What’s In a Picture

Squirrel Island

Fun and Games

Sometime before the dawn of aerial photography, a cartographer decided that the contour of a small island just off the coast of Boothbay Harbor formed the likeness of a squirrel eating an acorn. Hence, Squirrel Island, which has no squirrels but did come to host a different kind of bushy-tailed, bouncy-stepped mammal: summer colonists. Never did more people flock to the 130-acre isle than in late August for a carnival known as Fete Week. The weeklong festival drew visitors from across New England and beyond. Kids played games while parents cut loose with fishing outings, card tournaments, dances, and vaudeville shows. In a photo taken from an island Fete Week circa 1907, pairs of boys, bound at the knees and ankles, competed in the three-legged race while ladies clutching parasols and gentlemen wearing blazers and boater hats looked on. Other competitions were the Married Men’s Race, the Women’s Race, and something called a Watermelon Race, which seems to have involved running down a watermelon dropped at some distance in the grass. But Fete Week wasn’t all innocent, sepia-tinted shenanigans. For a few years in the early 1900s, a culminating highlight was the minstrel show, in which performers in blackface sang tunes that we can only imagine were as offensive as the costuming. “They fairly took the audience by surprise, and their magnificent appearance in black satin vests and long-tailed yellow coats gave the audience such a shock that it took them fully five minutes to collect themselves and give the boys a hand,” a reporter for the Lewiston Evening Journal wrote of the minstrel set in 1907. “It was fun, and that is the secret of the success of the whole show. It was fun, fun, fun.” Ah, summer. So much for nostalgia.

Photograph: Collections of Stanley Museum.

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