“Inactive practice bomb for sale” read a recent ad in The Martha’s Vineyard Times classifieds section. There was very little information; the ad said only that the bomb had been used for practice during the Vietnam War era. The asking price was $100. Those interested were instructed to call a Vineyard Haven number and leave a message.
A call to that number yielded an answering machine recording. Halfway through leaving a reporter’s message, Tisbury resident Carolee Stewart picked up the phone.
The bomb belonged to her dad, former Island science teacher Arthur “Doug” Stewart, she was quick to explain. The steward of her late parents’ house in Vineyard Haven, along with her sister, Barbara Lopes, Carolee has been plowing through her dad’s military memorabilia, model ship collections, and cuckoo clock parts stashed in the basement. Doug had been an avid collector and tinkerer, as well as a naval World War II veteran. He served in the Pacific, Carolee said, but didn’t really see any action. He died in 2005.
“He was a Mason, so he hung out with the guys in the Masons,” she said. “And he was a veteran, so he went to the Legion in Vineyard Haven and did the bingo nights. He hung out with all those people, so if somebody had crap like that and said ‘I’m trying to get rid of blah, blah, blah,’ he’d say, ‘Oh, I’ll take it.’”
Doug was born in New York City in 1924. He married Carolee’s mother, Kathryn, in 1948. The two spent the first few years of their marriage as teachers in New York. Doug taught science and Kathryn taught music.
Carolee, their first daughter, was born during a summer trip to the Vineyard in 1950. The couple decided to move to the Island the following year. Both continued to teach. Doug was hired to teach science in the Edgartown School, and Kathryn to teach music at the up-Island schools (Gay Head, West Tisbury, and Chilmark). She eventually became a full-time teacher in West Tisbury.
When the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School opened, Doug took a position teaching chemistry and physics, which he taught until he retired in the mid-’80s.
In the summer, he worked at the Van Ryper ship model shop on Beach Road in Tisbury to supplement his teaching salary.
“They made ship models, and during the war, they made models of battleships, and they were used for training,” Carolee said.
At Van Ryper’s, Doug built models of the ferries and commissioned models of yachts. Later, he worked as a statistician at the Edgartown Yacht Club.
After teaching, he picked a trade that filled his hankering for tinkering and collecting.
“In his retirement he repaired clocks and watches,” Carolee said.
Doug became a repository for broken watches and clocks. Friends would offer their broken timekeeping mechanisms, and he would take them and keep them for parts. Carolee laughed as she said that she was inundated with clock and watch parts in her effort to clear out the basement.
“He was fascinated with cuckoo clocks,” she said. “He was very good at figuring out how to fix them.”
His aptitude for repairing clocks eventually led to a gift of parts from a Tisbury merchant.
“Mr. McGinnis used to own the only jewelry store on Main Street in Vineyard Haven. He was also a clock and watch repairman. When he died, his family gave everything from the watch and clock business to my dad. He had boxes of junk. In it, he found parts of a very old cuckoo clock, but not all the parts were there. He figured out what he could piece together, and made the parts that were missing.”
Doug gave that clock to Carolee.
“As I was going through stuff, I found several cuckoo clocks in the basement. We’re distributing them to the grandchildren,” she said. “There were, I think, a total of four functioning cuckoo clocks.”
A hobbyist, a jokester
Carolee said her dad was talkative, with a prominent sense of humor.
“He loved to tell jokes. He was able to hear a joke and then make it more interesting,” she said.
Doug would come home from bingo night at the Legion with new jokes to tell to Kathryn. And he always had a new joke for the minister on Sunday mornings.
Doug was also a jokester in school with his classes, much to Carolee’s chagrin. Carolee had three classes with her dad in high school, as he was the only chemistry teacher in the 60s.
“When he’s your dad, you’re embarrassed when he tells a joke to the whole class. But he loved to tell stories, and he loved to talk,” she said.
Doug was always busy. He and Kathryn were active members of the Island’s Baptist community; he was master of the Mason Lodge, active in the Legion, and active in the Scottish Society.
As such an eclectic hobbyist, Carolee said she was not surprised to find an inactive bomb in her dad’s basement.
“He was always busy tinkering with something. In the ’50s, when we got a TV, he would take it apart and figure out how it works,” Carolee said. “I was afraid when I gave him a computer he’d take it apart, but he didn’t.”
She said that despite his penchant for the mechanical, Doug didn’t take very well to computers beyond sending emails. He had trouble navigating the relationship between a computer mouse and the screen.
“He’d done everything with his hands,” she said.
As for the bomb, Carolee said she is positive it is inactive, and she’s still looking to sell it. She believes it to be the type of practice bomb that would have been used on Noman’s Land, the small island three miles off Squibnocket Point that was used for bombing target practice until the mid-’90s.
“They would fill it with either sand or water, and they would use it to practice dropping the bomb on something,” she said.
No one, other than this reporter, responded to her ad in the Times, but she’s had a few people express interest in response to a Facebook post.
Ultimately, she’s still looking for a home for the relic of her dad’s collecting days, which she found hanging on the wall in her parents’ basement.
“There couldn’t be anything active about it,” she said.