Tom Hale, an architect-turned-boatyard
owner-turned-maritime historian and writer, at 74 ranks among the elder
statesmen of the Vineyard's maritime community. His latest book, The
Ghost of the Grasshopper, is a historical novel which tells the
story of two families of the sea, one American, one British, who are
brought together through a series of coincidences over a period of two
hundred years. Each encounter takes place against the backdrop of real
events in maritime history. Much of the story also revolves around the
quirky challenges that Vineyard Sound offers the uninitiated mariner
and the unique history of the Vineyard itself.
In a recent interview at
his home in Vineyard Haven, Mr. Hale discussed the writing of The
Ghost of the Grasshopper, his personal history, and what he's planning
for the future. One entrance to Mr. Hale's home allows the visitor to
pass through his workshop, in which work benches are scattered with
woodworking tools and ship models in various stages of building and
repair. The walls sport pictures of a variety of vessels, large and
small. The house, which he shares with his wife Kelsey and an affectionate
retriever, is tidy, the walls and shelves tastefully cluttered with
ship models, paintings and maritime artifacts.
Grasshopper a Decade in the Writing
"I wrote it first ten years ago, and I've been working on it off
and on ever since," Mr. Hale says of the novel. "It was my
lovely wife Kelsey who said 'You really ought to do something about
Mr. Hale had come across
a diary and a letter written by his Loyalist ancestor, Mary Almy to
her husband who was serving as an officer in the Colonial forces (they
had apparently agreed to disagree). Mrs. Almy was holed up in Newport,
RI, during the occupation by the British and reported in her 1778 correspondence
details of a failed siege on Newport by the French and the Colonists.
The novel begins in the same year, but the story is unrelated.
"I started thinking
about it and the story just grew," he says. "All of the historical
events are entirely factual."
In the story, the Prescotts
of Martha's Vineyard and the Thorntons of Plymouth, England, first cross
paths when Captain Jethro Prescott is the prisoner of Commander Richard
Thornton aboard the fictional H.M. Sloop of War Grasshopper
on her ill-fated voyage from Chatham, MA to Newport, RI.
Ancestors of the two men meet again and again over the next two centuries
in a series of coincidences which stretch the illusion of realism, but
provide the framework in which to examine important events in the history
of the sea, some familiar to amateur maritime historians, such as the
sinking of the Titanic or the victory of the fabled yacht America
at Cowes in 1851. Others are less familiar, such as the compelling account
of the defiant scuttling of the interned German war fleet after World
War I in the Orkney Islands, or the wreck of the U.S.S Trenton
in a cyclone in Samoa in 1889.
Indeed, Mr. Hale does for
the reader what any true devotee of maritime history must. He allows
us to imagine ourselves dashing and honorable young sailors participating
in the most exciting and important events aboard the mightiest ships
of the sea. The importance of realism in the story line itself becomes
The tone of Mr. Hale's novel
is refreshing and betrays both a deep respect for fact and the English
language, as well as an almost boyish fascination with all things maritime.
The language is somewhat old-fashioned (perhaps influenced by all those
Hornblower books), and the characters are entirely honorable and polite--a
rarity in modern literature.
"A Baked Bean,
Born and Bred"
Thomas Hale was born in Newburyport, MA, and later moved with his family
"I'm a baked bean,
born and bred," he says. He comes from a long line of Massachusetts
boating enthusiasts, and on his father's side, he had an ancestor who
made his career in shipping in the East India Trade during the 19th
"I learned to sail
in the 30s in Buzzards Bay, in South Dartmouth," says Mr. Hale.
In a tour of his home, Mr.
Hale points out a tiny model boat at the bottom left of a case containing
several models on the wall of the dining room. It is a green, gaff-rigged
sloop, about three or four inches long.
"My first model,"
he says. He was given this 15 ½-foot sloop, along with a Horatio
Hornblower book at age 14, and made this model soon after. He still
has the sloop and the book.
During World War II, he
drove an ambulance for the American Service. He served injured troops
from the British 8th army in North Africa, Italy and Germany. About
this he would say with a furrowed brow only, "It was quite an experience
for a nineteen year-old kid."
After the war, he attended
Harvard University where he earned a Master's degree in architecture.
He practiced in this profession for about eight years.
"Then I followed my
genes and went into the boat business," he says.
From 1959 to 1961, Mr. Hale served as Assistant Curator at Mystic Seaport
Museum under then Curator Edouard Stackpole...
On | Back to Clip Menu