When I was growing up in Scarborough in the 1970s, I had the recurring sensation of living on haunted ground. More than most kids I was fascinated by New England history. And knowing that my hometown was one of the first places in Maine to be occupied by English colonists, and that settlers and Indians had fought pitched battles in the pine woods and salt marshes near my house — let's just say it did wonders for my imagination. You cannot go to Scarborough Beach and peer into the murky waters of Massacre Pond, where eighteen settlers were ambushed in 1703 and where their butchered corpses were said to have been tossed, without feeling an electric charge run down your spine.
History seems more elusive in Scarborough than it once did and not just because I myself am older. No, the bones of the past are buried a bit deeper now, layered beneath the subdivisions that have replaced the forests and fields of my childhood. Much of my family still lives happily in Scarborough, and they have not noticed a change. But I have.
Phippsburg is another of Maine's haunted places. Four hundred years ago this summer, colonists attempted to found the first English settlement in New England at Fort Popham. The outpost was, alas, doomed. Fishermen eventually re-established a toehold at the mouth of the Kennebec, but as Colin Woodard reports this month in "Beyond Popham" (page 58), the hardscrabble geography of Phippsburg long kept the subdivisions at bay. It's only now that the peninsula is facing the development pressures that altered Greater Portland three decades ago.
Not that the future is necessarily grim. Suburban Scarborough is now one of the most affluent communities in the state. It's also home to one of Maine's niftiest performance groups, the Gym Dandies Children's Circus (page 66). In a way, the success of this troupe reflects the flowering of Scarborough since my boyhood. A smaller town would have been hard-pressed to nurture this sort of community treasure.
In the interest of full disclosure I'll admit that the Gym Dandies' founder, Jon Cahill, was my fifth-grade phys ed teacher. I'll also admit that my young nephew is currently mastering the unicycle in hopes of joining the circus. The next time I visit Scarborough I will watch him practice, arms gyrating as he balances on a single wheel, and I will applaud. And then, because he loves history as much as I do, I will tell him again about the ghosts down the road in Massacre Pond.