A Biddeford Pool party was an opportunity to clown around in 1917.
- By: Joshua F. Moore
If you need to apologize to a child, you hire a clown. And when Biddeford Pool summer resident Fanny C. Foster accidentally let loose her hounds on some local youngsters, she knew she had some serious apologizing to do. Apparently she and her houseguest, Mrs. T.K. Niedringhaus, mistook the children’s footsteps on the porch one evening as the frightening sounds of a burglar. Foster’s barking dogs sent the tykes scurrying across the neighboring Abenakee Club golf course, dropping the May baskets they’d hoped to hang on their neighbors’ doorknobs. The children were unhurt, but Mrs. Foster and Mrs. Niedringhaus felt so bad they held two parties for the kids that summer, complete with pony cart rides and other amusements. For the party at Mrs. Foster’s home on Main Street, she decided to add some flair by inviting summer resident Louis Aston Knight, believing that the Paris-born painter would please both parents and tots alike. Knight took to the task with zeal, going so far as to paint his face, don a wig, and strike a clownish pose for local photographer Robert Henry Gay.
The ladies of Biddeford Pool could count plenty of esteemed artists among their summer neighbors. James Montgomery Flagg, for instance, had just recently gained fame for his stern self-portrait as Uncle Sam and “I Want You” slogan: all part of the growing movement to raise support for the Great War in Europe. But Knight was no slouch himself; his landscapes earned him significant artistic acclaim during his lifetime. Indeed, the dapper fellow at far left appears to be writing a check, possibly for one of the partially completed works Knight is displaying.
This was hardly the only noteworthy party of 1917 in Biddeford Pool. The well-heeled summer residents held many gatherings throughout the warmer months to drum up funds for the war, which the U.S. had entered just a few months earlier. Interestingly, among the hundreds of photographs that watchmaker and amateur photographer R.H. Gay created, and later donated to the McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, there exist only a handful from the parties held during the summer of 1917, all taken at this particular event. It is almost as if Foster and Niedringhaus required Gay’s services to record their public apology for posterity. Otherwise, for many local children their only summer memory might have been the barking of dogs.
- By: Joshua F. Moore