A couple of months ago Elaine and I scheduled a visit to New York City to see the Robert Indiana retrospective exhibit at the Whitney Museum of American Art.  We’d lived in his shadow; well not his shadow exactly but certainly the shadow of his home, the Star of Hope Lodge, for the last 40 years.  It was time to get more thoroughly acquainted.

The Main Street of my childhood Vinalhaven was an architectural wonderland of four simply magnificent buildings. One, the mighty Memorial Hall, was a big Victorian, home to a U.S. Post Office that would have made Norman Rockwell weak in the knees, and an upper floor grand ballroom and theater.

The stage had a flying loft behind a proscenium arch, an assortment of stage legs disguising ample wing room. Here were staged wonderful operettas and real dramas, school plays, grand concerts, and my 1962 high school graduation. The stately and comfortable auditorium chairs, three to a section, were moved carefully aside on weekends for dances, all with terrific live music; maybe our own Goose Arey ensemble, maybe a travelling band, maybe the Mac McHale Old Time Radio Gang.  The town tore it down in 1973 because it was too costly to maintain. Words have failed others who have lamented its destruction. They fail me now.

The other three buildings, similarly Victorian, were Second Empire structures, different in that they were crowned with Mansard roofs. Two of the three, each larger than the third—which still stands a block away—bookended the Memorial Hall and were nearly as imposing.

One of these, the Masonic Hall, was destroyed by fire in 1967. The other was the Star of Hope Lodge, which in the late 1800s and early 1900s was home to Vinalhaven’s Independent Order of Odd Fellows.

In 1973, having occupied and rented it for four years, Robert Indiana purchased the Star of Hope Lodge and adopted its second floor as his primary residence. The first floor became studio space.  He quickly became the target of a handful of local rednecks who found in his solitary and singularly dissimilar existence sufficient cause for harassment.

Mr. Indiana asked me to install a door between his studio and the grand staircase leading up to his residence. It was to be constructed in a particularly challenging way, allowing him to elbow it open without turning a knob (presumably he would be carrying a large canvas and did not want to put it down) but was to be outfitted with a certain fastening mechanism that would allow for it to be locked securely. The door was to “withstand an assault should anyone try to break in and gain access to his second floor residence.”

His concern was not unwarranted. A couple of yahoos subsequently broke into the studio and tried unsuccessfully to get through the door. Bob had no phone and left through a second floor fire escape, went to the home of a nearby woman who did his housework and called the police who, when they arrived, found the culprits gone and the door relatively intact.

A few years later, the vandalism unabated, I walked by one day and noticed broken glass on the sidewalk. Looking up I saw the lower sash of a double hung window broken. My shop was nearby. I got a ladder, climbed up and took out the sash, removed it to the shop, replaced the glass and the window, took down my ladder and went away.

Years later—last year as a matter of fact—I had occasion to visit with Bob and, during the course of our conversation, mentioned the repair I’d accomplished. I wondered if he even knew his window had been broken that day.

“Yes, of course,” he responded with a wonderfully wry smile. “I was watching when you made those repairs.  Now please pet the dog,” he said, referring to a large toy dog that whimpered mechanically on the couch next to me.

Phil Crossman lives on Vinalhaven, where he runs the Tidewater Motel with his wife, Elaine.