Happy Birthday Oscar Laighton!
Oscar Laighton, the elder of Celia Thaxter’s two younger brothers, was born on June 30, 1839. If he were alive today he would be 173 years old.
Oscar came out to White Island when he was only 3 months old with his parents Thomas and Eliza Laighton and his older sister Celia. He didn’t go back to the mainland until he was 16 years old, when he saw Portsmouth for the first time, a tall tree, the bustling of a mainland town. He was so startled and disoriented he went back to the Isles of Shoals and did not leave again for a long time. He spent most of his time on a number of the 9 islands of the Isles of Shoals, and he lived a long time- 99 years and 9 months! He arrived during the decline of the fishing village of Gosport and he lived through the grand hotel era. His father Thomas Laighton built and operated first the Mid-Ocean House of Entertainment on Smuttynose Island, and then the Appledore Hotel on Appledore. He and his younger brother Cedric took over running the Appledore Hotel, and later the Oceanic on Star Island as well.
When he could no longer afford to keep the hotels, due to debt and the changes in transportation that brought guests elsewhere in New England, the Unitarians purchased the island. Namely, Lewis Parkhurst, who held it until the Star Island Corporation could take it over. Thomas and Lilla Elliott, pictured above with Oscar, had started bringing Unitarian Conferences to the Isles of Shoals in 1897. They filled both the Appledore and Oceanic hotels to capacity. The staff of the hotels even gave up their own sleeping quarters and set up cots in bathrooms to allow the overflow of guests to sleep in their rooms. Though the Unitarians purchased the island, and it was no longer Oscar’s, they were fond of him and allowed him to live there. He had a room on the third floor of Cottage A and later on the first floor of Cottage C. Thus Oscar fully experienced three of the major uses of the islands, as a fishing village, a place for grand hotels, and as a conference center.
Oscar had many interests and talents. He drew pictures, mostly of boats (as above) and fish, he also wrote poetry and prose as his sister Celia did, though he was not recognized as a writer, as Celia was the famous author and artist in the family. You can find his book at our bookstore- 90 Years at the Isles of Shoals. He built buildings on Appledore, the honeymoon cottage on Lunging (ironic as he never married, so had no honeymoon), the steeple of the chapel on Star Island used to be of wood, and he rebuilt it out of stone. He operated a telegraph office on Appledore Island. He invented a washing machine. He loved to row his boat Twilight, talk to people young and old, and was a true treasure of the Isles of Shoals.
Some folks even say they see his ghost out here… not surprising for someone who lived such a long and full life here, I would imagine he might want to stick around.