Down East 2013 ©
The world’s most famous sponge cake endures in Blue Hill.
With Hostess Brands heading into bankruptcy protection for the second time in a decade, we were compelled to do a health check on the world’s oldest Twinkie, the golden loaf-shape sponge cake that sat, unwrapped, in George Stevens Academy science teacher Roger Bennatti’s classroom for his entire thirty-year career.
“It’s still here,” reports Dean of Students Libby Rosemeier, who keeps the now-thirty-six-year Twinkie in a glass case in her office, where it is ogled each fall by the incoming freshman class. “It looks remarkably like it did when it first came out of the package.”
Rosemeier would know. She witnessed the Twinkie’s arrival as a student in Bennatti’s freshman science class, which was studying the chemistry of foods at the time. “At lunchtime we’d all go buy Twinkies, so one day we brought one back to class to see how long it would last,” she recalls. “Mr. Bennatti put it on top of the intercom and there it sat until he retired in 2005.”
Loaded with sugar, preservatives, and chemical compounds, Twinkies are, of course, notorious as nutritionists’ favorite example of everything that is wrong with the American diet. Or rather, was wrong. It seems that trends toward a healthier lifestyle may be partially to blame for Hostess’ financial woes, according to the Huffington Post.
Still, it’s hard to imagine an America without Twinkies, and the incredible longevity of the George Stevens’ Twinkie suggests we may never have to. The Blue Hill school’s Twinkie became famous when the Associated Press told its story in 2004. “It’s rather brittle,” Bennatti told the AP at the time, “but if you dusted it off, it’s probably still edible.”
Which is not all that different from Rosemeier’s observations today. “It resembles Styrofoam in its texture and its lightness, but the color hasn’t changed much,” she says. “It’s a funny little thing.” Indeed. — Virginia M. Wright
Lady in a Rum Cask
A Cutler sea captain’s deceased wife is remembered for her bizarre homecoming.
One hundred-and-thirty-nine years have passed since Jeanette Corbett was laid to rest in the Old Cutler Cemetery, but she has not been forgotten. Perhaps that’s because tiny Cutler is populated by families, the Corbetts chief among them, whose roots stretch back long before Jeanette’s time. More likely, though, it is the peculiar manner in which Mrs. Corbett slumbers, for it is the sort of story that persists through the generations. Jeanette Corbett, you see, lies in a cask full of Cuban rum.
In 1873, Jeanette accompanied her husband, Captain Tristram Thurlow Corbett, to Cuba aboard the brigantine Lena Thurlow, which was loaded with local produce to be traded for sugar and rum. According to A Brief History of Cutler and Some Interesting Incidents by Jasper Cates and Arlene Dennison (both authors are deceased), the twenty-six year old’s adventure ended on the Caribbean island, where she succumbed to a tropical disease.
Just two years earlier, we learn from old newspaper accounts, Tristram Corbett’s father, Captain Daniel Corbett, had died of a broken blood vessel while helping his crew lower the Lena Thurlow’s sails during a hurricane off the coast of Bahamas. The sailors buried him on New Providence Island, far, far from home. Tristram Corbett, it seems, could not bear to do the same to Jeanette.
Cates and Dennison’s history suggests Captain Corbett placed his wife’s body in a keg because he had been unable to find a traditional coffin, but that seems unlikely since wood is not scarce on Cuba. That the keg was full of rum is part of the spoken lore in Cutler, according to Burton Maker, a longtime resident of this Down East lobstering town, and it suggests Captain Corbett wanted to preserve his wife’s body for the long voyage home. (There are, in fact, more than a few nineteenth-century tales of bodies being transported home in liquor-filled kegs. The most famous involves Admiral Lord Nelson who was mortally wounded at the Battle of Trafalgar.)
The people in Cutler knew nothing of this when the Lena Thurlow came sailing into the harbor, but they did see the pennant that indicated there had been a death on board. It was only when the ship docked that they learned that the deceased was the captain’s young bride. Fearing that Jeanette’s disease might be contagious, the story goes, the townspeople insisted that her body not be removed from its unconventional coffin.
The Old Cutler Cemetery sits on Cutler Road, where it sharply curves east toward the village. There among the graves one can find a headstone that simply reads: Jeanette, wife of Captain Tristram Corbett, died in Aransas, Cuba, 1873. — Virginia M. Wright
Sick of Lists
Yes, Maine is great, but these superlatives about Portland are silly.
After decades of seeing Portland ignored by the national media, we admit we reacted like proud parents when Maine’s largest city first began showing up on magazines’ “best places” lists. Most livable city? Why, thank you! Best little city for food? So glad you noticed!
But that was a bazillion lists ago. Now it seems a month doesn’t go by that there isn’t some new list with Portland on it. So, what’s our beef? We’ll let our own list of superlatives tell the tale.
Dumbest Ranking: Men’s Health’s Most Sex Happy Cities. Portland is America’s “least sex happy city,” according to Men’s Health, a list-happy men’s lifestyle magazine. The magazine’s editors made their diagnosis after collecting data from one hundred cities and discovering that Portland had the lowest sexually transmitted diseases rate (and that’s a bad thing?), the lowest birth rate (ditto?), and the lowest condom sales. “Of course, without surveillance equipment it’s impossible to know precisely how much sex people are having,” the magazine admits, but that didn’t stop it from publishing its list anyway.
Most Useless Laurel: Men’s Health’s Where the Babes Are. Despite its seeming sexlessness, Portland gets a coveted second place on this list of one hundred cities, based on the number of Forest City women who are single, college-educated, employed, and fit. But if Men’s Health readers buy the magazine’s conclusions about Portland’s low “nookie rates” (see Dumbest Ranking, above), they might consider the babe meter pointless information.
Lists Most Likely to Cancel Each Other Out: The Daily Beast’s Drunkest Cities lists and Men’s Health’s Drunkest City List. The Daily Beast collected data on the drinking habits of people in forty American cities and concluded Portland is the eighteenth drunkest city in America. Or did it? Curiously, this list is linked to another Daily Beast list of twenty-six Drunkest Cities, on which Portland is nowhere to be found. Our friends at Men’s Health, meanwhile, considered entirely different criteria for one hundred cities and put Portland way down at number ninety.
Most Contradictory Lists: Forbes’ Worst State to Do Business In and Forbes’ Best Cities for Jobs this Spring. In December, the national business magazine placed Maine dead last for business, citing, among other things, its “anemic forecasts when it comes to job and gross state product growth.” More recently, the magazine declared that Portland (along with South Portland and Biddeford) has the sixth most optimistic job forecast of one hundred American cities. To be sure, Greater Portland enjoys a more robust economy than other parts of the state, but it’s hard to believe the lists, published just three months apart, can both be true.
Most Dubious Honor: Travel & Leisure’s Best Cities for Hipsters. T&L tells us that Portland’s “great food, great beer, and great coffee” are hipster magnets. Problem is, T&L also tells us, this is not necessarily a good thing. The term hipster “can inspire eye rolls or admiration,” according to the magazine, and it has now become “so prevalent it’s at a possible tipping point.”
We are inclined to say the same about these lists. — Virginia M. Wright
How do you describe the odd taste of Moxie?
Recently Down East Books published an ode to one of our favorite beverages. Moxie: Maine in a Bottle by Jim Baumer is a detailed history of the official soft drink of Maine. Moxie is, without a doubt, a beloved Down East drink. Its unique taste, however, is a bit difficult to describe.
The Moxie motto is “Distinctively Different.” That’s a good start, but also fairly vague, and so in the interest of full disclosure we went looking for a better description. We landed on Moxie’s Facebook fan page, where we discovered that the company was also scrambling for suggestions. “What does Moxie taste like?” the company asked its adherents. Surely, if the drink’s biggest fans can’t sell you on its taste, no one can. Here are some of the responses we found posted:
“Carbonated super dirt with a waxed teeth aftertaste. Pure awesomeness!”
“Old Vicks 44 cough syrup.”
“Rusty nails. In a good way.”
“Cough Syrup plus Jaeger.”
“Licorice and Robitussin.”
“Happiness, sunshine, and rainbows.”
“Some say it’s an acquired taste, I say it’s for those with a sophisticated palate.”
“Heaven. . . . ”
“Iron-flavored mouthwash that you don’t know why you’re drinking, but you can’t stop drinking, and then you buy more.”
“Formula 44 with a fizz. A big huge piece of heaven.”
“Like root beer with dirt in it. But in a good way.”
“Its awesome flavored! Its like a hurts-so-good in your mouth.”
“Like Heaven in your mouth!”
“Non alcoholic Jägermeister. Or Horehound.”
Something tells us the tagline “Moxie: Like carbonated heaven super dirt with a cough syrup fizzy aftertaste . . . in a good way!” (while accurate) won’t help expand the drink’s popularity to a broader audience. So we just have to remember that while Moxie may taste like carbonated Bengay, it’s our carbonated Bengay. And that description is good enough for us. — Will Bleakley
That’s the Spirit
An adult ed class gets paranormal.
Maine has a reputation for spookiness, thanks in large part to horror novelist Stephen King, who sets many of his tales in his native state, and to Dark Shadows, the 1960s gothic soap opera in which vampires, ghosts, werewolves, and witches haunt the Maine town of Collinsport. We consider ourselves skeptics when it comes to ghost stories outside the realm of fiction, nevertheless, we confess that a shiver ran up our spines when we stumbled across “Ghost Hunting 101” in the spring course listings for Auburn Adult and Community Education.
As the title implies, “Ghost Hunting 101” is an eight-week introduction to the basics of paranormal research, says instructor Stacey Farrington, the founder of Central Maine Paranormal Investigations (CMPI), which has been investigating unusual phenomena in Maine for five years. Students — six in Auburn and another eight enrolled in a similar class in nearby Turner — become acquainted with ghost-detection tools, which range from the technical (still and video cameras) to the intuitive (dowsing rods), and they learn about different types of hauntings, including how to distinguish a ghost from a spirit. (“Ghosts are earthbound because they have unfinished business that prevents them from crossing over to the afterlife,” Farrington explains. “Spirits have crossed over, but they have the ability to come back and visit.”) The last two classes are field trips to sites that can be counted on to dish up paranormal activity — Anderson Cemetery in Windham is one of Farrington’s favorites. “It is the most haunted cemetery we’ve been to,” she says.
Farrington says she was intrigued by “the unexplainable” as a teenager, but she soon stopped exploring the paranormal out of fear. A few years ago she dove back into the subject when a now-defunct ghost-hunting organization offered a course similar to the one CMPI now teaches. She is no longer afraid. “The most common misconception people have is that ghosts are all evil,” Farrington says. “They have a ghost in their house, and they think they have to get rid of it. But most ghosts are just trying to get attention. They may have a message for someone, or they’re just confused.”
The CMPI team is composed of five ghost hunters, who investigate disturbances in people’s homes and lead monthly cemetery tours.
Skeptical? “That’s good,” says Farrington, “you should be.” Most of her students come to class as curious skeptics, too. “They usually end up changing their minds,” she says. — Virginia M. Wright
Untitled Pothole #3
A subversive photography competition aims to fix Maine’s roads.
A contest that searches out the best Maine photos typically yields images of the rocky coastline, sunsets over mountain peaks, beaches, and serene lakes. Rarely do you see a frost heave. The Maine Better Transportation Association (MBTA), however, has turned the concept of a photography contest on its head with its Fix Maine Roads competition. The advocacy group, which works toward increasing funding for the state’s various transportation networks, asks citizens to submit photos of Maine in decay, an infrastructure on the brink, and depictions of a helpless society with nowhere to turn — but mostly it’s just looking for photos of potholes.
“We wanted to raise awareness about a study that shows how bad roads affect a citizens’ pocketbooks,” says Maria Fuentes, executive director of the MBTA “So we decided to start a contest to see what the worst road is.” For the past three years, between April and mid-May, Mainers have taken photos of the disrepair of local roads and uploaded them to either the MBTA Web site (mbtaonline.org) or the Fix Maine Roads Facebook page. Board members then review the photos and award the person who captures the worst-looking road with $250.
The 2010 winner, Martha Roland, photographed Route 219 from Turner to Leeds. She focused on a complex estuary of cracks and the waves of uneven pavement as it stretches down the road. Another entry depicts a toy school bus teetering on the edge of a pothole.
“We take for granted that the roads we travel on and the bridges we cross are always going to be okay,” says Fuentes. “We’re trying to get people thinking about how much they depend on their road, how they have to take their kids to daycare on these roads twice a day. ” Like great artists, the MBTA is trying to effect political change through thought-provoking pieces — even if they are just amateur photos of fractured pavement. — Will Bleakley