Musings from Maine
Down East editors discuss Bush Island, blizzards, polygamy, and more.
Ready to Pop
Bowdoin adds a 3-D touch to its library.
Christmas came early for the Bowdoin College library this year. This past summer an alumnus donated 1,900 pop-up books, instantly giving the George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives one of the ten best such collections in the country.
Boasting about the acquisition of a trove of pop-up books sounds, well, childish at first, but Bowdoin has good reason to brag. “We take pop-up books rather seriously, as both literature and art,” explains director Richard H.F. Lindemann. Acquired over the past nine years by Harry Goralnick, of Haverhill, Massachusetts, the books cover everything from the Brothers Grimm to Fenway Park. “This is not just a piece or two,” Lindemann says, “but an in-depth collection that can support legitimate academic inquiry.”
Far from being simply a few shelves of children’s books, “the collection includes a lot of adult-level literature,” Lindemann says. “There are pop-up books on anatomy, geology, geography. There’s a beautiful travel book about America that has the Golden Gate Bridge and the Statue of Liberty.” One book also features the Kama Sutra, “and it’s exactly as you might imagine it to be,” Lindemann says with a laugh.
The holidays are well represented, too, with tabletop Nativity scenes and “gobs of books for ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas,’ the poem by Clement Clarke Moore,” Lindemann says. Many of the twenty-five to thirty Christmas books are works of art produced in Czechoslovakia in the 1950s and 1960s.
Lindemann says the collection complements the college’s book arts curriculum, which studies how books are made and their history. “Pop-ups are important both in terms of the paper engineering involved and their design,” Lindemann says. “Generally they feature fine children’s book illustrators and materials.”
The books are available for study, and Lindemann has set up a small display of selected books in a case outside the collection’s offices on the third floor of the library. You’ll just have to request the pop-up Kama Sutra yourself.
Shortening the School Week
Add an hour, cut a day, save money.
With winter coats and mittens bursting out of student lockers across the state at the same time rising energy costs and other expenses are squeezing budgets, school districts all over Maine are looking for ways to cut costs. Several districts recently came up with what they thought was an innovative strategy: They proposed shifting to a four-day school week and extending the school day by an hour or so to make up the difference. The move would cut heating and bus fuel costs, maintenance needs, and even school lunch expenses.
The only problem is, the change is against the law.
“Right now state law and Maine Department of Education rules require a specific number of instructional days, 175,” explains David Connerty-Martin, of the education department. “The law currently doesn’t allow longer but fewer days.”
The key word is currently. State Senator Nancy Sullivan, of Saco, has already drawn up a bill that will change the instructional requirement from a specific number of days to a specific number of hours. “I’m a school teacher,” Sullivan says. “To me, that’s pretty simple.” She says the bill would allow districts to allocate the hours any way they want, perhaps with regular five-day weeks except in the coldest months, when a shift to four-day weeks would reduce heating costs.
About a hundred school districts in sixteen states now use a four-day week, according to Connerty-Martin. He indicates that the department isn’t averse to the idea as it studies ways to help Maine schools cut energy costs. “We’re researching four-day weeks and how they have worked in schools outside Maine,” he notes.
Sullivan acknowledges objections ranging from interrupted sports programs to child-care issues, but points out that holidays, snow days, and school vacation all require the same adjustments from families. “The teachers are still working the same number of hours,” she adds. “The only real change is the way we package those hours.”
Any plan that offers a three-day weekend is worth studying. It’s almost enough to send us back to eighth grade.
Saying No to Polygamy
A Millinocket town official vouches for a native son.
Wallace Paul, chairman of the Millinocket town council, recently carried out what must qualify as the most unusual official act of the year — he verified that a former resident was a practicing monogamist. “We had a little fun with that,” Paul admits. “I’d never done that before.”
Nor has anyone else in Maine. Paul was called upon to make the venture into international diplomacy for Ben Clark, a Peace Corps worker in Cameroon in West Africa. Clark needed the confirmation to marry a local woman. “The law in Cameroon allows polygamy, but you have to declare your preference before you can marry,” Paul explains. “If you’re a monogamist, you have to get a reference from the leader of the town where you were born that you aren’t a polygamist.”
Luckily, Clark’s parents, Quentin and Bonnie Clark, now of Farmington, were old friends of Paul. “His father worked with me at the mill years ago, and Ben was born at the Millinocket hospital,” Paul explains. “Ben called his father, and Quentin called me. I went to the town clerk, and we did a record search to make sure Ben had never been married before. Then I typed up a letter on official town stationery to my esteemed colleague in Cameroon.”
A few weeks later, Clark married Lucie Kegnie, a seamstress and translator, in the city of Bandjoun. His parents sent several photos of the ceremony to Paul and the town office crew. “His father told me it was good Ben was born in a small town where you can get things moving quickly,” Paul says. “Lord only knows what would have happened if he’d been born in Boston or New York City.” Evidently being born in Maine has its advantages, even in Africa.
Memo to Meteorologists
Maine doesn’t get many blizzards — not in the technical sense.
This is the time of year when Mainers gas up their snowblowers, pound in wooden stakes to mark the edges of their driveway for the plow truck, and set a shovel by the front door. These are all necessary preparations as the state readies for winter storms. We tend to call the worst of them blizzards, but that term is usually incorrect, especially in December. The National Weather Service maintains a very specific definition for that brand of bone chiller. Turns out blizzards have to have sustained thirty-five-mile-per-hour winds and less than a quarter-mile visibility for at least three hours, conditions that are hard to find in Maine in December, let alone during the coldest, darkest days of winter.
Forecasters at the National Weather Service office in Gray say that a review of the office’s “Blizzard Book” reveals just three storms over the past half-century have qualified for the title — and none of them came in December. Those tempests blew through in February 1952, February 1978 (the infamous “Blizzard of ’78”), and March 1993 — only during the depths of winter are temperatures typically low enough to keep the snow light and therefore visibility poor.
Of course, knowing what to call a December snowstorm doesn’t make it any more enjoyable. And there’s always a first time for everything.
A Tale of Two Maines
For some reason Wisconsin seems to have a surplus of them.
You can take Mainers out of Maine, but you can’t take Maine out of Mainers, even in Wisconsin. So goes the explanation for at least one of the two towns named Maine in the Badger State.
“I guess it felt like home,” offers Jim Guyette, the unofficial historian of the town of Maine in Outagamie County, Wisconsin, west of Green Bay. According to Shadows on the Wolf, a book produced in 1987 by the Shiocton History Project, the tiny community was founded in 1854 by a group of loggers from Chilton, Maine, including Paul Greeley, George Speers, David Stinson, and John Whitmore. “They came up the Wolf River looking for timber to cut and land to settle,” Guyette says. Lumbering was decling in Maine at the time, “so they came west looking for more trees,” he adds.
Ironically, the town they left behind, Chilton, no longer appears on maps of Maine.
The other Maine, in Marathon County neighboring the city of Wausau, has a more prosaic origin. It was named after a prominent local resident, U.E. Maine, a Native American who owned the largest farm in the township and served as the first chairman when the town was formed in 1866, according to Gary Gisselman, librarian for the Marathon County Historical Society. No evidence links him to the state whose name he bore.
Guyette says the Mainers would have felt comfortable in a Wisconsin winter. “We get lots of snow and cold,” he notes. “We usually get our first snow in November, and it stays through March.” Sounds like home.
Walking All Over A President
Bush Island is a well-kept secret.
Few people know it, but Maine has an island named for a recent president of the United States. President George H.W. Bush Island may be the least recognized piece of real estate on the coast, and it may be that its namesake doesn’t even know it exists, even though it sits only a few miles from his summer home at Walkers Point in Kennebunkport.
Most locals — and maps — know the island better as Green Island, one of the thirteen islands off Cape Porpoise in southern Maine. But in 1989 its then-owner, John Milligan, donated the property to the Kennebunkport Conservation Trust with the condition that its name be changed to honor the president. “I’m sure President Bush hasn’t visited it,” says Thomas Bradbury, the trust’s executive director.
The three- to four-acre (depending on the tide) island, Bradbury says, “is more a bird sanctuary than anything else these days. It’s not often visited by people because so many nesting birds tend to drive off visitors.” Bradbury remembers that, when he was a youngster growing up in Kennebunkport, the island was a popular camping spot for locals. “There was a pine grove there and a nice tent site,” he recalls. “Then the storms took away the pine trees, and it became more and more a wildlife refuge.”
He doesn’t recall anyone living on the island, but just this summer a kayaker who visited it stepped out of his boat and found an ancient Indian artifact in the water at his feet. “It was a fish-cleaning tool of some kind,” Bradbury says. “All the islands through here were used by Native Americans as summer camp sites. In fact, we’re forming an alliance with the Maine State Museum to do archeology work on several of the islands.”
As for the island’s new name, hardly anyone uses it, Bradbury admits. The old ways and old names are tough to change in Maine, although the novelty of returning from a day of boating and saying you just visited President Bush does have a certain appeal.
A transcontinental road once connected the two Portlands.
File this one under the Annals of Forgotten History. Back in the Roaring Twenties, you could drive on a single road from Portland, Maine, to Portland, Oregon. More than a “mere road,” the four-thousand-mile Theodore Roosevelt International Highway was described in a brochure of the time as “the highway that opens to the tourist the door of the treasure-box of beauties and grandeurs and varied scenery of the North continent as no other national highway does.”
From downtown Portland the byway headed north and west through Littleton, New Hampshire, before crossing Lake Champlain north of Burlington, Vermont, and threading west to the Canadian border at Niagara Falls. (What the Canadians called the road we have no idea.) It entered the United States again at Detroit and continued through Iowa, South Dakota, and Montana before terminating on the Columbia River in Oregon. Punctuated along the way by red markers bearing the white letters “T.R.,” the road was first organized in 1921 to serve as “a suitable memorial to one of America’s greatest builders and statesmen, and at the same time promote tourist travel to a section of the United States that has had few tourists in the past,” according to an article in the Roosevelt Highway Bulletin.
Alas, this monument to the Bull Moose was altered just a half-dozen years later when the federal government began assigning route numbers to the country’s established roads. Roosevelt’s road was soon carved up, becoming part of more prosaically named roads such as Route 2 and, in Maine, Route 302. But around Sebago Lake, for instance, the honor for Roosevelt was a bit longer lasting. “I started going up that way when I was three or four years old because my parents had friends in Bridgton, and I distinctly remember seeing signs that said ‘Roosevelt Trail,’ ” remarks director of the Maine Historic Preservation Commission Earle Shettleworth, Jr.
Those signs are long gone, but Max Skidmore, a political science professor at the University of Missouri who recently wrote a book about his experience tracing the old highway, says more subtle remnants remain today. “I only found one intact marker, in Troy, Montana, but in Maine as you progress west you still find buildings that say they are ‘203 Roosevelt Trail.’ I also remember a ‘Roosevelt Flea Market’ on Route 302, so there are actually a number of little things left over from the highway in Maine.”
With most modern highways seeming to be utterly devoid of personality, it’s reassuring to find some touches of the great T.R. still remain in Maine.
The Valley: A term for the St. John River Valley from Allagash Plantation to Hamlin. In the indispensable Maine Lingo, the late John Gould enumerated the four directions in Aroostook County: “Over Eastward (to the Maritime Provinces), Down Country (in the direction of Houlton), Up to the Valley (toward Madawaska), and Outside (anywhere else).”