Only woman ever born on Shelter Island ferry turns 60

Thomas and Joan Young pose with their baby, Joan Elizabeth, at Eastern Long Island Hospital on the day she  was born in 1954. (Credit: Young Family)
Thomas and Joan Young pose with their baby, Joan Elizabeth, at Eastern Long Island Hospital on the day she was born in 1954. (Credit: Young Family)

When Joan Elizabeth Young was born on the “Islander” the morning of Aug. 22, 1954, newspaper accounts suggested no other baby would ever again be born on a ferryboat between Shelter Island and Greenport.

Sixty years later, that prediction, published in both the New York Herald Tribune and East Hampton Star, holds true. 

The former Ms. Young, who you may know by her nickname, “Missie,” or her married name, Melcer, turns 60 Friday, Aug 22. And the story of how she was born remains as unique and entertaining as it was that day.

Six decades ago, Ms. Melcer’s father, Thomas, a lineman for Shelter Island Light and Power Company, phoned Dr. Donald Currie at 3:30 a.m. to say his wife, also named Joan, was in labor and that the young couple needed to get to Eastern Long Island Hospital in Greenport as soon as possible.

Dr. Currie told them to board the first boat out of the ferry terminal in Shelter Island Heights and said he would meet them on the ferry. The boat did not depart on time, however, because a deck hand showed up late for work.

Realizing there was little time to spare, Greenport-Shelter Island ferry boat captain George Dickerson “rang for full speed,” according to an article in that week’s edition of The Suffolk Times.

“But all in vain, for the baby came into the world in the front seat of the Youngs’ automobile with Dr. Currie in attendance,” we reported. “The child, the first born on any of the boats owned by the ferry company, weighed seven pounds and 14 ounces.”

Joan Elizabeth Young was born in her parents’ 1954 Nash Rambler at 5:30 a.m., just as the ferry was rounding the railroad dock in Greenport. She is believed to be the only baby ever born on any ferryboat out of Shelter Island.

Newspaper accounts of the birth all shared this similar remark: Joan would one day have a heckuva cocktail party story about the day she was born.

While Ms. Melcer says the tale comes up on occasion, it’s a much bigger deal for her parents, who recently moved in with her and her husband in Sunrise, Fla.

“Right now it’s a big story for my father,” she said. “He brings it up to just about everybody.”

The Youngs pose with their daughter, now known as Joan 'Missie' Melcer, in Florida in April. (Credit: Young Family)
The Youngs pose with their daughter, now known as Joan ‘Missie’ Melcer, in Florida in April. (Credit: Young Family)

Recalling that morning this week, Mr. Young said he missed the actual birth, as the doctor asked him to get out of the car to make more space.

“By the time I walked around to the other side of the car, the baby was there,” he said.

Mr. Young said he never worried about his wife not making it to the hospital on time.

“I never thought anything of it,” he said. “It hadn’t happened before and it hasn’t happened since.”

Ms. Melcer said that because transportation has expanded so much in the decades that have passed since her birth, the idea of a baby being born on a ferry or another mode of travel isn’t necessarily as noteworthy today.

“It is still kind of cool though,” she said. “People are surprised when I tell them. But nowadays, you hear about babies being born on jet liners and taxi cabs; it happens more often. But in 1954, it was a huge deal.”

After the ferry birth was covered in print, the Youngs were invited to appear on a pair of television shows, including the game show “On Your Account,” featuring host Dennis James.

Ms. Melcer lived on Shelter Island until she married her husband, Paul, in 1975, and the couple moved to Shirley. They left Long Island for Florida a dozen years later.

She previously worked as a clerk in a chiropractic office while raising her son and daughter. She’s now a grandmother to her daughter’s four children, who live in New Orleans but had to move in with her in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In an example of life coming full circle, Ms. Melcer said she’ll spend her 60th birthday caring for her parents, who have fallen into ill health in recent years. Mr. Young, now 87, has been undergoing intensive physical therapy to make his legs stronger, as he struggles to walk. Ms. Young, 83, suffers from severe back pain.

“We had a gigantic celebration for my 50th,” Ms. Melcer said. “This year will be spent helping Mom and Dad, who are going through a rough time.”

The second of four children, Ms. Melcer last visited Shelter Island in 2012 to see her older brother, Tom, who still lives there. She rode the North Ferry during that trip, taking the same journey her parents made the day she was born.

Of course, when her own children were born it wasn’t nearly as eventful. But that didn’t stop the Melcers from making sure they were prepared for anything.

When Ms. Melcer became pregnant with her son and learned she and her husband would be traveling from Shirley to a New York City hospital to give birth in winter, they purchased a four-wheel drive truck to avoid getting stranded if it snowed that day.

“It ended up being the most gorgeous January day,” she said with a laugh.

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