Basket Case

Collections of McArthur Public Library

Collections of McArthur Public Library

The largely forgotten tradition of May Day baskets is a bit like Halloween turned on its head: instead of going door to door asking for treats, children fill handmade baskets with sweets and flowers and, under cloak of darkness, place them on their neighbors’ doorsteps, then knock and yell “May basket!” as they scamper away. If the recipient is quick enough, he or she gives chase, trying to steal a kiss from the basket giver. But on the evening of May 1, 1917, some youngsters delivering a May basket in the tony summer enclave of Biddeford Pool were met not with kisses but snarls — from dogs that a frightened Fanny Foster and her overnight guest, Hennie Niedringhaus, sicced on them. According to an account by Renée DesRoberts, archivist at McArthur Public Library in Biddeford, the dogs chased the children clear across the Abenakee Club golf course. The women, meanwhile, likely congratulated themselves for scaring off burglars and enjoyed a good night’s sleep. The next morning, however, they realized their error when they discovered two May baskets hanging from the front door knob. And so, several weeks later, the women made amends by throwing a party for the neighborhood children. Among the amusements at the gathering hosted by Mrs. Foster were pony cart rides and a slide. While it’s hard to imagine any child having fun given the rules of play implicit in all-white attire, the Biddeford Pool gang apparently was mollified. “There are those among the children who aver that they would gladly be chased across the golf links again for another such good time,” the Biddeford Daily Journal reported.

Image: Collections of McArthur Public Library

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Virginia Wright

Virginia M. Wright is the senior editor at Down East.