Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Hail to the Chief

You might notice him as an anomaly on the landscape, while speeding north on I-295 between Yarmouth and Freeport- and surely you've had a detailed look while tooling along Route 1 which runs exactly parallel to the highway. Minutes north of the world’s largest rotating-and-revolving model of the globe ("Eartha," at the Delorme Map Company: http://www.delorme.com/about/eartha.aspx ), stands the Freeport icon everyone calls The Big Indian. PC language notwithstanding, he’s always been “The Big Indian,” and for us locals, The B.F.I. More often than not, the “F” is for “Freeport,” particularly in the company of children.

Driving by the Big Guy,
and considering the marketing circus that Route 1, Freeport has become, you might wonder how long he’s been standing guard as it were only a smoke signal’s puff away from Staples Cove and the Harraseeket River. Indeed, he is a landmark in our common knowledge: “Goin’ to the Muddy Ruddahh? If you pass The Big Indian, ya went too fahh,” or “Take a left at The Big Indian.”

The 40 foot statue isn’t a Maine native, but was commissioned by the owner of the old Casco Bay Trading Post, a moccasin-selling business which occupied the Freeport site back in 1969. The owner, Julian Leslie, had sought out the Pennsylvania sculptor of the 12 foot tall raincoated fisherman at Brown’s Motel in Boothbay Harbor, to have the Indian statue fashioned. Even in transit to Maine, The Big Indian made news. En route from Pennsylvania to Maine, on the New Jersey Turnpike, the flatbed truck hauling the Indian drew so many picture-taking and gawking commuters the State Police had to make the driver pull over and continue the trip after dark. Lying on its back like a sleeping giant on a rolling semi, a New Jersey State Police Chief phoned Leslie saying, “Your Indian created the biggest traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike.” (Portland Evening Express, 6/23/89).

The property- and The Big Indian- have since changed ownership several times. In 1989, when the retail area was owned by Levinsky’s clothing store, Phil Levinsky had the sculpture restored. The B.F.I.’s facelift included structural reinforcement and a repainting using weatherproof marine paints to bring back the Indian’s bright colors. The restorers even had to pull arrows out of the beleaguered Indian that had been shot by Bowdoin College archers. As the social landscape shifts in southern Maine, The Big Indian has seen it all- once standing in front of a Native American goods store, to clothing outlets, to a ski equipment company, and now an image-marketing firm.

(Remember: Big Indians appear closer in mirrors.)


Cindy said...

Hi, I found your blog via a search for "Maine bloggers" and I'll definitely be back!

Rich said...

Thanks for the history about the BFI. I drive by there a few times a year and have always wondered about the hsitory of that statue.

Michelle said...

Cindy-- Thanks Cindy! That definitely describes us. :)

Rich-- Glad you enjoyed it! I'm sure you are in good company -- we've all wondered at one time or another. I'd like to hear some of the rumors that people concocted over the years about his origin...