St John in the year 1914–can you imagine? That’s when Guy Benjamin was born, out on the East End of St John. History is everywhere here. There are some wonderful photos from old-time St John, but this was what things looked like over on ST Thomas to give you an idea c. 1918.
Who was Guy Benjamin? Well, when you travel out to Coral Bay ST John you’ll notice a colorful litte school there–and it’s called the Guy Benjamin School. Guy taught there–and surely had a lot to do with it getting there in the first place as he was a lifelong educator. Sadly, this school breathtakingly set to close, however.
Guy was the first St. Johnian to finish high school. He went on to graduate from New York University, and to become both Superintendent of Schools on St. John and St. Thomas and an author (Me and My Beloved Virgin) … the cover is on the cover of this post. This book is filled with stories that he remembered from those early days and maybe a few more from his vivid imagination. Guy passed in 2012, but I had the pleasure of meeting him on a few occasions–and a copy of his book is available for you to read at Mooncottage.
If you love ST John, you need to know about Guy Benjamin. One way would be to read his book, “Me and My Beloved Virgin.” He had a little broken down house just past Skinny’s where a goat would usually be sitting on the roof of his car. (Not exactly sure that it was HIS car, but it was at his house). On the street in front of his house, up until only about 3-4 years ago was a small wooden stand by the side of the road with a stack of his books for sale. All you had to do was leave your money there and take a copy. I can’t imagine anyone ever stealing one or the money–it would be a crime in Coral Bay punishable by death or worse. He was that beloved.
When I met Guy, it was probably in the year 2000–he was in his late 80’s at the time. I was busy learning about this and that when I first came to ST John myself and read his book and wanted to meet him. So I went by his house and shouted to him my arrival the true way you need to announce yourself anywhere in the Virgin Islands, “Inside, Inside!” He came to the door having just woken up from a nap and invited me in. There inside his house, there was virtually nowhere to sit … except on top of stacks of papers and books–some piled high to the ceiling. To say that Guy was not the greatest housekeeper would be an understatement, but he was a character. I think everything he ever read was still in that little wooden house.
Well, in any case, I explained to him how much I liked his book and he said immediately, “Well, in that case, let me read you a story or two to you so you can get the real feel for it.” So, he proceeded to read his book to me aloud. Most of all it in fact. With that amazing West Indian lilt. I was there mesmerized for hours. It was one of the most delightful afternoons I have ever spent on ST John. So, when he finally felt that maybe he had shared enough with me, he said with eyes gleaming, “Oh my God, you are in luck! I have a copy of the 2nd volume of My Beloved Virgin which isn’t published yet, and now I am going to read you some of those storied right now!” And, I sat there another hour or two to hear more tales of early ST John and its people.
I guess the moral of the story is this. When vacationing on ST John, remember that history is everywhere. And, sometimes it might be sitting right next to you enjoying a cool Red Stripe. Next time, I’ll tell you about a man who came to vacation on ST John who had more to think about than anyone in the world at that time–J. Robert Oppenheimer while a director at the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton. But, that’s another story. Guy Benjamin was a gentle and peaceful gift from another era. See if you can find his book and you’ll understand what I mean.