Down East 2013 ©
Cartoon by David Jacobson
Our Flags Are Still Here
Museums rally to save pieces of Maine labor history.
When eight Maine museums and historical organizations pooled their funds and influence to keep a collection of rare nineteenth-century trade banners in the state, they made a bit of history themselves. “It’s an unprecedented collaboration,” says Richard D’Abate, executive director of the Maine Historical Society, the banners’ new owner. “It was a coordinated effort, with everyone working different pieces of the puzzle.”
The institutions purchased the seventeen hand-painted silk banners at auction for $125,350 at the end of August. “There’s nothing like them elsewhere in the country,” says D’Abate.
Crafted in the 1830s at the behest of the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association, each banner bears the motto or emblem of a trade. “The Tyrant’s Foe — The People’s Friend,” a printers’ flag declares. Artisans carried the fringed textiles in parades.
Founded in 1815 as a society for skilled craftsmen, the Maine Charitable Mechanic Association is still active. Its decision to auction the banners in order to finance repairs to Mechanics Hall in Portland alarmed the historical society. “As soon as we heard, we tried to talk the association out of it,” D’Abate says, “and that didn’t work.”
The scramble to raise money began. D’Abate alerted Earle Shettleworth, the executive director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission who, with historian William David Barry, had written about the banners for Antiques magazine. Soon after, the Maine State Museum in Augusta, the Portland Museum of Art, and the Maine Maritime Museum in Bath pledged their money and support. Within a few weeks, the art museums at Colby, Bowdoin, and Bates colleges had joined the cause.
Then a formidable competitor appeared on the scene: the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History. “They had been interested in the banners since the 1980s,” D’Abate reveals. Ultimately, however, the Smithsonian agreed to bid only if the banners were going to be split into private collections. “They agreed that keeping the banners in Maine would be best,” D’Abate says.
Kudos to the Smithsonian for its sensitivity to local history! What is even more extraordinary is the way Maine institutions united to save artifacts that only one of them would own. As Tom Denenberg, chief curator of the Portland Museum of Art, put it, “Everyone recognized the banners needed to stay together as a group, and we all agreed it was easier to have one organization own the collection. The spirit of doing something for the common good was quite striking.”
Why Did the Owl Cross the Road?
Maine Audubon now knows.
At around 10:15 a.m. on September 16, 2010, a moose was struck and killed on Interstate 95, about twenty miles north of Bangor. The next day at 6:45 p.m., a great horned owl made an appearance on Route 16 near Dodge Pond in Rangeley. And on September 18 at 4:30 p.m., a gray squirrel crossed Brook Road near Halls Hill Road in west Falmouth.
How do we know these things? We find them on our favorite new Web map, Maine Audubon Wildlife Road Watch (www.maineaudubon.org/wildliferoadwatch ). The interactive map of the state is scattered with virtual pins marking wildlife observations made by Maine Audubon’s “citizen scientists.”
More than just an Internet procrastination tool, this map does have a serious purpose. “Roads have an impact on wildlife in multiple ways, the most obvious being that when animals try to cross, some make it, and some don’t,” explains Sally Stockwell, Maine Audubon’s director of conservation. The map is collecting data that will help Audubon researchers identify animal road crossings, information they can then share with local and state transportation officials. “There are all kinds of strategies — road signs, tunnels, fencing — that can be used to minimize conflicts,” Stockwell says.
The most vulnerable creatures, based on the data collected so far? “We’re seeing a lot of dead porcupines,” Stockwell reports. “Lots and lots of dead porcupines.”
Vinalhaven’s Still Got It
A group of islanders has rescued some beloved traditions.
Dismal.” That’s how Angie Olson describes the holiday spirit on Vinalhaven last year. No Christmas lights twinkled in the storefronts. No wreaths dressed the telephone poles. And the little Santa house where children have traditionally mailed letters to the jolly old elf was nowhere to be seen. “It was pretty bleak,” Olson, proprietor of Island Home fiber arts studio, says.
“Man, wasn’t it sobering,” lobsterman Lee Osgood confirms. “I was really disappointed.”
This year, Olson and Osgood promise, it’s going to be different, thanks to a group whose name sums up members’ feelings about their island town: We Give A Shit, or WEGAS, as it is more politely known. The mission: Restore the customs and ceremonies that make the difference between community and an assemblage of people and buildings.
Like most members of WEGAS, Osgood and Olson are natives of Vinalhaven, located twelve miles off the coast of Rockland in Penobscot Bay and home to 1,200 year-round residents. They have fond memories of bright and festive Decembers in the small waterfront downtown. “Main Street would be all lit up, and there was a big Christmas tree by the Union Church,” Osgood recalls.
Over the years, such traditions slipped away. “The people who used to see that these things got done have aged and can’t do it anymore or they’ve moved away,” Olson surmises.
The poor show of holiday spirit last season apparently pushed islanders to their dreariness limit. The group — there are about eight faithful regulars and roughly twenty occasional volunteers — meets monthly at the Trickerville Sandwich Shop. Their first project, a collaboration with the Fourth of July Committee, raised money to purchase sixty-five American flags in honor of Vinalhaven veterans. “We thought maybe we’d get enough money for twenty,” Osgood says. “We got so many we were able to fly them all the way from the ferry terminal to the school.”
Now the group has set its sights on Christmas. Olson is keeping details under wraps, but she did reveal that residents can expect the village to be decked out in lights and decorations. The Santa house, a wooden structure about six feet tall, will be back, and women from the Red Hat Society have volunteered to play secretary to Kris Kringle by answering children’s letters.
As for the group’s name, Olson says it came at the end of a long brainstorming session. “One guy said, ‘You guys are all here because you give a shit.’ We were pretty punchy by that point and it stuck. I was kind of hoping we’d come up with something else,” she admits, “but we don’t take ourselves too seriously.”
Portland’s Low Libido
According to Men’s Health, Portland could use a dose of Viagra.
It seems like every other week Portland is garnering some new accolade, whether it’s “America’s Foodiest Small Town” or the “Best Place to Retire.” But Portland’s latest placement has gotten the city a frenzy of media attention: We placed dead last on Men’s Health magazine’s list of America’s Most Sex-Happy Cities. (Texas came out on top, with Austin and Dallas taking the first and second spots. Maine brought up the rear, even coming in behind dubious cities of sin like Billings, Montana, and Burlington, Vermont.)
But being on top of this list might not be as sexy as it sounds.
Drilling down, the statistics used to determine sex-happiness seem debatable. The magazine based its rating on condom sales; birth rates and rates of chlamydia, gonorrhea, and syphilis; and sex toy sales.
In condom sales Portland placed ninety-fifth. In birth rates we placed ninety-fifth, and in STDs we placed a hundredth. So basically the Forest City’s last place means Portlanders aren’t buying lots of condoms or sex toys, they’re not having lots of babies, and they’re not contracting STDs at the rates of other cities on the list. All of which does not necessarily mean Portlanders are prudes.
Megan Hannan, the director of Public Relations for Planned Parenthood in Maine, said people in her office talked and laughed about the study until “we realized some of those things were actually bad, and it was good to be low for STDs.”
Nelly Hall, the owner of Fore Street’s sensual CS Boutique, was thrilled by the inclusion of Portland at all. “I was excited that we made it on a list that created conversation. To normalize the subject matter so folks that wouldn’t typically discuss it are discussing it, is healthy and important.”
As for the stigma of our last place finish, Hall says it best. “We are very secure in knowing it is not just about quantity, it’s about quality.”