Life-Saving Service Book Author Draws On Local Connections

By: Debra Lawless

Author and teacher Rebecca Locklear. COURTESY PHOTO

A native of Chatham and Orleans who now lives in Oregon has written an intriguing and creative book, “Exploring the U.S. Life-Saving Service 1878-1915: 17 Student Workshops with 120 Activities” (Skaket Books and Art, 2019), that can be used with students in grades four through 12.
“Most people know nothing about the USLSS but then become so inspired by all these men achieved,” author Rebecca Fadely Locklear said in an email interview. Locklear has a unique perspective on the Life-Saving Service due to her family connections.
Locklear is a great-granddaughter of Ernest “Skipper” Eldredge (1874-1964) of Chatham. In 1904, Eldredge built his family home at 85 Cross St., which is where the young Locklear spent many a weekend with Eldredge and her grandparents. Continuing the family tradition, the book is illustrated by Locklear’s son Ven, a professional illustrator.
The Life-Saving Service is the group whose motto was “You have to go out, but you don't have to come back.” It was a precursor to the U.S. Coast Guard, into which it was incorporated in 1915. To reduce the numbers of those who drowned off the Cape, the U.S. Life-Saving Service built 13 stations on the shore between Chatham and Provincetown, with four of those stations in Chatham.
Eldredge joined the U.S. Life-Saving Service in November 1898, and that same day he was initiated by rowing a surfboat a mile to assist the passengers and the crew on a steamer which had gone down in a violent storm.
Locklear was given access to a box of papers found in a family attic. The papers contained documents about Eldredge’s time in the service.
“Many of the stories I have come from that source,” she says. She is also a member of the U.S. Life-Saving Service Heritage Association in Eastham, which invited her to write a series of activities for students. “Exploring the U.S. Life-Saving Service” immerses students in the lives of the lifesavers through activities such as art, cooking, drama, skits and improvisation, games, music, poetry, research, science, stories and video.
Locklear trained as a teacher, and enjoyed a 37-year career teaching in public, private, international, and non-traditional schools in Oregon. She also has a background in music and in performing—during five college summers in the 1970s she performed at the Academy of Performing Arts in Orleans—and so was accustomed, through her work, to writing student productions. All of this comes to play in her book.
“Over the 20 years, I wrote 42 productions for students,” she recalls. Each production took two-to-three years of research. “Because I’m used to working with history and the arts, it only took me about three weeks to come up with all the activities for ‘Exploring the U.S. Life-Saving Service’ book.”
And “as an English teacher who has worked with high school student research papers, research is fairly easy for me. Actually, I love it.”
The 117-page book is published in an 8½-by-11-inch format with a spiral spine so that it stays open for easy reference. Locklear sees the book as useful for history, English and art teachers, scouting groups and families.
Let’s look at how Locklear incorporates cooking into the activities. First she describes how the cook of the day had to have meals ready at 7 a.m., noon and 4 p.m. Despite the various levels of cooking skills, “the men ate well,” she writes. There's one story about the men not eating well. According to Eldredge, “One cook-for-the-day went on duty for the first time, right smugly deciding he’d make a nice blue heron stew for the boys.” An inexperienced cook, he served a sort of half-raw stew with provender, potatoes and onions. “For supper that night the men ate bread and butter.”
An activity in Locklear’s book revolves around baking gingerbread with molasses—molasses was a staple at the stations.
Another exercise involves taking notes by drawing images. Someone reads the story aloud, pausing at asterisks so that students can draw a skunk, a barn, a trap, etc. (The story is about children who are sprayed by a skunk.) A later exercise called “Rescues with Art Activity” again has the students draw the answers to questions so that they can later use the drawing to explain how rescues were conducted. Other lessons revolve around drama skits.
In researching the book, Locklear relied on five experts, including her father’s cousin Richard Ryder, a Chatham native and the author of “Seashore Sentinel: The Old Harbor Lifesaving Station on Cape Cod” (2009). (His book is listed in an impressive bibliography in the back of the book.)
“There were times when I came across conflicting USLSS information and where, at the end of the day, I had to choose,” Locklear says.
One interesting aspect of Locklear’s book is that she draws on research into Pacific Ocean rescues. She interviewed Corbin Ross, the former Chatham Coast Guard Station Senior Chief, who is from Central Oregon. Ross brought perspective to the storms on each coast.
“Exploring the U.S. Life-Saving Service” is available at Yellow Umbrella Books. Locklear will give a presentation on her book on Tuesday, Sept. 10 from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Snow Library in Orleans.