slower than usual that day, yet it arrived in Boston on scheduled time and soon she was seated in a law office in Court Square.

“I called,” said she, addressing a smooth faced man, “in response to your letter.”

“Oh, yes! You are Mrs. Lawson, are you not?” said he, showing the way to his private office, “And your maiden name was?”

“Jeannette Olsen, sir. I was born in Stockholm 23 years ago.”

“Yes, the very same,” said the lawyer; “and now, Mrs. Lawson, I have some good news for you. The Swedish consul has a check for you at his office, payable in gold, to the amount of $3800; small, but not so bad. I believe your husband is –“

“A fisherman, sir,” said she, helping him answer his query.

“Now all that remains,” continued the man of law, “is for you to be identified and the check is yours; are you acquainted in Boston?”

Yes; she had relatives there, and half an hour later the office boy brought in two persons that knew her when at home and also her family.

Without much delay the check was received by her from the consul and cashed at a neighboring bank, and with that—never had so much money before feeling—she wended her way towards the depot.

Once on the cars her thoughts went out to sea and she wondered how Jim’s vessel had weathered the gale, and what he would think if he only knew their good fortune, and how sorry she felt for having kept secret her letters from home, but the next moment her thoughts were in another channel. She had resolved to buy Jim a Christmas present that would cost “something.”

The day following was one of excitement to her. She visited the bank, crossed the ferry a number of times in company with real estate men, all of which set the neighbors a wondering, and for two weeks she was busy every day.

When she had time to read, she studied the Boston papers, and from the reports of incoming vessels she knew that it had been rough weather at sea.

Soon the name of the vessel that her husband sailed on was becoming talked of in the town, no news had been heard of her, and she became sad-eye, and the bloom of youth left her cheeks.

The neighbors called and sympathized, and one old lady, who had a son on the same vessel, said, “that if the schooner was not in by tomorrow the owners were going to give her up as lost with all on board.”


Why, tomorrow was Christmas day!

Vessel and all hands lost at sea!

What a cup of bitterness there was in store for her when she had planned for a day of happiness!

“But it must not be,” she cried; “surely God will not send us such terrible news on the birthday of His son!”

That night she knelt by the baby’s crib and prayed that the father of the little one might be returned to him and her.

Morning dawned and she arose after having passed a sleepless night; baby’s breakfast must be gotten ready, and as she rolled the crackers, the crumbs were moistened with her tears.

Noon came and the dreaded news had not arrived, and seating the chubby little chap in the high chair near the window, they ate their Christmas dinner.

An hour later she was ready to swoon, so weak was she from loss of rest and nourishment, and with arms on the table and head bowed down she cried herself to sleep.

How long she remained in that doze she could never tell, but she awoke with a start; little Alfred was tapping on the window pane with his spoon, and calling “pap-pa! pap-pa,” at the top of his voice.

“Be quiet, child,” said she, hysterically; “you have no pa—“ She never finished that sentence, for there, outside the window, was Jim, with a full beard, and looking very pale.

Was she dreaming?

No! for he has moved towards the door, and is now rapping; she notices as he passes his arm into a sling; he has been hurt.

The bolt shot back, the door swung on its hinges and she would have fallen to the floor, but he caught her with his uninjured arm and in a cheery voice said:

“Jeannette, cheer up; is this the way to welcome your Jim? Why, I’ve brought you a Christmas present: ‘tis myself.”

The joy of the wife at the deliverance of her husband no pen can describe, and when she could speak she told him of the long and weary hours she had waited, and listened intently to his tale of suffering while she put new bandages over the splints of his shattered arm.

He told her that after they sailed out by the light on Eastern point everything went wrong on board the vessel, as though a warning to them, and that night, as they scudded before the gale, one of the crew was knocked overboard by the main boom while returning the mainsail, and was rescued with much difficulty.

The next day the gale increased and the weather was intensely cold.

That afternoon they carried away the foremast head while jibing the foresail, and before it could be prevented the mainmast went by the board and injured five men.

They were then 200 miles at sea and almost a total wreck.

Under short sail they headed for Nova Scotia, and then within 20 miles of the shore a heavy snowstorm set in and they were driven off the coast.

The ice that formed on the vessel in large quantities made her unmanageable, and for four weeks they drifted about the ocean without seeing any craft.

Another heavily westerly gale sprung up, which drove them farther out to sea, the schooner had sprung a leak, the pumps were frozen solid, and the decks were washed continually by the heavy seas.

That night the wind shifted, and the captain, judging himself in the vicinity of Newfoundland, heaved the vessel towards the shore, and under a close-reefed foresail they made fair progress, and got ready the only two dories that had not been smashed.

Towards morning they made the land dead ahead, and all the men that were able stood ready, and the injured and frozen men were placed in the dories which were ready to launch.

The suspense was fearful, but for a moment only, for she struck a reef of rocks with a crash, and when the next sea carried her over the ledge she sank in 15 fathoms of water.

That was all he remembered for one week and when he came to his senses his head was bandaged and his arm was in a splint.

Kindly the wife of a fisherman cared for him, and eased his mind when he asked for “Jeannette,” saying, “She’ll soon be here.”

When able to be about he was sent to Fortune bay and took passage on a herring vessel bound for Gloucester.

The rest of the crew had been badly frostbitten, and when all well would follow by steamer.

He was set ashore at Cunningham & Thompson’s wharf, and arriving at the house saw his baby Alfred at the window, and was answered by the little one.

After Jim Lawson had told his story, Jeannette threw her arms around his neck and said, “James, you know you promised me a Christmas present, but I don’t expect one now, and Jim, dear, don’t feel sad. I know you doted on a little home, so I bought a nice little cottage over on Eastern point.”

Should his dory have capsized in a calm, Jim could not have been more surprised than when his wife spoke of buying a house, and an hour later the ferryboat Little Giant brought the happy couple to their new home.

Jim Lawson quit going fishing, by request of his wife, and today is a salesman for one of Boston’s salt fish dealers.

This year it is said that a new piano will be moved in to the snug little cottage, just for a Christmas present.

“Her Christmas Present A True Story of Gloucester Fisher Folk”, Boston Globe, Dec. 25, 1890 by “Tom Herbert”

Who cares that the baby is alternately named Alfred and Andrew (perhaps there is more than one child?)! Husband and wife are both heroes! And there are helpful lawyer and realtors, unrelated to the shipwreck! (Wait. Was $4000 a small amount in 1890?)

Art, poetry, novels and news- fishing tales were popular no matter the media. Timeline comps: Longfellow’s Wreck of Hesperus was published in 1842; Winslow Homer first documented extended stay in Gloucester, 1873; Elizabeth Phelps residing here by 1890; Joshua Slocum’s Voyage of the Liberdade 1890; and Kipling’s Captain Courageous in 1897. For Christmas eve decades prior, The Night Before Christmas, attributed to Clement Moore, was penned in 1822.

“Lawson” in the 1882 Gloucester directory

Perhaps some families have heard versions of this same yarn. For fun, some cursory digging: there is no James “Jim” Lawson-Jeannette Olsen (olson)-Alfred trio; though the surnames are common. Some Lawsons resided downtown and East Gloucester: Charles Lawson, fisherman, house 10 Traverse St; Charles J. captain 21 Addison; William J Lawson 23 School Street, then 13 Summit St. In 1870 John Lawson arrived from Canada fisherman, bds Middle, corner Wash. (same as Edward Hopper). Child named Alfred or Andrew with a mother born in Stockholm, Sweden? Sure. What Eastern point cottage would fit the bill in your mind’s eye?

Harpooning Swords. Work that is all excitement and no fun–

Globe reporter on a Fishing Expedition to Cape Porpoise, by Tom Herbert, Boston Globe, August 25, 1890

“…and “Turned In.” In 15 minutes not a word could be heard, and the only noise–which was not music to my ears–was the creaking of blocks and booms and the rush of water along the sides of the schooner as she ploughed her way. I had a faint remembrance of the “watch” being changed and the hearing of the order to “haul down the staysail!” After that I fell asleep and dreamt that the managing editor had elongated my vacation from two to four weeks.”

Nicolo “Nicky” Vitale Obituary | Gloucester Fisherman

Nicolo Nicky Vitale obituary

Nicolo “Nicky” Vitale obituary

Gloucester – In loving memory of Gloucester Fisherman Nicolo Vitale 49, who passed away on April 20, 2020 at Addison Gilbert Hospital.

Known fondly as Nick or Nicky to many, he was born in Gloucester, MA on April 24, 1970. He was the son of Maria (Groppo) Vitale and the late Giuseppe Vitale of Trappeto, Sicily.

He grew up in Gloucester until the early eighties before he moved to Trappeto, Sicily with his parents and his younger sister. He returned to Gloucester in 1988 where he remained living until the sea winds called upon him.

Nicky was a fisherman for most of his adult life. Nicky deeply enjoyed being a fisherman on the open ocean, especially with a crew of friends or family. Anyone that knew Nicky personally, was lucky enough to experience his hearty laugh and infectious and bright smile. He was always happiest when he was surrounded by his closest friends and family, as well as, making his rounds in visiting with people at a local coffee shop, or at the St Peter’s Club, or his favorite pizzeria or at someone’s house for espresso. He loved to joke around with the best of them and just cared to make people laugh and smile and enjoy each other’s company! Continuing with his Sicilian traditions always remained important to Nicky, such as being with family and friends for St. Joseph’s Day and the St. Peter’s Fiesta. No one can deny the enormous and genuine heart Nicky had; he would do anything for anyone if they asked or if he saw they needed help, he’d just jump right in, no questions asked!

In April 2001, Nicky earned his 100 – ton captain’s license, an accomplishment he was very proud of. In 2003, he earned his GED from Gloucester High School. Following his return back to the States, Nicky mainly built a life out at sea as a local fisherman and he fished on the following fishing vessels: Stella Del Mare, Angela & Rose, Christina Eleni, Miss Trish, Miss Sandy, Miss Trish II, Cathy C, Sabrina Maria, Razo, Kayla Maria, and the Helen S III.

He is survived by his loving mother Maria, sister Angela (Vitale) Regina, beloved nephew Antonio Regina who he adored with every fiber of his being, brother-in-law Paride Regina and maternal grandparents Giuseppe and Lucia Groppo, all of Trappeto, Sicily. He also leaves behind his Uncle Leonardo Vitale and aunt Rosalie, Uncle Pasquale Vitale and aunt Giovanna, Uncle Francesco Groppo and aunt Crocetta, all of Gloucester and Aunt Piera Vitale of Terrasini, Sicily. He will be remembered fondly by cousins Nicolo Vitale of Naples, FL and wife Angela, Rosa (Vitale) Geomelos of Danvers and husband Lenny, Paul Vitale of Gloucester and wife Justine, Angela Vitale of Gloucester and fiancé Rick, Nick Vitale of Gloucester, Fabrizio Vitale of Clearwater, FL and fiancé Sally, Maria (Groppo) Carpenter of Gloucester and Daniel, Enza Groppo of Gloucester, Nicolo Vitale of Brussels, Belgium and wife Enza, Mario Vitale of Terrasini, Sicily and wife Fanny and Daniele Vitale of Terrasini, Sicily and wife Gessica. He also adored his godchildren Kayla Collibee and Ava Vitale. He had many cousins, including in California, Germany and Sicily, and some wonderful friends that treated Nicky like family.

He is predeceased by his father Giuseppe Vitale, uncle Antonino Vitale, grandparents Nicolo and Angela Vitale, and cousin Angela A. Vitale.

Due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, visiting services with his family were held privately. A memorial mass and Celebration of Nicky’s life will be held at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to Nick’s Fishermen’s Safety Fund through Cape Ann Savings Bank, 109 Main Street, Gloucester, MA 01930 to help provide personal safety devices to fishermen. Arrangements by Greely Funeral Home 212 Washington Street, Gloucester. For online condolences, please visit

Gloucester Daily Times published the obit on April 27, 2020

Tributes for Nicky at St. Peter’s Club (Donations left at St. Peter’s club for covid-19 with tributes to Nicky since last week. His death came just shy of his 50th.)


Updated – with message from Rose

“It’s been so wonderful to see how the community of Gloucester has found their own ways to remember my cousin Nicky in an honorable manner. Seeing the flowers on the benches at the St. Peter’s Club, the flags flying at half mast in his rememberance, and the many nice things people expressed about him on Facebook or verbally, has been heart-warming during this difficult time for my family. What’s been lovely to hear or see are all the common themes expressed about my cousin Nicky ~ he had a huge heart, would do anything for anyone, and donned even bigger smile! Those sentiments mean so much to all of my family because they most certainly are true! Someone I was speaking to the other day said something that really clicked with me and choked me up a little and I thought it was truly special when she said, “You know Ro, Nick was like the son of Gloucester!”… I LOVED that because he loved going around town to visit with, chat with and have his espresso with people he truly cared about and enjoyed seeing. He did often drive around Gloucester and became a staple in many family’s homes or at the various wharfs around town, or the St. Peter’s Club, or Sebastian’s Pizza, or where ever he popped in to say hi, joke a bit, laugh a bit or just wanted to plain say hello to someone. When I think about it I can only smile because I guess all that matters is that it made my cousin’s day when he received the smiles back at him! R.I.P Nick Your hearty laugh and big smile was taken away much too soon from Gloucester!” 


“He Was the Type of Guy Who Would do Anything for You” Gloucester Daily Times, 4/22/2020 by Sean Horgan: Read the article here;  and another short piece by Horgan, with photos by Paul Bilodeau, also Gloucester Daily Times

That’s a big movie poster! Dead in the Water Cape Ann Museum premiere


from the Cape Ann Museum- Gloucester Screening set for “Dead in the Water” FEB 10

The Cape Ann Museum, in collaboration with the Gloucester Fishermen’s Wives Association,  is pleased to present “Dead in the Water”,  on Saturday, February 10 at 11:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.  The documentary film dealing with the devastating impacts of federal regulations on the lives of New England ground fishermen was produced and directed by Rockport native and professional filmmaker David Wittkower. A panel discussion with film participants will follow each showing. Tickets are $8 for Museum members and $10 for nonmembers. Reservations can be made at or call (978)283-0455 x10.

Two and a half years in the making, “Dead in the Water” is Wittkower’s fifteenth documentary film. It was shot in different coastal towns and features scenes and interviews with area fishermen, their spouses and other family members; advocates for fishermen; elected officials; and community activists.  “This film opens the doors for the world to see how difficult and dangerous the life of a fisherman is,” said John Bell, a former three-term mayor of Gloucester (2002 -08). “On top of that, the impact of misguided federal regulations on fishermen has never been presented as powerfully as it is in ‘Dead in the Water.’ This film packs a real punch. It stays with you long after you’ve seen it.” The film also includes the song, “Gloucester Harbor Shore” by Grammy® Award winner, Paula Cole.

Wittkower, a graduate of the American Film Institute in cinematography, describes “Dead in the Water” as an examination of the “relentless destruction of the New England ground

Continue reading “That’s a big movie poster! Dead in the Water Cape Ann Museum premiere”

Updated! Photos of Fisherman/woman Statue from Scandinavia

This just in-

Hi Joey-

I  arrived home from Iceland last evening and was catching up on GMG posts when I saw that Sarah Clark had posted some great photos of other fisherman statues. She commented that she wished she had a GMG sticker when she had taken them so I must have taken this photo for her!

Best-Janet (Rice)


Original email-

Sarah Clark submits-

Hi, Joey,
Here are a fisherman and fisherman’s wife statues from Alesund, Norway. Next to them are two views of the fishermen’s statue in Reykavik, Iceland. Wish I had thought to have a Good Morning Gloucester sticker when I took these!  Just thought folks in Gloucester might enjoy these.


Mark Lodge Aboard the Tight Lines Catches A Giant Tuna

Fishing solo Mark landed a tuna that dressed out at over 750 lbs!  That’s what we call a slob ladies and gentleman!

Don’t Forget To set Those DVR’s It’s Wicked Tuna Night! Tonight at 10PM


Click the video below to meet Dave Marciano the fisherman EVERYONE is rooting for!


Also check out Dave’s Boat Website-


Djahlmer Ray, first-generation Finnish immigrant who lived in Lanesville during the Great Depression Patent For Fishing Reel in 1938

Djahlmer Ray, first-generation Finnish immigrant who lived in Lanesville during the Great Depression, filed this patent for a fishing reel in 1938. His brief for the patent sums it all up: he wanted a reel that was durable, inexpensive to manufacture, and simple to repair. In other words, a Lanesville man through and through.
More important, RAY wanted a reel whose drag was easy to control when landing large fish!
Ray was interviewed in 1978 for the Gloucester Oral History project. By then he had moved to Fairhaven.
His and other residents’ interviews can be checked out on CD from the Sawyer Free Library.

Link to his patent’s images:

Thanks To Adam Bolonsky For forwarding this

Whiskey Barrel Aged Fisherman’s Rock-Porter At Cape Ann Brewing Friday Night April 22nd

This coming Friday, April 22nd, Cape Ann Brewing Company along with Ryan & Wood Distillery will be tapping our collaborative project; Whiskey Barrel Aged Fisherman’s Rock-Porter. Oak barrels used by Ryan & Wood to age their rye whiskey for 2 years were re-used by Cape Ann Brewing to age our Fisherman’s Rock-Porter for another 2 months. This event marks the first of many future collaborations between the two companies. Come down to The Pub at Cape Ann Brewing on Friday at Six O’Clock pm and talk with the brewer, Dylan Labbe Lindquist and from Ryan & Wood, the distiller Bob Ryan.



Adam Bolonsky Sends In Striper Fishing Video

Hi Joey,
I just posted a short video of Marvin Tighe (Rocky Neck) striper fishing off Flat Rocks at Rockport.
He lands a schoolie and gives  some commentary on bait.

Kayak Fishing for Striped Bass: Trolling the Tube and Worm-

A Local Gloucester, MA Kayak Fisherman Offers Some Insights Into Trolling the Tube and Worm