Catch of the Day
Walter Tolman knows how to draw a crowd. From the group of onlookers, at left, who have gathered on the docks of the Lane-Libby Fisheries Company in Carvers Harbor to the piles of cod, hake, and pollock that cover his decks, the arrival of Captain Tolman, standing at lower right on the foredeck of his sloop, Lelia E. Tolman, was always a noteworthy event on Vinalhaven Island. Bountiful catches such as this one, captured in the nets stacked in the dories at far right during forays out to the Grand Banks, were an important part of what had built the island enterprise of Edwin Lane and Thomas Libby into the largest fish-curing plant in Maine.By the time this remarkable photograph was made in 1910, the company handled up to eight million pounds of fish each year and boasted the only cold-storage plant on the East Coast.
Tolman's impressive catch appears to have drawn one well-dressed, cigar-chomping gent, at far left, perhaps Edwin Lane himself, who no doubt wonders how many of the wooden barrels at left Tolman's load of fish will fill - and therefore how much money this catch will net his business. (The Lane family's fortunes had already grown so much that the island in the background, where their massive home is faintly visible at far left, bore their name. Today Lane's Island serves as a popular public nature preserve.) The boys at lower left are likely dreaming of one day sailing on a vessel like Tolman's and making such a historic catch. In contrast, the Asian fellow at extreme left seems strikingly out of place in his tunic and cap, and he is also one of the few subjects who have refused to pause for this unknown photographer's camera. He's probably intent on selecting the finest fish for his employer, no doubt one of the wealthy summercators who owned the sprawling estates dotting the shoreline of both Vinalhaven and neighboring North Haven.
While most of the men gathered on this summer day nearly a century ago appear quite willing to pose in front of this photographer's camera - even the sou'wester-clad captain of the Camden-based Friendship sloop, at center, faces the lens - the person who appears most put out by the temporary work stoppage is Captain Tolman himself. He probably wanted nothing more than to unload his cargo, to fill up his vessel's one-lunger engine at the gasoline-refueling raft floating behind him, and to make for his home (and to his wife, for whom his vessel is named) on nearby Matinicus. For this proud Maine skipper, the important things in life were family, fishing, and finishing the day's work. Stopping everything to pose for a cameraman, even if he was commemorating a record catch, must have seemed an unnecessary imposition - which is just what the look on his face seems to suggest.