This week I thought I’d write about some of my favorite Maui stories. Here are a few interesting things about the Valley Isle.
Wailuku-born Samuel C. Armstrong enlisted during the Civil War and led the 125th N.Y. Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. For that he was promoted to major, then colonel, in charge of the Union’s 9th Regiment of “colored” troops.
By the end of the war, he was a brigadier general in attendance at Lee’s surrender at Appomattox. Pretty impressive for a 26-year-old Maui boy.
Following the Civil War, Armstrong founded the Hampton Institute in Virginia in 1867, as a vocational school for displaced freed men of the South. Academically, it was based on the Hilo Boarding School model.
Hampton turned out teachers who went on to educate thousands of newly freed slaves across the South. One of them was Booker T. Washington. Upon graduation, at 25, he moved to Alabama and became principal at Tuskegee University. There he taught students practical farming and trade skills.
By 1900, Tuskegee had over 100 faculty and 1,400 students. Today, U.S. News and World Reports ranks Tuskegee as the fifth-best regional college in the South.
Hawaii’s largest jewelry manufacturer began on Maui in 1958 as a Lahaina dive shop taking tourists on underwater tours.
On one such expedition in deep waters off the Molokai Channel, divers discovered Hawaiian black coral, one of the ocean’s rare treasures. It is now the official state gemstone.
Coincidentally, berthed next to Maui Divers at the time of the discovery was a boat that had a broken mast. Cliff Slater, pilot of the ship, had been sailing around the world and was temporarily stuck on Maui.
Slater suggested the company make jewelry from the black coral. Crude carvings became more intricate and beautiful over the years.
In 1962 Maui Divers moved to Oahu to sell its jewelry. Four years later another major discovery, pink coral, was found, and in 1974 gold coral was discovered.
Maui Divers has the only design center in the islands. The 350,000 people who visit Maui Divers on Liona Street each year tour the facilities and watch coral jewelry being made. It’s free, open to the public and worth your time.
Wilson P. Cannon
Maui-born Wilson P. Cannon Jr. served as Bank of Hawaii president from 1974 to 1980 and was one of the most beloved in the community. Cannon wore aloha shirts daily when other bankers wore coats and ties. He also spent much of his time outside the bank, serving on various nonprofit committees, where I had the pleasure of meeting him.
Anna Derby Blackwell, a granddaughter of Charles M. Cooke, fondly remembers calling him one day. “I was writing a story for the Honolulu Beacon magazine and phoned him. ‘Willy,’ I said, and then sang ‘There’s a longing in my heart for the Dear Old Valley Isle.’ What’s the next line? I can’t remember!
“‘And the spirit in my heart will never die,’ he sang back, and we finished the song together. ‘Thank you very much,’ I said. ‘You’re welcome!’ he replied, and we hung up.
“Later, the day the story appeared, we met at a cocktail party,” Blackwell continued. “Cannon said there had been a banker from New York in his office at the time, and he was kind of surprised when I started singing into the phone!”
Bank of Hawaii was founded in Honolulu in 1897 and added branches around the islands in the following decades.
In 1934 the Paia, Maui, branch had the distinction of being the first bank in Hawaii to be robbed.
It was held up by two brothers from Lahaina, David and George Wong. Both were captured a few hours later with the $979 they had stolen. The next bank robbery in the islands didn’t occur for another 20 years.
Baldwin High School is the only school I know of that had a dog attending for 10 years.
The Hawaiian Humane Society’s book “Poi Dogs and Popoki” describes that her owner, Laura Wong, said her dog, Queenie, began following her son, Ransome, to school in 1952.
Ransome graduated in 1956 and became a schoolteacher on Lanai. Queenie had gotten into the habit of going to Baldwin and continued doing so until at least 1962, when the last article on her was written.
Queenie left home each morning and greeted the students as they arrived. The students elected her “queen” of the class of 1962.
Susan Sakai told me that she was a Baldwin High School graduate (1964) and immediately recognized Queenie in the photo with Lucille DeMello, who taught sophomore social studies/history.
“Queenie was on campus when I graduated, but by then she was a senior citizen unable to climb the stairs. Fortunately, Mrs. DeMello’s classroom was on the first floor, so Queenie had full access to her food and water bowls.
“Another bit of Queenie lore: Her owner, Ransome Wong, was on the Baldwin High basketball team coached by my dad, who taught senior English at the school. Queenie attended basketball practice with her master, and after he graduated she continued to do so.
Byron Tanaka said, “I attended BHS in 1965 and remembered Queenie quite vividly. She sat across of me on the floor in civics class! Our teacher was Mrs. DeMello, who fed Queenie daily.
“I once requested if Queenie could be situated somewhere else, as her ‘odor’ was rather bothersome. Mrs. DeMello gave me a look and posture which dictated, ‘You’ve got some nerve!’ Ha ha ha!”
Gen. George Patton was once a colonel at Schofield Barracks. He loved polo and was a frequent player on Oahu in the 1930s and early 1940s.
He was a fierce competitor, and was sent off the field in one match for “ungentlemanly conduct“ — swearing in front of the viewing stand.
Ezra Crane, then editor of the Maui News, told Anna Derby Blackwell about one match, many years ago.
“Patton’s Army team played the Maui team at Kapiolani Park,” Blackwell recalls, “which starred Frank Baldwin and his sons Edward, Asa and ‘Chu.’”
Patton’s team was soundly trounced. “Great sportsman that he was,” Blackwell says sarcastically, “Patton commandeered a single-wing Army plane. He flew from Oahu to Maui and, using a number of 5-pound bags of flour, proceeded to ‘bomb’ Edward Baldwin’s historic ranch house at Ulupalakua!”
Those are some of my favorite Maui musings. Maybe down the road I’ll write some more.
Have a question or suggestion? Contact Bob Sigall, author of the five “The Companies We Keep” books, at email@example.com.