North by East
Southwest Harbor looks pretty in pink, a thirty-foot-tall fisherman, and more.
Pretty in Pink
Each July, Southwest Harbor turns flamingo pink. Literally.
It is an unlikely migration: each July a flock of flamingos makes its way to the quiet side of Mount Desert Island. Lawn flamingos, that is. They land — or rather, are placed — on residential and business properties around Southwest Harbor for a fund-raising event put on by Harbor House, a local community center.
Originally known as Southwest Harbor Days, the four-day Flamingo Festival (which begins July 9 this year) includes a craft fair, parade, rides for kids, pancake breakfast, and more. No one seems quite sure how a straightforward civic celebration turned into a flamingo fiesta nearly a dozen years ago.
“I really don’t know. Isn’t that awful?” admits Harbor House event coordinator Diana Novella. “It was just kind of a fun, gimmicky thing. The executive director [of Harbor House at the time] knew that Don and Nancy Featherstone lived close by in Massachusetts and that [flamingos] would be a great draw.”
Don Featherstone, who previously had no connection with Maine, invented the iconic pink lawn ornament in 1957 while working at Union Products in Massachusetts. Now he and his wife are the Grand Marshals of the popular parade down Southwest Harbor’s main drag.
But the flamingos are the real celebrities. “The first year they tried it, some people put the flamingos on lawns and it caught on,” says Bruce Carlson, the executive director for the Southwest Harbor/Tremont Chamber of Commerce. “The second year they were all over the place. And now the whole town turns into a flamingo craze.”
At least it’s not pink elephants.
Sign O’ the Times
What will become of Prospect Harbor’s giant fisherman?
Now that Bumble Bee Foods has closed the country’s last sardine cannery, what is to become of its iconic sign, the enormous fisherman in yellow oilskins who has towered for decades over Prospect Harbor in the Schoodic Peninsula town of Gouldsboro?
“As far as I know, it’s staying here, and if I have anything to say about it, it’s staying here,” says Peter Colson, the longtime manager of Stinson Seafood, which processed its last sardine in April. “I have talked to some of the prospective buyers and they’ve said they’re interested in keeping it.”
Holding an oversized can of Beach Cliff sardines in his enormous hands, the thirty-foot-tall fisherman memorializes an industry that defined Prospect Harbor for more than a century, says Gouldsboro selectman and lobster dealer Dana Rice, who likens the cannery’s closure to a death in the family. One hundred-and-twenty-eight people, many of whom hand-packed pieces of silver herring into cans all their working lives, lost their jobs.
The giant mariner’s symbolism reaches beyond Schoodic, says Ronnie Peabody, who with wife, Mary, runs the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum in Jonesport. Originally erected by the Maine Sardine Council on Route One in Kittery in the pre-Maine Turnpike 1950s, the fisherman offered his stoic blue-eyed gaze and tantalizing sardine can to northbound drivers. The can’s label read: “Maine Sardines Welcome You to Vacationland, Sardineland.” At the time, about fifty sardine factories dotted the Maine coast. “We have the same man on the end of our [museum], only smaller,” says Peabody.
By the early 1960s, the sardine council’s plywood sign was deteriorating and the sardine industry had dwindled to a single factory, Stinson Seafood. According to Peabody, owner Carroll Stinson told his peers on the sardine council, “I can take it off our hands and it won’t cost us a penny.” Since the sign’s move to Prospect Harbor, it has been revamped at least twice; the can’s lid pull-ring is a more recent addition.
Even if the factory’s new owner decides against keeping the sign, the fisherman is unlikely to end up an orphan. “I think some of us would get together and buy it and lie it down in a field if we had to.” Rice says. “I’d hate to see it go.”
So would we.
Precise waypoints mark the final resting places of some early seafaring Mainers.
People from away may think us macabre, but wandering in cemeteries is a part of New England folklife, right along with mudrooms and maple syrup. (Boston has built an entire tourist industry around searching for Paul Revere’s grave.) To us Mainers, old tombstones are objects of curiosity, as well as memento mori.
Take the markers in Searsport. A number of the granite memorials in this seafaring community list not places of death, but rather latitude and longitude. “When they buried people at sea, or when a ship was lost at sea with all hands, crews would just mark the spot where they were last heard from,” explains Faith Garrold.
Employees at the Penobscot Marine Museum in Searsport, Faith and her husband, Don, are painstakingly recording and mapping all of the four thousand or so graves spread across seven cemeteries in the seaport at the head of Penobscot Bay. “In many cases there are stones, but the body was never there, because they were either lost at sea or buried in some foreign port, so it’ll say ‘buried in Madagascar’ or something like that,” Faith says.
In addition to this cartographical oddity, the Garrolds have discovered that some of Searsport’s old cemeteries themselves have undergone posthumous transformations over the years. The Bowditch Cemetery, hard by Route 1 north of the village, was originally the Pendleton Cemetery and includes many family members of that name, but was at some point renamed in honor or Nathaniel Bowditch, the father of modern navigation. The Elmwood Cemetery was formerly the Nichols Cemetery, with the Nichols School standing on the site of Bluejacket Shipcrafters.
Recording whatever data is inscribed on tombstones serves more than just the Garrolds’ own curiosity. “We’ve entered all the data from our survey of the cemeteries and from earlier inventories into an electronic database, so that people researching their ancestors can access this information, in addition to whatever else we have learned about a person through other historical records,” says Don Garrold. “Some of the stones that were inventoried in the seventies or eighties have probably fallen down and disappeared, so this is the only record we have.”
It’s nice to know that while the Maine mariners themselves might have disappeared beneath the waves, their final resting places have not.
Inventor Harley Sproul created the ultimate campfire accessory.
After a day spent paddling the Allagash or fly-fishing the Kennebago, Registered Maine Guides could no doubt quiet their clients’ growling stomachs with peanut butter sandwiches. Instead, guides typically show off their woodcraft by rustling up a feast of mouthwatering dishes: roasted chicken, savory baked salmon, even pineapple upside down cake. Indeed, the guides’ outstanding shore meals often attract more praise from urban travel writers than does their actual wilderness expertise.
We can’t help but wonder what the future holds for those deep woods banquets now that Harley Sproul has stopped making his Sproul Baker. For the past decade, the innovative reflector has allowed seasoned outdoorsmen to transform any campsite into a gourmet kitchen. The rising costs of metal, and the increased difficulty in finding raw materials, has convinced Sproul, 78, that it’s time to retire.
The former jewelry store owner began developing the oven back in 1997. A baker on the biscuit committee for the River Drivers Supper, which is held the third Thursday of July in his hometown of Lincoln, Sproul yearned for an oven that would permit the outdoor cook to prepare any meal that could be made at home. “It took nine years of research and development to perfect it,” he says of his deceptively simple tin oven, which is modeled after devices used by nineteenth-century river driver cooks and bakes with heat reflected from a campfire.
At Maine’s Outdoor Learning Center in Lincolnville, Master Maine Guide John Rogers finds Sproul’s Bakers offer entertainment along with sustenance. “I cook a lot of biscuits with them,” he says, “and the students like to watch them brown and rise right before their eyes.” For large groups, he’ll get all five of his Bakers going at once, with some students monitoring the biscuits while others tend the brownies and apple crisp.
There are other reflector ovens on the market, but only the Sproul’s Baker is foldable, collapsing to the size of a laptop computer and weighing in at just three pounds. Assembled, the Baker cooks recipes in the same amount of time a home oven requires. Temperature is controlled by moving the oven closer or farther from the fire.
Sproul has written a campfire cookbook and designed several accessories, including muffin pans and a carry case. He has made and sold about one thousand ovens since he first put them on the market in 2003.
The retiring inventor is currently looking for a buyer for his business, Sproul’s of Maine Campfire Cookware. So far, he has had a few nibbles. “In general, making ovens is complicated and not done by going downstairs after supper with a pair of tin snips and building a few,” Sproul says. “Passion, determination, and pride in your work is how it’s done.” For these qualities and others, Registered Maine Guides salute him.
A bank lot raises tempers in Brunswick.
In most towns, an encounter with a yellow fiberglass arm blocking entry to a heretofore free parking lot would likely elicit a few choice words from the driver, who would then grudgingly pay up or move on in search of friendlier blacktop. Not so in Brunswick, where residents and businesspeople have been chafing since January against the Savings Bank of Maine’s installation of a pay-to-park gate on its Maine Street lot.
The gate has not only triggered a rash of criticism from town officials, residents, and businesspeople, but also resulted in criminal summonses to at least five people (one a former town councilor) who lifted or broke the gate in order to avoid the ten-dollar fee. There’s even a Facebook group, People Boycotting Pay Parking in Brunswick, whose 257 (and counting) members condemn pay-to-park as “un-Brunswicklike.” The Forecaster newspaper has dubbed the controversy “Parkinggate.”
A fixture on Maine Street for thirteen years, the Savings Bank of Maine installed the gate as part of a renovation project, and even critics acknowledge the once-barren stretch of pavement is greatly improved. The fee is intended to guarantee spaces for customers of the bank and its tenant, the Brunswick House of Pizza, who receive tokens allowing them to exit without paying. (The restaurant’s owner, however, has been one of the gate’s staunchest opponents, saying it has deterred customers.)
Given the brouhaha, you’d be forgiven for assuming that this is the first time a business has attempted to regulate parking in downtown Brunswick, but Tim Dietz, president of Dietz Associates, the Kennebunk public relations firm representing the bank, says that back in the eighties there stood on that very same lot a guard booth sporadically manned by an attendant who would shoo off parking rogues, though no fee was charged.
You might also assume that parking spaces are especially scarce in downtown Brunswick, but that’s not so, either. Indeed, it appears that the very abundance of free parking on and around Maine Street is precisely what makes the pay lot, which has about forty spaces, all the more offensive to Brunswickites. “The gate seems so antithetical to the way business is conducted nowadays,” Rob Jarrett, who chairs the Brunswick Downtown Association’s board of directors, told the Forecaster.
To its credit, the bank, on Dietz’ advice, is now raising the gate at night and on weekends when the branch is closed, and it is donating all collected fees to local charities. “The bank just wants to preserve parking for customers,” Dietz explains.
Whether lifting the gate in the evenings will also lift the tension on Maine Street remains to be seen.
Tooth Carpenter: Dentist. As in, “Poor Alton! He spent his whole paycheck on a visit to the tooth carpenter, and he’s only got but a few molars left in his head.”
One Mainer to Another:
“Each time that we lay awake on the shore of a lake, we heard the voice of the loon, loud and distinct, from far over the lake. It is a very wild sound, quite in keeping with the place and the circumstances of the traveler, and very unlike the voice of a bird. I could lie awake for hours listening to it, it is so thrilling.” —Henry David Thoreau, The Maine Woods