Famous visitors


Stephen King’s House

Occasionally a guest will email me before arriving asking if there are any sights not to be missed in Bangor. This is when they are either flying in to Bangor International airport or driving through to get here at SeaCat’s Rest. While I don’t like to compromise anyone’s privacy, stopping to take a gawk and picture at Stephen and Tabitha King’s house seems to be such a common thing (based on the cars frequently stopping there) that I can only conclude that it is tolerated by the community and I hope, the Kings.

I can’t help but think that the creepy 270 foot long wrought iron fence design with bats, spiders and dragons, the blood red house color and other touches like the leaping frog are calling for photography, and proclaim to all passersby that this is indeed the House of King.

It’s such a short detour from the airport that a quick stop in front of the horror novelist’s house is almost hard to not justify, especially if it’s a nice day…or a dark, creepy day. The King house is interred at 47 West Broadway, Bangor. If you are leaving the airport go straight through the traffic circle and take a right onto Union Street. Drive for 1.7 miles and get ready to turn just after Hayford Park on your right. This will be West Broadway, and now you just need to drive another 1/10 of a mile, just after Cedar Street and look to your right for the big red house.

Stephen and Tabitha King are generous and respected members of the Maine community, have contributed much to many charities and have created the STK Foundation to distribute grants to Maine community organizations. Stephen has also involved himself in workshops for young Maine writers at the middle school level and above. While in Bangor tune into his rock and roll radio station, WKIT at 100.3 (“streaming live to the undead”).

They have had some problems with nutty people and stalkers around their house, and even someone who drove her car through the gate, so please keep your visit short and respectful, and maybe buy one of their books!


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Anthony Bourdain Came to Maine

Anthony Bourdain, from the Travel Channel

Travel Channel viewers know there are two guys with shows about eating strange stuff in faraway places. One is the nice guy, Andrew Zimmern and the other is his bad boy opposite, Anthony Bourdain. I watch them both. I encountered Andrew’s Bizarre Foods show about Maine when it aired and wrote about it here.

What I didn’t know was that Tony Bourdain did his own take on the Maine food scene too. Filled with the usual frequent profanity bleeps Tony followed his long-time (and Emmy winning) cameraman Zach Zamboni to his home town of Milo, Maine as well as a few coastal stops along the way.  Their show is called No Reservations and like Bizarre Foods, they probed the endless quirky backroads (and bays) of Maine to find strange people and stranger food. But in our country of endless malls and cookie-cutter towns, what seems bizarre to the folks of suburbia is quite ordinary to those of us who have made the escape, or never knew they were born in areas of strangeness.

So fasten your seatbelts and take a trip with Tony and Zach to their odd corners of Maine. Portland (the foodie town), Rockland (Midcoast culinary impressionism) and Milo (just watch). There are three parts of this YouTube video.

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Edward Grant: Delaware and Maine Artist

Unsigned, undated painting by Edward Grant

About 10 years ago I went to our recycling station (dump) here in Lamoine as I do every Saturday. We have a “swap shop” containing books and other items which folks think might be of use to their neighbors, and I like to give it the once-over every time I go. On this particular trip I spotted four watercolor paintings which seemed nicer than the usual swap shop offerings. I brought them home. Two of them ended up matted and framed on my living room wall. I sometimes get criticized for bringing things home from the dump, but these paintings were calling me. As they say, “I don’t know art, but I know what I like”.

Every few years I would do an internet search for Edward Grant to see if somehow my artist might be recognized. For years I turned up nothing. I had nothing besides his name to go on. Last week I was watching Antiques Roadshow (PBS) and I decided to give it another try. Immediately I struck gold; up popped the Biggs Museum of Modern Art in Dover, Delaware which had had an exhibition of his work.

I wasted no time in contacting the curator and explained to him that I might have some Edward Grant paintings and wondered if he could help me verify the style and signature. Admittedly, the paintings I have are of Maine landscapes, and those on the web are more of sandy Delaware, but the curator eventually replied that he thought the style and the signature looked genuine.

Signed, dated 1973

Edward Grant was born in 1907 in Delaware and painted prolifically throughout his long life. He was friends with famed Maine artist N.C. Wyeth and that’s where I think the Maine connection was established. Edward had a summer place in Round Pond, Maine. His “day job” was as artistic director of the Hercules Powder Company, an explosives maker. Over his 70 year artistic career his style changed many times, morphing from illustration art, Social Realism, Abstraction, Photorealism and finally moody landscapes until his death in 1998.

The Biggs curator referred me to an art dealer in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware who specialized in his paintings to put a price tag on my treasures. Of course, it was a little awkward when we came to the subject of provenance, that word which means the chain of custody. It would have been best if I could have shown him a photo of Edward handing me the paintings. Instead I had to settle with, “I found them at the dump”. The art dealer returned with a minimum price (and an offer) of $2,000 for the four paintings. No great fortune, but I think I will no longer be criticized for lingering at the swap shop!

More on Edward Grant can be seen here.

Edward Grant’s paintings can be purchased at the AerieArt Gallery.

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Hu Eats Maine Lobster?

"Just make sure you serve Maine lobster."

I think it’s safe to say that China’s President Hu Jintao must like lobster from Maine; a great deal of research and preparation go into these affairs, and the menu items are carefully chosen. Thirteen years ago, when the last state dinner was served to Hu’s predecessor Jiang Zemin, the menu also included Maine lobster.

The theme for the menu this time was “Quintessentially American” and was specifically requested by the Chinese delegation. The full menu is below, courtesy of drvino.com:

The complete dinner menu

D’Anjou Pear Salad with Farmstead Goat Cheese
Fennel, Black Walnuts, and White Balsamic

Poached Maine Lobster
Orange Glaze Carrots and Black Trumpet Mushrooms
Dumol Chardonnay “Russian River” 2008

Lemon Sorbet

Dry Aged Rib Eye with Buttermilk Crisp Onions
Double Stuffed Potatoes and Creamed Spinach
Quilceda Creek Cabernet “Columbia Valley” 2005

Old Fashioned Apple Pie with Vanilla Ice Cream
Poet’s Leap Riesling “Botrytis” 2008

from http://www.drvino.com/2011/01/19/state-dinner-menu-hu-jintao-quilceda-creek

I enjoy the thought of all those dignitaries dealing with shells and flooded plates, but something tells me the chefs figured out some way to spare heads of states from the usual lobster mess. Did President Hu wear a plastic bib? Someone knows, but they’re not talking. I have to comment on the black walnuts. This blows me away; I thought I was one of only about 10,000 Americans who love black walnuts. You can’t even buy them in Maine. They’re a Midwest thing I guess.

President Clinton’s dinner for Jiang Zemin in 1997 featured chilled lobster in tarragon sauce, probably not bib-worthy. The Bush Jr. administration didn’t like formal state dinners and never hosted one for Hu, much to his disappointment.

The thing about lobster is that  it can be as formal or as casual as you like. Here in Maine don’t expect white tablecloths and fine china. Most of the time you get a plastic bib and a bag of chips with your lobster, probably not fit for a visiting head of state. On the other hand, former President Jiang has been known to grab the mike and sing impromptu renditions of Elvis tunes. He seems more the plastic bib kind of guy.

Maine lobster has made the cut for a classic American food for many White House meals. It’s nice to know something from Maine has that status. It also happens to be one of the more sustainably harvested seafoods too.

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Martha Stewart’s Maine

Since 1997 those of us in the Bar Harbor and Mount Desert Island area have known that Martha Stewart lives nearby, and that she is likely to pop up at any time. She has a 35,000 square foot house in Seal Harbor once owned by Edsel Ford called Skylands. Anyone can walk around her upscale neighborhood and enjoy the mix of extraordinary vistas and fancy homes, as long as they respect the residents’ vigorously enforced privacy. I described one of these walks in a post on 7/29/2010 called A Walk Among the Wealthy.

In 2009 Martha wrote a short article in The Bangor Daily News in which she describes her passion for Acadia National Park and talks about her favorite hikes. The Ladder,  Beehive, Precipice, Dorr Mountain, Great Head, Hunters Beach and Pemetic are nearby trails she recommends. She even presents a list of her top ten hiking tips (somewhat abbreviated here):

  1. Use a guide book
  2. Check the weather
  3. Dress right; shoes, layers.
  4. Bring a backpack with first aid, a compass, map, tissues, water, rain gear and flashlight.
  5. Wear sunblock

    Great Head Trail. Note the blue trail marker stripe on the rock

  6. Bring a cellphone
  7. Obey the rules; stay on the trail
  8. Carry a camera
  9. Bring a snack on longer hikes, and
  10. Don’t bring a dog unless appropriate

Martha has always had a mixed reputation, people love to criticize the wealthy and famous, especially ambitious women. There are plenty of rumors and stories about her in the area, sometimes revealing her attitudes of arrogance and privilege, but I don’t know if any of them are true and I don’t imagine any of us would behave any differently if we were in her shoes.  I met her once in 2004, she asked me for directions. I didn’t immediately know who she was, only that she looked familiar. She seemed pretty normal; normal clothes, ordinary car and she was driving herself.  No wonder I didn’t recognize her as the billionaire Domestic Diva.

She has been known to auction off tours of Skylands for charity, so it’s unlikely that you or I will ever tour the house for free. Fortunately Martha has allowed us a virtual tour at her website. Better yet, check out Oprah’s video of Skylands. Hey, maybe Oprah will move up here too!

Skylands entrance, from http://www.themarthablog.com

The town of Mount Desert benefits from its clutch of wealthy residents. For the most part they’re only here for the summer and their property taxes pay for the highest-per-student expenditure in the county, perhaps in Maine. Their local philanthropy supports many things enjoyed by both residents and visitors, so we want to make sure they continue to find Northeast Harbor and Bar Harbor welcoming.

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Bizarre Foods Comes to Maine, MDI

from http://www.travelchannel.com/TV_Shows/Bizarre_Foods

Fans of the Travel Channel’s Bizarre Foods show have watched host Andrew Zimmern eat everything from pig brains in Spain to tree worms in the Philippines. When I heard he was doing a show in Maine my first question was, “What do we eat that’s so bizarre? What could possibly compare to roasted caterpillar or fermented seal blubber?”

Also from the travel channel website

To answer this question, Andrew met up with his dad Bob Zimmern, who happens to live in Portland, Maine’s largest city. The two head out to Fore Street for lunch where chef Sam Hayward presented his signature dishes, monkfish livers and roasted sardines. Not a bad start. In a twist on the usual parent-child exchange, Andrew scarfs down parts of the fish (the heads, of course) his dad refuses to eat. Andrew makes an observation that Maine restaurants are especially close to their food sources, and like to feature what’s local.

At the end of the show Andrew returns to Portland and finds local chefs who prepared junebugs three different ways at the Bizarre Foods Deathmatch Cookoff. He must have hit the season just right. He also visited a sushi restaurant I hadn’t heard of called Food Factory Miyake on Spring Street (our usual is Benkay on India Street). Here he tried the ultimate bizarre food, sea cucumber. I’ve seen these limp “sea pickles” washed up on our shore and I will state here and now, I refuse to eat anything that routinely expels its internal organs. Good job Andrew!

In between, the Bizarre Foods crew head out to Isle Au Haut where Andrew met up with The Perfect Storm author Linda Greenlaw. Linda took him lobster fishing and treated him to a full-blown clam bake with lobster, corn, clams, the works. Not bizarre at all, just great!

also from the travel channel website

The bizarre part happened at Pretty Marsh, where Andrew is treated to beaver chili cooked by Kate Krukowski. Leave it to Andrew to come to Maine to eat a large rodent! Kate lives in Pretty Marsh on Mount Desert Island and is the author of Black Fly Stew: Wild Maine Recipes. I have to get this book. I hope it’s not all about sea cucumbers.

Kate and Andrew Zimmern from http://www.blackflystew.com

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Mark Twain Weighs in on Seasons

Mark Twain, Feb 7, 1871

Mark Twain is celebrated as our first true American humorist, drawing on local color and speech and weaving stories which embody a unique American viewpoint. Among his early works was Roughing It, a rambling narrative about his directionless early years wandering the American West.

As we head into another fall and winter in Maine it is useful to hear from Twain’s impressions of New England as it relates to the changing seasons. After several years in Nevada and California he had this to say (chapter 56):

One of the queerest things I know of, is to hear tourists from “the States” go into ecstasies over the loveliness of “ever-blooming California.” And they always do go into that sort of ecstasies. But  perhaps they would modify them if they knew how old Californians, with the memory full upon them of the dust-covered and questionable summer greens of Californian “verdure,” stand astonished, and filled with worshiping admiration, in the presence of the lavish richness, the brilliant green, the infinite freshness, the spend-thrift variety of form and species and foliage that make an Eastern landscape a vision of Paradise itself. The idea of a man falling into raptures over grave and sombre California, when that man has seen New England’s meadow-expanses and her maples, oaks and cathedral-windowed elms decked in summer attire, or the opaline splendors of autumn descending upon her forests, comes very near being funny–would be, in fact, but that it is so pathetic.

Although a tropical landscape seems especially inviting to New Englanders in about February, it’s nice to hear Twain’s warning:

No land with an unvarying climate can be very beautiful. The tropics are  not, for all the sentiment that is wasted on them. They seem beautiful  at first, but sameness impairs the charm by and by. Change is the  handmaiden Nature requires to do her miracles with. The land that has  four well-defined seasons, cannot lack beauty, or pall with monotony.  Each season brings a world of enjoyment and interest in the watching of  its unfolding, its gradual, harmonious development, its culminating  graces–and just as one begins to tire of it, it passes away and a  radical change comes, with new witcheries and new glories in its train.  And I think that to one in sympathy with nature, each season, in its turn, seems the loveliest.

Right now in the Acadia area of Maine we have one of those seasons. A nip of frost, rapidly reddening leaves, low autumn sun and sudden weather changes awaken new (old) instincts as our human animal prepares for the coming challenges. It’s a great time to visit as lodgings are cheaper and restaurants and other attractions are still open. It is an especially great time for Californians to visit if they want to see the “opaline splendors of autumn”.

"Opaline Splendors of Autumn"

Read the full book as well as many others of Twain’s at http://www.mtwain.com

Here is a page which features my distant cousin, actor  William Hooker Gillette, giving his (audio) impression of  his friend and neighbor Mark Twain. This is the closest thing we have to Twain’s voice.

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Big Tourism Increase for Acadia National Park Area

from http://www.nature.nps.gov/stats/viewReport.cfm

Mount Desert Island, home of Acadia National Park and the storied towns of Bar Harbor, Northeast Harbor and Southwest Harbor, enjoyed a 19% increase in park visits over July of 2009. The Bar Harbor Chamber’s downtown welcome center saw a 108% increase in visits over last summer so far this year. The reasons are assumed to be weather related, the Presidential visit and the improving economy.

While the rest of the country was baking in triple digit heat and humidity, our Maine coast was mostly in the 80s during the day and 60s at night. But we weren’t socked in fog, our skies were sunny. Rain–just enough–came at night or in a quick daytime shower. No one delayed or canceled their Maine visit due to the weather this summer. In fact, they were in a hurry to get here and reluctant to return home. We did have 5 days of ninety degree weather at the end of August, but the nights cooled down into the 60s. Some store owners complained about how rainy days make for more shoppers and how this factor was in short supply, but I can’t believe those rainy day shoppers wouldn’t go somewhere else next time.

The quick visit of President Obama and his family in mid July put Mount Desert Island into everyone’s consciousness. Reports of the family eating ice cream, hiking, biking and boating made everyone want to get in on the action. Some folks grumbled about the short notice, inconvenience of rerouted traffic and restricted access, but it was over quickly and the buzz has lasted. If this visit had the effect it seems to have had, we should be paying for presidential visits!

The economy is also said to be a factor contributing to our banner year. A combination of value and nearness makes Acadia a sensible choice for those moving just a little beyond a “staycation”. While the early summer optimism about the economy seems to have hit a snag, it may be resolved just in time for next summer. I think it will be a long time before Americans feel flush enough to be flying to Paris and London for their summer vacations. Our local list of things to do does not require a big bank roll and lodgings a little off the beaten track can stretch your dollar more. We are after all, Affordable Acadia!

High tide view from Seacat's Rest shore

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President Obama Visits Acadia!

Not since William Howard Taft visited the island nearly 100 years ago has a sitting president visited our island. Word has it that they cannot land a Boeing 747 at the Bar Harbor airport, so the president and his family will either come by chopper or smaller jet from Bangor. We are on the approach pattern for the airport, so there’s a good chance the flying limo will be a few hundred feet right over SeaCat’s Rest sometime around noon. For some reason we were not contacted to provide lodgings for the first family, but neither are they staying at a wealthy estate. They will be at The Bar Harbor Regency, a local hotel; at least according to rumor.

The visit will shut down some routes on the island temporarily as the family moves about during their visit. Airspace will be restricted, but our reserved business community is not going gaga over this event; we are quite accustomed to the famous among us. The late Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward, Martha Stewart, David Rockefeller, Pulitzers, Vanderbilts and Morgans are no big deal. I think that’s why they’re here; their privacy is respected. Hopefully the president will feel the same.

We can speculate on the presidential choice for his weekend vacation. Any weather map will show how the Acadia area is one of the coolest places in the country, with temperatures topping out in the 80s this weekend while the rest of the country struggles to stay out of triple digits. The views are dramatic, the security is manageable and President Obama will be able to play golf at Kebo Valley, the same course Taft navigated his ample frame around one hundred years ago.

We welcome our president and his family. We wish he could stay longer. Three days doesn’t begin to offer a glimpse at what’s here. Wouldn’t it be cool if they came here to buy a summer retreat? The place next door is for sale….

UPDATE: at 12:05 PM Air Force One (a shrunken version) touched down safely at Bar Harbor Airport. And yes, it did fly right over SeaCat’s Rest.

Obamas Arrive at Bar Harbor 7/16/2010

The motorcade route was lined with excited camps of spectators hoping to catch a glimpse of the first family on their way to the Regency. Security was present, but relaxed. How much will the visit inconvenience other tourists? That remains to be seen. In the long run it can’t help but be a boost for Acadia’s popularity as people around the world share their short vacation on the nightly news.

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Dead End Gene Pool-Maine’s Elite Exposed

I have finished reading the just-released memoir of Wendy Burden called Dead End Gene Pool, which I mentioned in an earlier post, The Rich and Famous of Bar Harbor. First of all, let’s get one thing straight regarding the sentence on page 251, “…I really got a feel for why Maine has the highest rate of alcoholism…in the country.” Maine is not the most alcoholic state in the Union, not even close. That distinction belongs to Wisconsin. Depending on which study you consult and what you are measuring, it’s pretty close to the middle or slightly under. Go ahead and Google it! I could say something mean like our rate of alcohol consumption goes way up when the idle rich summer people arrive, but I have no data on that and so unlike Ms. Burden, I must withdraw unsupported assertions. While we’re at it, our winters are not like Siberia (Maine is much sunnier in winter than most northern states), and spending a winter here is not an excuse to drop off the chemical deep end.

There! Falsehoods erased.  Now the good part. This is a fun book for anyone who was born in the middle of the last century who always wondered what their life would be like if they were born into extreme wealth. Wendy has the childhood of the 60’s down pat; the toys, the attitude, the music and the dress.  Extreme wealth adds a complexity most of us can’t imagine. Bad genes from a limited gene pool  result in mental and physical disorders. Kids are spoiled rotten but ignored. Adults seem to fritter their time away drinking, ordering staff around, drinking, jetting to alternate palatial homes, drinking, tanning and drinking. Besides offering a glimpse into very famous families (Vanderbilt, Twombly, Burden) we are made to feel lucky we are not them. Given the inaccuracies noted in my first paragraph, perhaps we should take all this exposure with a grain of salt, but it’s still a fun read.

So how does Maine figure into this? The author’s grandfather William A. M. Burden II, built a 4,500-square-foot house at the entrance to Northeast Harbor on Mt. Desert Island in 1947 (increased to 6500 s.f.  later with the addition of an indoor pool.) Unlike the other “cottages” of the Eastern elite, this home was an ultra-modern design by Isamu Noguchi and Wallace Harrison, architect of the United Nations Building in New York City.  Initial reaction from the local community was that it was the height of ugly, but when it burned down in 1999 it was meticulously rebuilt and is now listed in the National Register of Historic Places. The house looms large in Ms. Burden’s narrative.

Quirky characters abound in Wendy Burden’s Dead End Gene Pool. Some still live in Northeast Harbor (or at least are in the phone book) but Wendy herself also seems to have received a dose of blue-blood wackiness. As a child she idolized Wednesday Addams from TV’s The Addams Family, liked to document the decay of dead animals, performed cruel but hilarious stunts on the servants and generally attempted to inflict misery on her aloof family (which she continues to this day!).  The book is hilarious, you are welcome to borrow our copy when you stay at SeaCats’ Rest.

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