History

09/16/2013

The KKK in Maine

from http://www.mainehistory.org

Writing about Maine is fun. You never know what sorts of strange things you will find. Here’s a topic which is not spooky, exciting or glamorous, but downright embarrassing. Yes, bigotry and hatred made appearances in Maine as in other places, and it would be wrong not to acknowledge what happened or to sweep it under the rug. But isn’t it odd that the Klan would make an appearance in Maine since our African American population was and is so tiny? As it turns out, the growth of the Klan in Maine had little to do with skin color.

First of all, a little business. The main source for this story comes from the excellent website of the Maine Historical Society, the web address of which appears at the bottom of the Klan medallion. It’s a great one-stop for Maine history, so please visit.

Painting by John Hilling

So up here in Maine, since we lacked an easy-to-identify minority upon which to heap scorn whenever things were not going well, where did we turn? To the French, of course! In a past post I wrote about the history of the Acadians in Maine and how they still maintain their culture today. To the Anglo Mainer, the French minority, whether Acadian or Québecois, had two strikes against them. They spoke a foreign language, and they were Catholic.

Right here in Ellsworth, in 1851, Jesuit priest John Bapst was tarred, feathered and run out of town on a rail by members of the aptly named Know-Nothing Party. Today there is a high school named in his honor. In 1854, the same group burned the Old South Church in Bath, Maine, a Catholic place of worship. This tradition of persecution continued and flourished whenever nativism, the hatred of immigrants, rose.  The anti-Catholic part of this philosophy posited that if these immigrants obtained political power, they would answer to the Pope, and our Protestant, republican values would be compromised. The temperance movement was also an undercover slam against the wine-drinking Catholics. Maine went dry in 1851.

From the Portsmouth Herald, January 17, 1923

When the challenges of the 1920s: the rise of communism, anarchy and post war economic troubles, threatened Mainers’ sense of security, many of our citizens joined the Ku Klux Klan.  Once again the target was mostly the francophone Catholic community. The Klan phenomenon was here in most of its usual parts. The wearing of white robes and pointy hoods, the secret meetings and the rallies and marches all took place in the 1920s throughout Maine. But the parts missing from the Invisible Empire in Maine was, for the most part, violence and terror. In fact, violence was direct against the Klan. The Franco-Mainers fought back! In 1924 Franco-Mainers attacked a Klan rally in Fairfield with rocks and clubs and tore down a burning cross.

The goal of the Klan in Maine was primarily political. They wanted to make sure their nativist ideals were preserved in government, that no Catholics were elected or appointed. But all evidence suggests their effects were mostly short-lived. By the late 1920s, newspapers railed against them, citizens challenged them and politicians spoke out against them. Governor Baxter condemned them and although the Klan claimed next governor, Ralph Owen Brewster, was elected with their help, the election split the Republican party in Maine. Perhaps their greatest political victory was in Portland in 1923, where they influenced a referendum reorganizing city government to exclude neighborhood representation. This removed aldermen from Irish, Jewish and French parts of the city in favor of at-large councilors.  But in 1926 Klan-backed candidates were losing elections, and the Klan headquarters in Portland was seized for back taxes. By 1930 the Klan in Maine was only a memory.

It is thought that because of the appearance of the Klan in Maine, that the Bangor branch of the N.A.A.C.P. was established in 1921. Maine continued to value its anti-bigotry reputation by the passage of the 1989 Maine Civil Rights Act and the 2012 voter approval of gay marriage. Our governor is a Franco Mainer, I don’t think French, Irish Italians or any other Catholic minorities have anything to fear in Maine.

Klan rally in Portland, 1926. From mainehistory.org.

 

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05/13/2013

Lamoine’s Silver Mines

from http://www.theprospectorsite.com

Ever since moving here in 1995 I’ve been hearing rumors about a silver mine in Lamoine. I formed visions of mine shafts, glittering veins of silver and overnight riches, sometime in the distant past. I always wondered exactly where it was, and if there were any remains. I  finally decided to investigate. This is one of the perks of blog writing, you always have an excuse to follow silly tangents, as long as you write about them.

Two books exist about Lamoine that I know of. The oldest is Lamoine and its Attractions as a Place of Summer Sojourning by John C Winterbotham (1888); and A Souvenir of Old Lamoine, by the Lamoine Historical Society, undated, probably about 1990. While I haven’t been able to get my hands on the former I don’t think it has any information about silver mines, and none in A Souvenir, which I have. But there has been a breakthrough online: the US Geological Survey website has a database on mineral resources at http://mrdata.usgs.gov. By searching for silver mines in Lamoine I have the three documents:

http://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/show-mrds.php?dep_id=10121304  (Swett mine)
http://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/show-mrds.php?dep_id=10267472#nav (Ford mine)
http://mrdata.usgs.gov/mrds/show-mrds.php?dep_id=10218222#nav(Eureka mine)

Lamoine map from googlemaps. Locations are green arrows, except the Swett, which is covered by the pink pinhead.

The Swett mine is just behind this row of mailboxes

These three records give the GPS coordinates, so we now know the exact locations in Lamoine. Two of the three are on private land and not easily accessed. The landowners probably don’t know they’re there and asking for access would be awkward, but the Swett mine is so close to the road that going to the site is possible, and only 2 miles from SeaCat’s Rest.  I paid a visit on 5/10/13. What I found was a small crater with a built up rim, overgrown by trees. I expect the others look the same.

An overgrown crater is all that remains

So what happened? Did Lamoine yield untold riches to some lucky prospectors? Unlikely. In each of the three records we see: “Development status: Prospect” and “Significant: no”. This tells me that not much came out of value. Holes were dug, nothing was found, the prospectors moved on.

There were two mining rushes in Maine, the first was in 1878-1882. From the Milbridge Historical Society:

In a great flurry of excitement, small mines and prospects were opened in many areas, primarily along the coastal volcanic belt.  Some of the activity came from miners who returned to Maine from the Gold Rush in the West.  He said there were many new shafts drilled, and lots of promotion.  There was ample opportunity to buy mining stock and a large number of credulous fools, ready to make a killing.  A few did well, but most did not.  In most cases, the ore veins were just not big enough to make mining profitable. The Maine State Mining Journal reported in 1880 that Maine was 18th of 20 silver producing states, so there was indeed some silver production here, but never a lot.

The second mining boom was in the late 1950s. The Milbridge article goes on:

Part of an ore body estimated at 4.5 million tons was worked near Blue Hill in 1964-65, and significant nickel copper deposit was drilled but not mined in Union.  The most famous operation was the open-pit mine in Harborside, between Brooksville and Cape Rosier where 800,000 tons of copper and zinc ore were mined between 1968 and 1972.

Probably the most successful Downeast mine was in Blue Hill.  It is said that a million tons of zinc-copper-lead ore were shipped from the Black Hawk mine there.  1,600 men were employed there at $1.10 a day.  You could make more as a carpenter, but it was a reasonable living.  The map distributed by Jenkins shows 21 different mining sites in the Blue Hill area.  No metals have been mined in Maine since 1977.

In summary, Jenkins said that $975,000 was invested in Maine mining.  OF this only $375,000 was invested by Mainers.  Only $35,000 was realized from the total investment.  Of course, he pointed out, all of that $975,000 was spent in Maine, so the state did have economic benefit from mining.  He quoted Frank Bartlett who said in 1882,  that never have more summer visitors come to Maine to watch the hauling of ores from our mines.  There isn’t that much to see, “but they can’t help admiring our beautiful scenery.”

The source for the above quotes was Tom Jenkins, geology instructor and Assistant Professor of Professional Studies at the University of Maine.

What is still unanswered is whether the Lamoine mines were from the first or the second rush. The USGS site lists the source of information on these mines as ME Mines and Minerals, Volume 2 page 33 by Philip Morrill and Wm. P. Hinkley, 1959. So the mines could be from the 1880s or the 1950s.

So I’ve managed to answer the where, how many and maybe a hint of the how successful, but still unknown is the when and who. Do you know?

Addendum: I just heard from the Lamoine Historical Society:

There was a fourth silver mine named the “Little Sue”. (1881 map) It was a about one half mile from the Swett mine, near the salt water.
Mining in the area  started in 1879. No one in Lamoine got rich. In fact most of them were left with worthless mining shares. The Historical Society has a Little Sue original paper share.
The following is a quote from a Lamoine letter dated Jan 11, 1880. “There is quite an excitement here in regards to the mines. Mr. Johnson has commenced blasting;” and a letter  of Jan. 18, 1880: “Mr. Johnson has discovered a very rich one on his farm in sight from the road. The assayer in Sullivan pronounces it gold.”  This mine is not found on the map. It seems that the only money made was by selling the mineral rights to someone else. There were a lot of mines dug, but none successful. Letter of April 13, 1880: “Most every one that you hear of has got a mine. Amos has got one thought to be worth millions.”
The “craze” didn’t last very long.

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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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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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01/01/2013

Maine and the North Pole

Some folks look at a distorted map of the US, where Maine curves up like a hitchhiker’s thumb and think Maine is the last stop before the North Pole. This post is not about Maine’s undeserved reputation as an arctic peninsula, but how many expeditions to the North Pole had something to do with Maine. This was because of Maine’s seafaring traditions, not its proximity to the Arctic. After all, most of France and all of the British Isles lie north of Maine. The googlemap to the left shows how we line up with Europe if the Atlantic Ocean were to disappear. Bar Harbor and Bordeaux share the same latitude. Too bad we don’t have a gulf stream. If so the temperature would have been in the 60s today (Bordeaux) instead of the upper 20s.

Geography lesson (and whining) over. Perhaps the first Mainer with polar ambitions was Herbert Leach. Born in 1858 here in Hancock County he joined the expedition to the North Pole on the steam ship Jeannette from San Francisco led by Lieutenant Commander G. W. DeLong on 3 July, 1879. The long ordeal is beyond the scope of this blog but the ship got frozen into the ice for two years and rode with the ice pack for thirteen hundred miles. The crew survived by hunting polar bears and walruses. After the Jeannette was finally crushed by the ice the crew set out in their three lifeboats to Siberia. Only one of the three survived, the one with Herbert Leach and twelve others. After being fed by natives and a trip to Yakutsk, Siberia, the crew took a long train ride to Europe and back to the U.S. Herbert Leach died in 1935 at the age of 77. He is buried in Hillside Cemetery, North Penobscot, Maine.

from Wikipedia

The big kahuna of Maine polar explorers was Robert Edwin Peary (May 6, 1856 – Feb. 20, 1920). Although born in Pennsylvania, Robert graduated from Maine’s Bowdoin College in 1877 and lived in Fryeburg Maine. His home is now the Admiral Peary Inn and the island he bought in Casco Bay, near Portland, is now open to all. Find out more about Peary’s Eagle Island here.

Robert Peary’s goal of reaching the North Pole left no stone unturned. He had a special steamship built, the S. S. Roosevelt (after Teddy). It was a shallow-draft, coal burning steamship with extremely rugged construction. It had 30 inch thick steel covered white oak hull planking and a solid battering-ram bow meant to withstand ice crushing and a rounded hull design meant to be frozen in pack ice.

The S. S. Roosevelt from www.pearyeagleisland.org

I imagine he read up on the Jeannette. Below decks was so crammed with machinery and coal that crew quarters had to be above deck. The ship was also sail-rigged to save fuel. He made several voyages to the north of Ellesmere Island, Canada’s most northerly land mass and the world’s tenth largest island. Here he positioned men, dogs and supplies in preparation for his 1909 push to the Pole, his third attempt. The island was by no means close to the pole, he still had to travel 500 miles by dog sled and foot, over frozen pack ice with ridges up to 100 feet high. The polar night was no time to travel, so he had to wait until early spring to set out, and had to hurry back to beat the breakup.

Matthew Henson, from his book

Interestingly, Peary send most of his crew back short of the pole and chose as his closest co-explorer an African American, Matthew Alexander Henson (Aug. 8, 1866 – March 9, 1955), who reached the North Pole with Peary on April 6, 1909, along with four Inuits. Henson wrote about his adventures an a book called A Negro Explorer at the North Pole, published in 1912. It is available as a free download at http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/20923. Peary wrote the forward, in which he said,

Again it is an interesting fact that in the final conquest of the “prize of the centuries,” not alone individuals, but races were represented. On that bitter brilliant day in April, 1909, when the Stars and Stripes floated at the North Pole, Caucasian, Ethiopian, and Mongolian stood side by side at the apex of the earth, in the harmonious companionship resulting from hard work, exposure, danger, and a common object.

Peary’s motto,  Inveniam viam aut faciam, “Find a way or make one”, seems like a requirement for successful explorers. Admiral Peary died on 20 Feb, 1920 at the age of 63. He lies in Arlington National Cemetery.

from findagrave memorial #799

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12/26/2012

Maine Lawn Rebel

Google street view of where I grew up.

I grew up in a land of conformity. The houses were all on 1/4 acre lots in a new subdivision and the measure of a family’s social standing had a lot to do with whether their lawn had dandelions and if the edges which met the sidewalk were cut razor straight, with no blade of grass allowed to bend over the cement. I always fought this. It was enough to cut the grass I thought. Let the next door people worry about getting on the cover of Lawn Beautiful. Flash forward 40 years and not much has changed. Now instead of pushing around a gas powered mower most suburbanites contract out their lawn care to a company like “Chairman Mow, we cut the grass of the ruling class“. Even at SeaCat’s Rest it’s common to hear the roar of internal combustion engines and the smell of exhaust, unchecked by the pollution controls common to the cheapest of cars, wafting in from neighbors. How did this all begin and why does it continue?

There’s a simple caveman explanation. Imagine your cave is in the middle of a thick forest. Now picture it higher up, overlooking a broad meadow or lake. In which would you feel safer? The one with the broad vista, of course. You can see ‘em coming. Bloodthirsty foes or hungry relatives. Time to lock the door and pretend you’re not home. Could our love of lawn be any more than just that? Actually, yes.

English countryside. Photo by Andy Edwards

Consider the English colonists. They came from a pastoral land where every square inch of rural land was used for crops or grazing. They brought grazing animals with them and forest cover meant hunger, for animals and humans alike. Massachusetts was not Somersetshire. Trees had to be cut and grass planted. By 1640 we had established permanent markets for importing English meadow seeds like timothy and alfalfa. As our farms flourished, trends in English landscape architecture reinforced the ideal of lawns. In 1830 the lawnmower was invented by the Englishman Edwin Budding. By 1850 the lawn was part of the American preferred home landscape, with no other purpose than to look good.

As the lawn grew in popularity from Maine to California and south to the Gulf of Mexico, measures were taken to ensure its health in a variety of climates. Drought resistant grass varieties were planted in the south and when nature couldn’t provide, the Industrial Lawn took up the slack. By the 1950s the modern lawn required watering, chemical de-weeding with herbicides and greening up with fertilizers. It was cut, in ever greater frequently due to the fertilizers, with enormous inputs of fossil fuels. By the time I was in college it was said that Americans put more fertilizer on their lawns than India used on food crops.

Path to SeaCat’s Rest

For a while now there has been a movement afoot to reverse this trend. There’s a “freedom lawn” movement which seeks to develop a method of taking the industrial component out of the American lawn. Ornamental grasses, perennial flowers, native varieties and relaxed cutting and interference are part of this approach.  Mainers are a little less serious about their lawns anyway. Sometimes, meadows are allowed to grow and only bush hogged when woody plants (usually alders) appear. That might be every two or three years. I’ve never seen anyone in Maine apply lawn chemicals. Lawns are mowed, but weeds are free to flourish for the most part. Visitors from the south often comment that our lawns look a little wild and uncared for. I guess there are parts of the country where the industrial lawn still rules.

It’s no wonder Maine is lax on lawn care. Our own Hannah Holmes, who lives in Portland on 2/10 of an acre wrote a book called Suburban Safari, A Year On The Lawn in which she describes in great detail the ecology of her freedom lawn. On page 104 she says,

   Whatever you call it, it’s a popular landscape choice around here. Maine has been slow to recognize the genius of turning a perfectly good vegetable-patch-with-garbage-dump into an outdoor shag rug. And if we must have a shag rug outdoors, by gorry, we ain’t gonna manicure the blasted thing.

Here at SeaCat’s Rest we maintain a strip around the house of mowed grass, which I cut with an electric mower. Other parts of the property are covered by either woods or Kathleen’s extensive perennial flower and ornamental grass extravaganza, where butterflies and hummingbirds find plenty to eat. We still have the caveman expanse in the form of the North Atlantic. Just this side of the shore we allow nature to prevail with wild blueberries, raspberries and bunchberries. I like to cut back the woody plants by hand every spring to maintain the view, but most of the vegetation is untouched to preserve the integrity of the bank. At least one of our guests remarked that our setting was “rustic” and I don’t think she meant it as a compliment (see reviews here).  So there it is, if you book lodgings here you have to deal with a Maine Lawn Rebel.

View from the bank

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12/16/2012

The Bath Disaster

It’s important to realize that horrible events like mass killings of children such as we just saw in Newtown, CT are not only recent phenomena. Rarely does the following story appear in the list of ignoble deeds of mass slaughter, but it stands as the worst school attack in the US and it happened 85 years ago: On May 18, 1927, ten or fifteen miles away from where my eleven year old parents attended school, a horrific bombing killed 39 school children, two teachers, four other adults and the bomber himself. At least 58 people were injured. It is the third worst act of domestic terrorism in American history, after 9/11 and the Oklahoma City bombing of 1995.

Bath is a small town in Michigan just north of Lansing, the state capital. In the early part of the 20th century it was a sleepy agricultural community, and education took place in multiple one-room schoolhouses. Education reforms in the 1920s recommended that children be moved to larger schools where age groups could be separated into their own classes, and in 1922 the Bath voters approved the construction of a such a school. The new Bath Consolidated School opened with 236 students. Andrew Kehoe was on the school board.

Pre-blast Bath School, from Wikipedia

The details of Andrew Kehoe’s crime are outrageous and disgusting. He had close ties with the school and was employed as maintenance man, so his access to the school’s basement was unquestioned. Over the course of several weeks he planted one thousand pounds of dynamite in the floor framing and rigged it up to alarm clock detonators. The blasts were set to go off in two parts, one for each wing of the school. The second was delayed so as to kill rescuers. Fortunately, the second 500 lbs did not detonate, its wiring was severed by the first blast.

Kehoe’s car bomb. From wikipedia

On the day of the disaster Kehoe started out by killing his wife Nellie with blunt trauma to the head. He then systematically set off incendiaries in his own house and barn, making sure his animals were not able to escape. He loaded up his pickup with more explosives and shrapnel and drove to the school to pretend to take part in the rescue. He parked his pickup where it would kill the most people and set it off, killing five more people including himself.

After the blast, from findagrave #7845578

I knew about this story not from history books or old newspapers, but from my family. My stepfather, Keith Southwell, who married my mother after my father’s death, had a paper route in 1927. He was 15. His girlfriend was Iola Irene Hart, 12, a student at the Bath School. Iola, her eight year old sister Vivian Oletta and her eleven year old brother Percy Eugene were all killed in the blast. My stepfather named his only child after Iola. After my mother died Keith married a surviving Hart sister, Elva. They were both in their late 80s. Seventy years after the disaster it was difficult for either of them to talk about it, and especially Elva seemed to think that giving details made the tragedy a possible source of profit for someone, which she was dead-set against. Keith grudgingly answered some questions so that my friend Walter Bilderback could write a play about it which he called Flame of Powder, Soul of Man. Both Elva and Keith have since died.

from fultonhistory.com

Much speculation about the motives of Andrew Kehoe has occurred through the years. His wife was sick, his farm was in foreclosure, he was angry about high taxes. Similar speculation has happened about recent mass killers, but there is one thing we can learn from the 1927 Bath Disaster: psychopaths occur throughout history. The only thing that changes is the tools they use to accomplish their horrible deeds, and how many they can kill before it’s over.

Wikipedia article: Bath School Disaster

Findagrave memorial: Andrew Kehoe

Findagrave memorial: Nellie Price Kehoe

Findagrave virtual cemetery for Bath Disaster victims.

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10/14/2012

Maine’s Mushroom Superstar, Sam Ristich

Professor Herb Wagner

My time at University of Michigan’s biological station near Pellston, MI exposed me up close to the culture of academia. Billed as the opportunity for undergraduates to get to know professors one to one in a rustic setting, I found them to be often arrogant, disdainful of undergraduates and eager to turn graduate students into uncredited slaves. An important exception to this was Warren “Herb” Wagner, a name which brings thousands of his former UMich students around the world to a moment of gentle remembrance. Dr. Wagner taught the popular Woody Plants course and did what all great teachers did, get people excited. He died at 80, January 8, 2000 after only a week of absence from his research laboratory.

Sam Ristich from http://www.ruthieristich.com/blog/

But this is not about Herb Wagner, it’s about his Maine mycologist equivalent, Sam Ristich. Since becoming involved with mushrooming in Maine and joining the Maine Mycological Association, I have heard quite a bit about Sam and how he single handedly formed the club and exported his considerable enthusiasm about fungi for many years. Always available for one-on-one and delightfully oblivious to fashion or other social conventions, he stayed active into his 90s, devoting his last 2-1/2 decades to educating Mainers about nature.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1915 to Serbian immigrants, Sam served as a navigator for the US Army Air Force’s Air Transport Command in WWII, starting his working life risking it to deliver planes to dangerous places like Greenland, Burma and the Sahara desert. A marker-filled map of the world chronicles his many achievements at www.samristich.com. After the war he earned his PhD in entomology at Cornell (1950). During 15 years of teaching at the New York Botanical Gardens he founded the Connecticut-Westchester Mycological Association (COMA) and the New Jersey Mycological Association. He and wife Ruth worked for civil rights and were active from 1955 to 1975 with the NAACP and the Unitarian Social Action Committee.

In the early 1980s Ruth inherited her family’s farm in North Yarmouth, Maine and so they came to our neck of the woods. Many of the current members of MMA remember Sam, his bubbly enthusiasm and trademark expressions; his whoops of excitement and “wonderment” of the natural world.

Sam died during dinner on February 11, 2008 at the age of 92. I was not lucky enough to have known Sam Ristich, but I can tell he was an important figure in Maine history. You can’t get very far into fungi without encountering his name or photographs. There are annual forays named after him and a memorial nature trail in North Yarmouth. He even discovered a new mushroom in 1983, Amanita ristichii. His service for the Northern New England Poison Control Center in identifying mushrooms probably saved many lives. But to me his greatest mark was as a teacher. Like Herb Wagner and Richard Feynman, his legacy will continue forever in the lives of those he inspired. In his own words from http://www.samristich.com/about.html

I loved it! [Teaching] I had the good fortune of being at the right place at the right time and having the motivation to really tap the potential. Somebody said that the greatest of talents is to discover it and develop it in others. And there’re some people who are motivators and know where to find it and how to mine it.

His daughter is working on a film about her father’s life. See a clip below:

F__Microscope Drama from Ruthie Ristich on Vimeo.

Sam Ristich resources on the web used in this article:

  • http://www.samristich.com
  • “Sam’s Corner”, http://www.mushroomthejournal.com/mma/SCCentral.html
  • http://www.ruthieristich.com
  • http://www.mainelymushrooms.org/PagesPublic/Pub_Sam.html
  • (obituary) http://nemfdata.org/samristich.htm

Filed under Acadia, colorful characters, History, Nature by on . 1 Comment.

08/27/2012

Mitt Romney: My Second Cousin and Second Choice

Rosetta Mary Berry
(Mitt’s great grandma)

Willard Mitt Romney’s mom Lenore LaFount was the daughter of Alma Luella Robison who was the daughter of Rosetta Mary Berry. Rosetta’s half brother was Eugene Berry (1851-1923). Eugene was my great granduncle and after his wife died and her brother, my great grandfather, also died, Eugene married my great grandmother late in life (1915). So my step-great grandfather’s (and my great granduncle’s) half sister was Mitt’s great grandmother. There’s too many steps and halves in this to qualify as a real second cousin, but it explains why I found several ancestry trees claiming my great grandmother, who died a Methodist or maybe a Baptist (she married Mitt’s granduncle in a Baptist parsonage), became a Mormon after death(!) In fact, the Mormon story in my tree, thanks to Eugene’s dad Robert Berry (1823-1905) and his first wife Elnora Lucretia Warner (1822–1865) is one of the most amazing, almost Shakespearean epic in my family tree.

Elnora Lucretia Warner
(Mitt’s great great grandma)

When their two kids were small (Rosetta and her brother Charles), the young Berry family decided, along with Elnora’s parents and siblings, to leave southern Michigan to relocate to the center of the Mormon universe at the time, Nauvoo, Illinois. This was around 1845, just after the murder of founder Joseph Smith in Nauvoo. Upon arriving they discovered little work, so Robert offered to return to Hillsdale County, MI to make some money and send it along to sustain the family. He did so for a period of time, but in Nauvoo things were becoming unraveled. The residents decided to make an orderly migration to Utah under threat from non-Mormon locals. Meanwhile, Robert was puzzled as to why he hadn’t heard from his wife. He decided to make the trip to Nauvoo and find out. When he arrived he found the city deserted and his family gone. He was told his wife married another man and joined the Great Migration.  It is claimed that so great was his grief that his hair turned white overnight. Robert Berry returned to Michigan with a broken heart. He later married my great granduncle’s mother, Nancy Bailey, in 1847.

Robert Berry
(Mitt’s great great grandpa)

Years later, Mitt’s great grandmother Rosetta showed up at Robert’s doorstep. She was on a mission for the Mormon church and took the opportunity to visit her dad. She explained that Elnora married Nauvoo’s postmaster Simon Dalton, after he intercepted Robert’s mail (and his money) and Elnora’s letters back. He convinced her that her husband had abandoned her and that she should become his (plural) wife. He even married Elnora’s sister in the bargain! My guess is that Mitt may not have a fondness for Simon Dalton or for plural marriages.

I am not about to make the case that Mitt Romney is an evil dude. In fact, I admire his dad George for telling the truth about the Viet Nam war. He said we were being brainwashed. This killed his hopes of becoming the 1968 Republican presidential candidate, in fact, it ended his political career.  That took guts and I hope that rubbed off on Mitt, although I have my doubts. Ironically, George was born in Mexico while his parents were on a mission, but he never had to face the “Birther” issue. A good question  for Mitt! (Governor Romney: Your father was born in Mexico. Do you think he should have been disqualified as a presidential candidate in 1968?) Anyway, I think Mitt is the least wacky of all the Republican contenders this time around and if he wins I will probably not hide under the bed. But I won’t be voting for him. Remember, that’s coming from a family member. Sort of.

Filed under Acadia, colorful characters, History by on . 2 Comments.

08/14/2012

So What Makes New England Unique?

from http://wikitravel.org

No other region of the US is so geographically and culturally contained as the six states of New England. We’re a little different here in Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. We are environmentally conscious, politically independent, stoic, self-reliant, not very religious and we talk funny. We are hands-on when it comes to community decision-making and responsibility, reluctant to change our ways and suspicious of new ideas and sometimes, people “from away”. We believe in higher education, libraries, historical societies and preservation. We try to help the less fortunate by taxing ourselves or by placing a collection jar at the local general store. Our town representatives are called “Selectmen, Assessors and Overseers of the Poor” and we pass (usually with changes) the town budget once a year at a big town meeting by show of hands. We dislike cookie-cutter housing developments, urban sprawl, garish attractions and flaunted wealth.

William Brewster, Puritan Elder, Mayflower passenger and my 11th great grandfather.

Undoubtedly, much of this character comes from our Puritan origins, but so many other parts of America had Puritan origins, because they were settled by New Englanders. The difference was that our Puritans didn’t move away after the “west” (upstate NY, Ohio, Michigan) opened up in the early 1800’s. They liked it here. The finiteness, the community, the traditions, maybe even the weather.

Puritans had the problem of self-governance of their church once they made the crossing, and this they settled according to their beliefs. Harry S. Stout in The New England Soul explains it in terms of covenants (contracts) church members made to each other to govern the affairs of the church according to the laws of God, without the hated English hierarchy. This model of self-governance naturally expanded to local non-church politics with the core features of small autonomous units (the church and town) and the commitment (covenant) of the individual to the unit. Additionally, the Puritans encouraged literacy, education and reverence of history. Thus we come to modern New England, with its many universities and population mostly in small towns with an unspoken responsibility to participatory democracy. Those who left for the untamed frontier in the early 1800s had had enough of the New England Way.

Portland Head Light, commissioned by George Washington

What we have created here is both good and bad. Our crime rate is low because we take community seriously. Anonymity is hard to find. But our population is flat-lining, and aging. With the aging population comes a shrinking tax base. Schools are consolidating and closing and abandoned houses are burned for fire department practice.  Our small unit identity means we are sometimes reluctant to cooperate with neighboring towns, cities, counties or states.  Our Puritan-inspired rules, regulations and tithing (taxation) stifles new business. These, along with a lack of cheap immigrant labor, hurt our competitiveness with the Sunbelt. As former governor (and now US Senate candidate) Angus King has warned,

In today’s global economy, the historic rivalries and differences between New England states are luxuries we can’t afford. Virtually every job we do is subject to global competition: in 20 years the only jobs that can’t be outsourced will be those that touch a person or something they own. The world wants our standard of living. It will take a massive effort at education and innovation to maintain it….We’re in peril. We New Englanders must strengthen ourselves, break historic precedent, find new and innovative ways to maximize our joint strengths, work together. (from http://newenglandfutures.org)

Fine, but lets stop a minute and remember why we live here. We just had a Great Recession. Red-hot growth areas like Florida and Nevada went bust. People who played the Ponzi housing game lost everything. Our New England home values did take a hit, but most of us knew our houses were overvalued because we saw the nuttiness and greed in the rest of the country, and our reluctance to allow big developments limited the carnage. If massive, leveraged development, housing or otherwise is “innovation” we should tread carefully. If growth means more CO2 and record breaking temperatures, droughts and hurricanes, be glad you live in cold(er) New England. And maybe flat population growth is not such a bad thing, it’s one important component to curbing global warming and not a bad example to export. Besides, my gut tells me that we will see an influx of “sunbirds” soon….

Filed under Acadia, History by on . 2 Comments.