Acadia

07/15/2013

Maine’s Chanterelles, Our Best Forest Edible

Page 250 of Mushrooms of the Northeast by George Barron

Morel mushrooms used to be my fungal focus in springtime back in Michigan, but the Maine woods just don’t produce them, so for many years I have tried to find a local substitute. Chanterelles now fill that need. My requirements for a morel replacement are:

  1. Easy to spot in the woods. Chanterelles are yellow-golden and stand out “like stars in the black heavens” on the forest floor.
  2. Easy to tell apart from any toxic look-alike. The closest one is the Jack-O-Lantern, Omphalotus illudens, which grow in

    Jack O’ Lantern

    clusters on buried dying wood. These mushrooms are much larger and the gills are much sharper, Chanterelles have blunt, forked ridges rather than gills. Their similarity is decurrent gills/ridges–they run down the stem.  Also, the Jack-O-Lantern is not a killer– it will just make you wish you were dead.

  3. Good eatin’. Chanterelles are known the world over for their awesome flavor. Why go to the trouble of bushwacking through the Maine woods if the reward is only mediocre? They have a fruity aroma and are a delicate addition to eggs or white wine sauces.
  4. Long season. In this sense they beat morels. Chanterelles fruit from early July (as I write this on July 6, there is a cluster next to my stairway to the shore) to late fall.
  5. They stay put. The chanterelle is in a stable symbiotic relationship with trees wherever it grows, it is not a decayer. That means the fruiting bodies (mushrooms) will pop up at least once a year in the same spot. You will not diminish the huge underground part of the chanterelle (mycelium) by picking the mushrooms.
  6. Slow growing. Here’s another way they beat morels. You can leave tiny chanterelles alone and come back in a week and they will be much bigger. Don’t try that with most other ‘shrooms. Bugs don’t like them, but watch out for slugs. We all know here in Maine slugs are at the top, the bottom and everywhere else on the food chain.

The best way to become comfortable with picking wild mushrooms is to take it slow and stick to easily identified species. Get a few good identification books specific to your area (NOT just the internet, do NOT rely on search engine pictures) like George Barron’s Mushrooms of Northeast North America, The National Audubon Society’s Field Guide to Mushrooms or Maine’s own Dave Spahr’s Edible and Medicinal Mushrooms of New England and Eastern Canada. Find an expert in the locality who gathers edible mushrooms if possible or join a mushroom club like our Maine Mycological Association. If you’re pretty sure you have an edible mushroom (other people say 100% sure, but are we ever really?) then begin by eating a very small, cooked portion (never eat raw mushrooms from the wild) and waiting to see if you get an adverse reaction, at least 24 hours. Now comes the fun part: You now have found an edible mushroom and you have taken photos and recorded the date and place. Now all you have to do is check the same spot next year or in the case of chanterelles, every week or so until late fall. With a few more species you’re well on your way to becoming a Maine fungal gourmet.

Sadly, the only way most of us have access to chanterelles is by buying dried ones in little bags at outrageous prices from the grocery store. Here’s the sad part: unlike the king bolete (porcini, steinpilz), chanterelles don’t dry well. Their delicate flavor is lost unlike stronger flavored mushrooms. You might as well not bother. However, some grind the dried ones into powder and use it to flavor sauces, but do that with your own harvest, not with store-bought.

I hope someday to have guests from Italy or Poland whose favorite activity is to hit the woods and look for mushrooms. I remember when the first Russian fishermen came ashore in the late 1980s everyone assumed they’d go to the bars or retail outlets, instead they took to the woods, looking for mushrooms. I could learn from those folks.

Fiddleheads, clams, chanterelles, lobsters, wild blueberries…don’t miss a taste of Maine on your vacation. If only there were a good way to prepare slugs!

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07/03/2013

Electric Boat Update 2013

Caution: Geek alert! This article may be wicked boring to anyone who is not interested in the minute details of electric boating.

One of the fun things about lobstering with an electric boat is that weird things happen all the time. Few people know how to put together an electric boat, so things go wrong when amateurs like me build one. So far I’ve managed to avoid sinking, but last October I was motoring to Lamoine State Park to meet the guy who pulls out my boat when all of a sudden, the motor quit. Nothing I could do seemed to bring it back to life, so I decided to tow Eleccentricity with my dingy. Normally I could use the rowing set-up on the big boat, but it was full of traps and I had no room. Fortunately, the wind was blowing the right way, so the job was not that difficult. When I got home I found the problem. I had made a splice in the heavy #6 cable which runs from the battery to the motor. The splice was an aluminum tube with set screws from Home Depot and was rated for outdoor exposure, but it couldn’t handle the marine environment. In fact, it simply turned into powder (aluminum oxide). I had done the wiring on the cheap anyway, using old jumper cables and cheesy splices when the pieces weren’t long enough. Now it was time for marine wiring! Besides replacing all the heavy cable I also increased the size from #6 to #4 (lower numbers are heavier). Marine wiring is tinned to withstand the salt exposure and of course, is more expensive.

Motenergy ME0909, from cloudelectric.com

The other thing that was going wrong was the motor was making chattering noises like it was having trouble getting power. It also had “dead spots” on start-up, so that I would have to manually turn the prop and try again. When I opened up the cover this winter I saw why. The brush holders were so corroded that the brushes were seized  and not making contact with the commutator. More corrosion. I pressed out the brushes and cleaned out the corrosion, sanded down the brushes a bit, applied to them a generous coating of grease and resolved to pay more attention to this issue. I also replaced as many parts with stainless steel as I could and painted the aluminum parts where possible. Now that Eleccentricity is in the water I also put a shower cap over my still-warm motor when I’m done with it. It runs smooth as silk now and is also much quieter. So much so that I thought the motor was using more power for a given speed. When I did the power VS speed test however, it was the same as last year. Thanks to the motor manufacturer, Motenergy, for their tech support.

Stancor 586-915 solenoid

My 4 KW powerplant

My old trailer broke in half as the boat was being launched, but that had nothing to do with it being electric, just another launch disaster. I did have a real breakdown however. One of my reverse solenoids stopped working in the forward mode. The problem was easily fixed by reversing the wires to the motor, although now I have no reverse. A new solenoid is on order. The real problem may be that I exceeded the amperage rating for the solenoid. My approach was to use a SPDT solenoid and make the forward mode the unpowered one (contacts made by return spring force). This is because it didn’t make sense to me to have to power a coil just to go forward, which is what you do 99% of the time. The problem with this is that solenoids are always rated higher on the coil (powered) side. The one I have is 100/300 amps. The 100 amp side (forward) was badly carboned up and no juice was getting through. I think that’s the biggest solenoid I could find for 36 volts. If this continues to be a problem I will have to once again reverse the cables to the motor and make it permanent, so I go forward on the 300 amp side. The other option is to watch my ammeter to prevent me exceeding 100 amps, I have gotten up to 120 amps at full throttle. That’s 4.32 kilowatts or 5.8 HP.

Unlike my rosy prediction last year that I would have my photovoltaics ready for this summer, it didn’t happen. Too many trips to Michigan and money spent on fixing up a house there. Maybe next year. I’m still charging with shore power; it could be worse! I could be riding in a noisy, smelly boat. Next year I should be cruising at 4 MPH on sunlight alone. If the sun ever comes out around here!

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06/27/2013

New Lodgings Tax Rate for Maine

Maine has the lowest lodging tax in the northeast. This is the tax collected from guests by hotels and other providers of accommodations like us here at SeaCat’s Rest. Try to find the rates in other New England states and you may have difficulty; this is because often the tax is divided between the state and town or city. Here in Maine we have one rate, 7%. Frugal New Hampshire charges 9%. Massachusetts is one of those double-tax states; in Boston it adds up to 14.4%. You will pay 13.25% plus a $2 fee in the state of New York. New York City tax is so complicated you need an on-line calculator. Connecticut charges a flat 12%. Rhode Island will also cost you 12%. Vermont has double taxation, with 9% for the state and the variable rest for local.

Think Canada is any better? Think again! In Atlantic Canada New Brunswick is lowest at 13% and Nova Scotia highest at 15%.

Forget our neck of the woods, how does Maine compare to the rest of the country? According to the Citizens Research Council of Michigan, in data gathered from 1998, Maine is 50th out of 51!  The extra “state” is Washington DC and the only place where the lodgings tax is lower is Montana, at 4%.

Now it’s time to drop the bombshell. Maine’s lodging tax is going up. In a bitter fight between our legislature and our foul-mouthed governor, our legislature carried the spirit of bipartisanship to a sensible funding of our state government and overrode the governor’s veto of the compromise budget. The vote was 114-34 in the House and 26-9 in the Senate. Now the threat of a government shutdown is averted and Maine will continue to thrive. How much is the tax increase? A whopping 1%! An earlier bill proposed an 11% lodgings tax which this blogger wrote his representative about, expressing his displeasure. “Keep it in the single digits!”, I exclaimed.

So now we have to collect from our guests 8% lodgings tax instead of 7%. This ties us with six other states in the second cheapest position, beaten only by, again, Montana. The new 8% rate will go into effect on October 1, 2013, so anyone booking a stay for any time in October will have to pay the new rate. If your stay straddles the first, I will have to figure out two different rates. The new rate has a sunset provision; we go back to 7% in two years.

Our sales tax will also increase by 1/2 percent, from 5 to 5.5%. So if you’re planing on a visit to Maine you may need to search the couch cushions for some extra pennies. Otherwise, welcome to our low-tax vacationland.

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05/26/2013

Lobsters Can Live in your Mooring

I think I took this at Northeast Harbor

Traditionally in Maine boats are moored in their harbors not with big anchors, but heavy chunks of granite. These chunks weigh 4000 lbs and tend to partially sink into the mud, which increases the holding power. From time to time the moorings are raise up to inspect the steel U or eye bolts and chains. Now a new Maine company has come up with a better idea, a mooring with holes where critters can live.

It’s a simple idea really, as long as so many people are putting big, heavy rocks onto the sea bottom, why not create a reef-like habitat? Habitat Mooring of Hamden, Maine  has done just that, and at a price cheaper than granite.

from http://www.habitatmooring.com

I have always heard that concrete makes a poor choice for moorings because underwater it’s “lighter” than granite. All this means is that concrete is less dense and must weigh more on land in order to have the same weight under water. So to equal 4,000 lbs of granite on dry land (which is 2,500 pounds on the harbor bottom) the concrete mooring must weigh 4,450 lbs. The Habitat Mooring is cast of fiber-reinforced concrete and has 12 habitat holes to allow lobsters to find shelter at many times during their life cycles. But not only lobsters can live in the holes, “30 species of vertebrates and invertebrates, including lobster, Atlantic cod, flounder, pollack, sculpin, crabs and mollusks, as well as kelp and other important marine plants” were found on a mooring at Seal Harbor, Maine as compiled by Dr. Ian Bricknell, University of Maine, from dive videos taken in 2010 and 2011 by Mt. Desert Harbormasters Shawn Murphy and John Lemoine.*

As I get ready to launch Eleccentricity for another summer of lobstering, I find myself wishing I had a lobster habitat at the end of my mooring chain. The Habitat Mooring is available in four different sizes from Hamilton Marine.

* from APlaceToCallHome.pdf from the company website above.

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05/20/2013

Noise or the Absence Thereof in Our Part of Maine

from http://www.noisecontrol.com, a company which sells products to reduce noise.

I’m selling a house in a medium-sized Michigan city on a busy road. Forty mile per hour traffic is a stone’s throw away and it never lets up. If there happens to be a lull, say around 2 AM, the background roar of the nearby six lane interstate comes to fore. Then there are sirens, airplanes overhead and lawnmowers. When I got back home to Maine the first thing I noticed was the silence. Actually, it’s not silent, just a heckuva lot quieter. A gentle rustling of leaves, chirping of songbirds, gull cries and crow shouts. Bar Harbor’s noon horn from 8 miles away. A distant fog horn. The crack of a mussel dropped by a gull on the rocky shore. In midsummer, the twin poofs of a surfacing porpoise pair. One time long ago, a distant bagpipe solo over the water.

Some potential guests ask about the noise from the airport nearby in their inquiries, but it’s really a different experience when a single point of noise rises, falls and then disappears for a long time. BHB is a small airport with infrequent flights. Contrast this with the relentless hum of most urban areas and you get the picture.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies four negative health effects of noise:

  • cardiovascular effects;
  • damage to work and school performance;
  • hearing impairment including tinnitus.
  • sleep disturbance

How is noise defined? Is there a decibel threshold or is noise a measure of relentlessness? A study was conducted in Europe in schools which were near busy roads and/or airports. The noise levels were categorized in four ranges, under about 50 dB, 50-55, 55-60 and over 60. Given the fact that these were “busy” roads and airports, we can assume the noise was fairly constant. The results on children pointed to reduced reading abilities; a loss of 1-2 months of development for every 5 decibels in the tested ranges. There was also an increase of “annoyance”, which the study defined as “a stress response to noise exposure implying reduced well-being and quality of life”.  So it looks like negative health effects start to occur over 50 dB, but damage to hearing happens only over 90 dB.

You can measure your noise environment easily if you have an iPhone and are willing to part with a buck. Follow this link and you will get to this image:

The decibel scale is logarithmic, so a reading of 6o is 10 times as powerful as 50 decibels, and so on. I tested this ap and found that I could not find any place quieter than 40 dB. That is, stone dead silence to me was still reading 40 dB. Normal indoor noises were in the 40-50 range. Outdoors, our 20 mph wind gusts and surf at the shore pushed the scale up to the low 50s, right at mid-afternoon, when the wind is the strongest.

To me, the annoyance factor of noise, coupled with relentlessness is what sets me on edge. A motorcycle with a “performance” muffler, a hip-hop bass vibration, a semi using jake brakes, honking horns, all laid over a constant hum of traffic. None of that exists at SeaCat’s Rest! I’ll take wind, surf and birds any time. Anybody want to buy a house in Michigan?

 

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05/01/2013

Jamestown and Popham Colonies: A Comparison

Fourteen-year-old “Jane”, Jamestown colonist cannibalized after she died in 1610. Reconstructed from skeletal remains. Photo: Donald E. Hurlbert and Studio EIS. More details at http://www.usatoday.com/story/dispatches/2013/05/01/jamestown-settlement-cannibalism/2127877/

1607 was an important year in American history. Thirteen years before the Mayflower sailed two colonies were founded, one each in what are now Virginia and Maine. Because the Jamestown colony was founded first by a few months, on May 14 verses August 13 for Popham, it shall always be the most important. However if I had to choose which colony to be a member of, Popham would win hands down. History books also state that Jamestown was “successful” while Popham was “failed”. I’m not sure I agree with their definition of success, since the chances of surviving the Jamestown disaster the first winter was 1 in 2, in 1610 it was one in nine. The Jamestown settlement stayed while the Popham colonists decided to go back to England in the fall of 1608, with only one fatality, George Popham. Over the winter they built a ship, the thirty ton Virginia of Sagadahoc, which made a supply run to Jamestown in 1609 after sailing back to England. Probably the main reason they decided to go back was the fact that Popham’s successor,  Raleigh Gilbert, learned that his brother died in the summer of 1608, meaning he was now heir to the Compton Castle in Devon, England.

Compton Castle, from Wikipedia

What a choice for 30 year old Raleigh Gilbert. Camping out through another winter in Maine or assuming ownership of an English country castle. What would you do?

From what we can find out about the Popham colony, they mostly fulfilled their mission to demonstrate that new world timber could be used for shipbuilding, and they also shipped back cargo of furs and sarsaparilla obtained from the Abenaki Nation Indians. They had been charged with finding precious metals too, but that didn’t happen.

Meanwhile, the Jamestown colony was in peril. The location was chosen because it was free from hostile Indians, but there was a reason for that. The water was brackish and undrinkable, it was unsuitable for agriculture and plagued by mosquitoes. Although the Popham settlement was also not on great terms with the Native Americans, their first winter was, well, more successful. Both colonies suffered from the shortcomings of the English hierarchy: there were not enough talented farmers and survivalists and too many aristocrats. Suspicion of Indians made for lost good will and aid, or so we conjecture from our safe distance. Two competing enterprises, the Virginia Company (Jamestown) and the Plymouth Company (Popham), were trying to win the prize of the rights to coastal territory.  So both colonies were seeking profits. In 1609 the Virginia Company won, but at great cost to the Jamestown colonists.

Regardless of which colony you consider to be more important, don’t miss the opportunity to visit Popham Beach State Park. It has only been since 1994 that the location of the colony has been known and excavated.

Raleigh Gilbert, from http://www.mainememory.net/artifact/61118/

 

 

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03/30/2013

New Type of Wind Power in Maine

Altaeros Energy prototype, from http://www.altaerosenergies.com/

This past winter in Limestone, Maine a new and radically different wind turbine was tested at the former Loring Air Force base. The device looked like something right off the cover of Popular Mechanics magazine. It is basically a conventional blade set and generator mounted in a jet engine-shaped balloon, referred to as an aerostat. The U.S. military has been using aerostats, helium-filled tethered blimps to spy on Cuba for decades, as anyone who has seen “Fat Albert” off Cudjoe Key, FL knows. So the technology is old and well established. Military aerostats have all the bugs worked out; hurricane resistant, lightning-proof and parts are available.

from the US Air Force website

So it wasn’t difficult for MIT-trained co-founder Adam Rein to put together all the parts he needed to create his prototype. The tethering cables double as transmission wires. An automated system pulls the device to the ground if a storm or malfunction threatens. The unbuilt full-size version is expected to park at 1000 feet, where the wind is brisk and birds are few. Output is projected to be about 30 KW.

Adam Rein. Just a kid, really.

Altaeros is expecting their product to serve in remote sites where diesel generators would normally be the default choice. The diesel option would not be eliminated, just augmented by the wind turbine. The big advantage would be the much reduced need for regular delivery of diesel fuel. In this application the aerostat wind turbine/diesel would be less costly in the long run. When it’s time to move, the device can deflate and break down into a size comparable to a compact car for the trip to the next remote site.

The power of the wind greatly increases with altitude. Placing a turbine on a tall tower requires a crane and is expensive; too expensive for a temporary construction or scientific site. At 1000 feet the winds are strong and consistent; and there is silence on the ground. Cheers to the folks at Altaeros for this new green generation idea. It may not be able to compete with mass produced wind or natural gas turbines but just may fill an important need. Check out the Altaeros website here and see an interview with CEO Adan Rein here. The Altaeros wind turbine is a noteworthy new chapter in wind power, and it was tested in Maine!

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02/26/2013

Maine High School Grad Rates Up Again

Bangor Daily News announced the results of the Maine Department of Education’s measurement of the 2012 state graduation rate. For the third year in a row that rate has increased, and is now at 85.34% This puts Maine in the top quarter of the US graduation rates. Comparisons to other states are difficult because it seems every website uses tabulation that has a different result, and then there’s the year to year differences. Even more difficult is attributing the causes of this happy statistic. No child left behind? The Maine Laptop program? Small classes? The great recession? Whatever the result, it looks like Maine educators deserve credit, so thank a Maine teacher today. And I don’t think we can attribute our gains to easier graduation requirements!

from http://www.americashealthrankings.org/all/graduation (slightly different data)

Although it’s dangerous to use anecdotal information to explain a trend, nearby Deer Isle-Stonington High School certainly is doing something right, and may offer clues. The school district contains Maine’s biggest lobster catch area, so local kids may not necessarily be college-bound, but the rates have soared from 58% in 2009 to 94% in 2012. The new principal Todd West has outlined what he believes to be behind the meteoric rise. It all comes down to individual attention. Availability of staff and aggressive monitoring of student achievement on a monthly basis are the specific steps Principal West has taken.

At the bottom of the pack are schools in urban districts, where kids are more likely to be in poor circumstances. Only 75% of kids receiving free or reduced lunch costs graduate, compared to 93% of the non-subsidized. There are also gender differences (males, 83%; females 87%). We noticed this problem when our daughter applied to colleges. In efforts to counter the paucity of boys, colleges admitted them with lower scores, much to our dismay.

Our governor is not helping to graduate more kids. He has taken steps to de-fund teacher retirement and has flatlined school funding. But let’s look at the bright side, Maine schools are improving and just maybe they will survive until the next governor.

 

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02/15/2013

The Silence of the Clams

Walleye painting by Timothy Knepp

I have just spent over a month in Michigan. Ann Arbor is a great town and has a dazzling array of restaurants, but I found myself avoiding seafood. How fresh can a clam be in Michigan? OK, I’m spoiled. I can go down to the shore here at SeaCat’sRest and dig clams so fresh they don’t have time to scream before I drop them into boiling water. I had to work in the scream thing because I came up with this great title, but in reality I’m just fishing for a reason to use it.

Michigan has great freshwater fish: whitefish, smoked chub, lake trout and my favorite, walleye. But there’s the mercury  problem. Michigan’s fish advisory tells us:

from: www.michigan.gov/documents/FishAdvisory03_67354_7.pdf

Wow! Scary! The mercury is atmospheric, emitted mostly by coal burning power plants and concentrated in the fat of fish over time. Asia is the biggest polluter by far. Every step in the food chain concentrates the mercury approximately ten times. This is called biomagnification. Therefore a plant eating fish (or mammal) has much less mercury because it doesn’t eat the fat of other animals in which the mercury is concentrated. Mercury is one toxin among many, but it is the most important. Others include PCBs and Dioxins.

Human health risks from methylmercury exposure have been widely documented, and include neurological effects, impaired fetal and infant growth, and possible contributions to cardiovascular disease.

www.dartmouth.edu/~toxmetal/…/pdf/sources_to_seafood_report.pdf

So what about fish from salt water? Doesn’t marine fish from Maine’s coastal waters also have unhealthy levels of mercury? Yes and no. True, older, bigger fish like bluefish, swordfish or shark, or fish which spend part of their lives in fresh water like striped bass should not be eaten by pregnant or nursing mothers. Also, the toxin-concentrating part of the Maine Lobster, the tomalley or liver ( the part Julia Child loved to make a sauce out of) should be avoided. But the State of Maine also says, “All other ocean fish and shellfish, including canned fish and shellfish: Pregnant and nursing women, women who may get pregnant and children under 8 years of age can eat no more than 2 meals per week.” That’s pretty liberal compared to the Michigan guidelines. The diluting effect of the vast ocean and the active tidal currents help to spread the toxins out so that Maine coastal seafood is not faced with the toxin uncertainty of freshwater ecosystems. The thing about saltwater fish is that the mercury levels are pretty unvarying. For example, the mercury level of .3 parts per billion is an average for a given species throughout the world’s oceans. If a given species had that level in Lake Michigan it might have twice that in one of Michigan’s interior lakes or rivers. This is because the local environment’s acid levels could be higher, putting more atmospheric mercury into solution.  So the warnings for Michigan’s fish must reflect this by assuming the worst case. Even more restrictive are the government warnings about Maine’s freshwater fish. No fish should be eaten by pregnant women or children under 8 except landlocked salmon or brook trout, one meal per month.

The take away from this brief review of the mercury problem in fish is to 1) observe the consumption guidelines for the fish in question, 2) Make sure the fish comes from a larger body of water and 3) eat young or small fish, and remove the fatty parts. Maine has a low level of mercury inputs, but most mercury comes from the atmosphere anyway. With our strong tidal currents, Maine’s coastal waters have no “hot spots” like an acidic Adirondack lake or industrial harbor. There’s still too much mercury for a perfect world, but as we move away from coal and other fossil fuels, the future looks brighter. As for clams, mercury is not the problem, pollution or red tide (paralytic shellfish poison) is what you call the hotline for: 1-800-232-4733 or 207-624-7727.

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01/07/2013

Maine’s Margaret Chase Smith

Margaret Chase Smith, from http://www.americanrhetoric.com

Maine Republicans, with a few exceptions, are a breed apart. Being Republican in Maine meant being in favor of abolitionism, state’s rights, your father’s fiscal conservatism and personal freedoms. For the most part modern Maine Republicans have steered clear of the Bible-thumping, “other”-bashing, anti-compromise, gun toting, conspiracy-spewing qualities our congress now seems infected with. We can be proud of our Maine senators and congresspeople of both parties. Fare thee well, Olympia Snowe.

Margaret Madeline Chase Smith was one of our Republican senators we can be especially proud of.  She confronted bully Joseph McCarthy and brought him down…eventually.

Margaret and her parents from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret was born in Skowhegan, Maine on December 14, 1897 to George Emery and Carrie Matilda (Murray) Chase. George was the town barber and Carrie was a waitress, store clerk, and shoe factory worker. Daughter Margaret graduated from Skowhegan High School and was captain of her girl’s basketball team. During  high school she worked as an operator at the telephone company where she met local businessman and politician Clyde Smith, 21 years her senior. After high school she taught school and also worked as an executive for the Maine Telephone and Telegraph Company. From 1919 to 1928 Margaret  joined the staff of the Independent Reporter, a Skowhegan weekly newspaper (owned by Clyde Smith) for whom she was circulation manager. During these years she became active in women’s organizations, first the Skowhegan chapter of the Business and Professional Woman’s Club and later serving as president of the Maine Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs. On On May 14, 1930, Chase married Clyde Smith at the age of 32.

She soon became active in politics, and was elected to the Maine Republican State Committee, on which she served from 1930 to 1936. Clyde Smith was elected to the US House of Representatives in 1937 and Margaret accompanied her husband to Washington and became his secretary, speechwriter, researcher and office manager. It was because of this training that she was prepared for what was to follow in the spring of 1940: Clyde suffered a heart attack and convinced his voters his wife could stand in for him in the fall election. He died on April 8, 1940. In November Margaret was elected with 65% of the vote. She continued to serve in the House until 1948 when she was elected to the Senate with the slogan, “Don’t change a record for a promise.”

Joseph McCarthy, from wikipedia

Margaret Chase Smith, in the tradition of New England Republicans, maintained an independent streak. She often supported FDR’s New Deal policies and later opposed some Republican judicial appointments. But her greatest act of independence, and the one for which she will always be remembered, is her Declaration of Conscience.

In the late 1940s and early 1950s Wisconsin Senator Joseph McCarthy terrorized his fellow Americans with his witch hunt for Communists, first in government and then branching out into all spheres. At first Margaret welcomed this search for spies but soon became convinced that most of the accusations were without evidence, and were done for hysterical or self-promoting reasons.  After only a year in the Senate, Senator Smith delivered her famous fifteen minute address, never mentioning Sen. McCarthy by name. The full text can be seen here. In it she express the following:

  1. The right to criticize;
  2. The right to hold unpopular beliefs;
  3. The right to protest;
  4. The right of independent thought.

But she also took her own party to task:

Yet to displace it with a Republican regime embracing a philosophy that lacks political integrity or intellectual honesty would prove equally disastrous to this nation. The nation sorely needs a Republican victory. But I don’t want to see the Republican Party ride to political victory on the Four Horsemen of Calumny — Fear, Ignorance, Bigotry and Smear.

…But recently that deliberative character has too often been debased to the level of a forum of hate and character assassination sheltered by the shield of congressional immunity.

Today our country is being psychologically divided by the confusion and the suspicions that are bred in the United States Senate to spread like cancerous tentacles of “know nothing, suspect everything” attitudes.

The immediate fallout of this speech was her loss of membership on the Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations (the Senate version of the infamous House Un-American Activities Committee). She was fired by McCarthy and replaced by Richard Nixon. She and her co-signatories to the Declaration of Conscience were referred by McCarthy as “Snow White and the Six Dwarfs”. It would take another four years before McCarthy was censured in the Senate. Margaret voted in favor.

Can the current House of Representatives learn something from our esteemed senator? I hope so.

1962 convention, from http://www.mcslibrary.org

Margaret continued to serve until 1972. She was a presidential candidate in the 1962 Republican primary but the nomination went to Barry Goldwater. She was the first woman to have her name be placed in nomination for the presidency at a major political party’s convention. At the end of her political life she moved back to Skowhegan and worked on her library. She also lectured at universities and in 1989 received the Presidential Metal of Freedom from George H.W. Bush. She died in 1995 at the age of 97. Come to Maine and you will see her name everywhere, we’re proud of our First Lady of the Senate.

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