|One of the three cemeteries on Holland |
Island. Photo compliments of
|Built in 1888, little did this family |
know the house would defiantly stand
against the Bay for 122 years. Photo
compliments of Sometimes Interesting
|Stephen White's playground in 1953.|
The 1888 house stood proudly, but vacant.
Photo compliments of Sometimes Interesting
Stephan White grew up and fished the Bay like generations of his family before him. Eventually, he went on to become a minister, but he never forgot his roots nor his childhood playground, Holland Island.
In the early 1990's, Mr. White visited his childhood playground and was dismayed at the sight he beheld. Most of the island was gone. While visiting one of the cemeteries, Mr. White came upon Effie Wilson's tombstone. “Forget me not is all I ask. I could not ask for more.” As he raised his camera to take a picture of the grave, he thought he saw a ghostly girl standing nearby.
“Forget me not is all I ask. I could not ask for more.” The words haunted him. The Bay was taking his playground from him and erasing all memory of the thriving watermen community that once lived on Holland Island. Despite Effie Wilson's final plea, the Bay would take the memory of her, too.
The impending tragedy inspired Mr. White into action. In 1995, he bought what remained of Holland Island for $70,000, including the only house that remained - the one built in 1888. Over the next fifteen years, he and his wife, Diane, fought the rising waters of the Bay.
They built breakwaters of wood only to watch the waves devour them. They sand bagged the island, but the hot summer sun baked the bags, splitting them open. The waves took the sand and the emptied bags out to sea. They hand carried 23 tons of rocks and dropped them along the shoreline in an effort to save the house, but the Bay took the rocks, too. They sunk a barge just offshore to act as a breakwater, but to no avail.
|Despite the White's efforts, the Bay|
kept coming. Photo compliments of
Mr. White earned the name, Sisyphus of Dorchester, as residents snickered at his efforts. (Sisyphus, in Greek mythology, was the King of Ephyra, who was condemned for his chronic deceitfulness by being compelled to roll a huge boulder uphill, only to watch it roll back down, and doomed to repeat this action for eternity.) Despite the snickering, he and his wife waged their battle to save the island. They held out hope that a donor or the government would step in and help them in their efforts. Stephen estimated that they spent about $150,000 to save the island and the house, but the hoped-for-help from government never came.
Their efforts were doomed from the start. The government and the Army Corps of Engineers were battling the Bay to save Poplar Island a little further to the north. At a cost, so far, of over two-thirds of a billion dollars, the project will cost an estimated $1.6 billion when completed in 2041 - a forty-five year project. A retired couple stood no chance of saving an island by themselves and the government was in no position to help them.
|Oct. 2010, the house built in 1888|
collapses into the Bay. Photo
compliments of Sometimes Interesting
He sold the island to a local venture capitalist group, the Concorde Foundation, in hopes they would continue the fight to save the island. A mere months after selling, the last remaining house succumbed to the Bay, collapsing in a heap in Oct 2010.
|Holland Island today. Somewhere |
under the waves rests Holland Island
and the final resting place of at least
62 former residents, including Effie
Wilson. Photo compliments of
“Forget me not is all I ask. I could not ask for more.”
Effie Wilson's final words on her tombstone, somber words for a little thirteen-year-old girl, are haunting. There is no cemetery for future generations to walk through and read Effie Wilson's words in remembrance. There is no island to walk on or community to stroll through as a reminder of our collective heritage and strong link to the Bay.
The Bay may have taken an island, and even Effie Wilson and her somber words, but one thing the Bay didn't take was the indomitable spirit of one waterman and his wife, an indomitable spirit shared by native Eastern Shore men and women across the generations.
Despite the snickering across Dorchester County by some over Stephen White's perceived fruitless endeavor, he knew he only had to fight to save the island long enough until he could convince the government to send in the Army to save his childhood playground and the memory of a girl he only knew through the words on a tombstone. His wife, Diane, stood by her husband faithfully and lugged sandbags and rocks unquestioningly if, for no other reason, than the task was important to her husband. Unfortunately, the Army never came.
Some say I'm a drunk redneck with no talent, but if I had the talent (and probably the money), I would devote the rest of my life to creating the Holland Island Lighthouse. I would make the lighthouse as a life-sized replica of the 1888 house that stood against the Bay in defiance for 122 years. On the porch I would hang a plaque saying:
Dedicated to Stephen and Diane White
who fought to save Holland Island, 1995-2010,
And to the indomitable spirit of our native Eastern Shore
men and women that the Bay will never wash away
On the left corner of the lighthouse, I would place a tombstone, which would read:
Daughter of John W. & Annie A.
Born January 16, 1880
Died October 12, 1893
Forget me not is all I ask. I could not ask for more
That I could be cherished by my friends so loving and so dear
Dearest Effie thou has left us and our loss we deeply feel
But as God that has bereft us, He will all our sorrows heal
Then I would enlist the help of as many watermen as I can find to tow that memorial lighthouse and anchor it to the exact spot where the 1888 house stood. The Bay may erase the land, but we shouldn't let it erase our culture, heritage, and memories.
Last known video of Holland Island and Mr. White's battle in 2007 - three years before the house fell
01/19/15: YouTube video added
Posted by Five Drunk Rednecks