Summertime in the Belgrades
July 27 – August 2
André, The Famous Harbor Seal
Click any blue-bordered photo on this page to enlarge it.
by Martha F. Barkley
My daughter Toni had come down to the waterfront with me one afternoon, wearing a new coat decorated with brass buttons. She reached down to pat Andre's head. Feeling playful, or perhaps puckish, he arched up, nipped one of the buttons from her coat, and dropped it into twenty feet of water…Toni was distressed, of course. I was quite angry and gave him a real dressing-down. Then I forgot about it…The next day I went down to the waterfront. Andre was waiting. He dropped the button at my feet.
In June this summer, our local paper reported that the Rockport statue of Andre needed repair. A crack had appeared in the head. Twelve thousand dollars was being raised and repairs began immediately. Gray granite stone forms the lifelike body of Andre who migrated from the island of his birth to Rockport to live with his friend Harry Goodridge from 1961 until 1986.
I am reading both books about Andre. It is a pleasure rereading André, The Famous Harbor Seal, a picture book that was so well loved and worn out that it had to be discarded from our local public library. Fran Hodgkins wrote that children's classic, illustrated by Yetti Frenkel, in 2003. A Seal Called Andre by Harry Goodridge and Lew Dietz, 2014, was still on the juvenile shelf for me, thanks to Jarod, library assistant, who found it! [Martha Barkley is referring to the paperback edition; the book was originally published in hardcover in 1975.]
Both books have special pages showing Andre with the Goodridge family cat in their Rockport kitchen. All you pet lovers, whether it is cats or dogs, will find Andre friendly to every creature great and small, even chickens. Lobster traps at the harbor have Andre napping on them on the dock. It has been a heart-warming experience to compare the photos of Andre's many antics in one book with the beautiful illustrations in the award winning children's picture book. The friendship between Andre and Harry Goodridge, WWII veteran, is portrayed lovingly.
Andre was a captured wild animal who had the choice of remaining wild or living in captivity. For twenty-five years he chose both. The simple explanation for this could be that Andre had "imprinted" on Harry or was just taking advantage of free room and board. The deeper explanation involves qualities of intelligence and sensitivity in both seal and man that have not been measured and may never be.
Some of you may have seen Andre's Rockport harbor performances during the summer tourist season. His popularity has been compared to coastal artist Andrew Wyeth…Andre and Andy Wyeth, what Maine tourist attractions. Of course, we have our local lake loons calling everyday and the occasional moose in the woods. Many many good books on loons and moose. Go find them…Jarod or Brian or Janet, director, will help you at our Belgrade public library.
Marblehead, the Mystic and Boston Aquariums all played a part in Andre's winter locales. Each spring, he was left out to sea and some days he swam one hundred miles towards his summer home. Can you imagine that? The great migratory swims of Andre were studied by many up and down the coast. Occasionally, he was given a car ride and eventually a flight as he aged, in order to winter comfortably south of Rockport.
Such a story of wild animal and man sensitive to nature. Their friendship made headlines every summer and the Goodridge family welcomed their special visitor as a member of the family inside their home. Four years after Andre died and was buried by Harry in a pet cemetery, Harry died. His children spread Harry's ashes out at Robinson's Rock where Andre was born. Two lobster boats took the sixteen family members out on a cloudless July day: "In the silence that followed the cutting of the engines, we were surrounded by dozens of curious seals, who watched as we scattered Harry's ashes, along with lilies and forget-menots, over the glistening water. The seal and his man had come full circle the ending back at the beginning."
Written by Harry's daughters: Susan, Carol, Paula and Toni (who had Andre at her wedding in person!) Photo on page 190, if you want to see it…