Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Not Your Normal Fort

With copies of the late spring Gazette issue hot off the press, I made my way north to historic Fort Knox and the fair town of Bucksport, Maine. I had been hearing about the Paranormal and Psychic Faire for the last couple of years, and while I was interested, I had yet to get up the steam to transport me hither. That was until Leon Seymour, of Friends of Fort Knox, dropped an e-mail in my inbox inviting me to climb on board.

After repeated, unsuccessful rearrangements of my transportation and lodging plans, my friend Sue finally came through in a pinch and drove me up through the spooky fog of an early July 4th morning to the land of Prospect, on the shores of the Penobscot River. The misty atmosphere created an eerie, awesome feel to the scene as we drove past the unmistakable Penobscot Narrows Bridge and the so-called Bigfoot footprint in the cliff which overlooks it (this interesting formation was exposed during blasting for the new roadway).

PHOTO : The Penobscot Narrows Bridge dwarfs its predecessor, the Waldo-Hancock bridge. Completed in 1931, it was the first long-span suspension bridge ever erected in Maine. It will remain in place until a thorough dismantling is possible.

On arriving, we made a quick tour to the top of the fort and then down one of its seemingly endless stone battery staircases, damp with condensation. Already the fort was beginning to work its spell on me.

Sadly, Sue had to head back to town, but it was time for me to get down to business anyways. I found myself set up with a table in the fort’s visitor center, where I joined a terrific assortment of other Maine folks who, like me, are all blessed with an innate curiosity and need-to-know about things on the fringe. Next to me were ufologists Cindy Proulx and Chris Gardner, and further up the row was friend and fellow Portlander, Loren Coleman, as well as another friend, Maine supernatural history author, Emeric Spooner. Facing us were the fine folks of the Bangor Ghost Hunters Association, and Gordon Barton, former President of the American Dowsing Society.

My biggest problem became the agonizing choice between whether to staff my table or to take this rare opportunity to hear some of these folks speak. I wound up divvying up my time between the Strange Maine Gazette table and the guest speaker presentations, and managed to watch each of the presenters once over the course of the weekend.
PHOTO : Loren Coleman displays the latest addition to his museum collection of cryptozoological items -- a pop culture representation of a Bigfoot-type creature given away in a furniture store promotion in the South during the 1990s.

It rained off and on all day Saturday, driving Loren Coleman’s audience in and out of the visitor center from minute to minute. But in spite of the iffy weather, a steady stream of folks arrived, either to drink in the fort’s history, or to or to feed their need to find out about the future and other uncertain things. While select speakers entertained the small crowd at the visitor center, down in the dark quarters of the fort, psychics sat for readings with a steady line of those who came in search of comfort, answers, or a sense of mystery to add to their lives.

Expecting a cold but interesting evening spent trying to sleep on the concrete floor of the visitor center in my sleeping bag, I was surprised and pleased to find myself put up for the evening very comfortably in the home of Carol (Bittersweet Gifts, Bucksport) and Don Metthe (Friends of the Fort, Bucksport Director). Thanks to these two kind folks, I spent a very pleasant evening, and Carol treated me to a short tour of the town the next morning, before getting back to business.

Sunday, July 5th, dawned bright and sunny, and the day was great from start to finish. Starting out with my first visit ever to the site of Colonel Buck’s tomb, replete with the alleged stain of the witch’s boot on its face, and ending with a lively drive back down U.S. Route 1 to the outdoor flea markets of Searsport with Loren Coleman before heading inland, it couldn’t have gone better.

In between talking to folks from all over (hi Nomar!) at my table, and signing some new folks up for subscriptions (thanks everyone!), I managed to steal a break so I could wander around the fort a little more.

Imagine my surprise when I realized how huge it really was, and how many hundreds of feet of tunnels and stairways wind through the levels of its pentagonal shape. All I can say is, “WOW!” The scale of Fort Knox is phenomenal, especially when compared with some of Maine’s other historic fort site, such as Fort Edgecomb.

Building started on the fort in 1844, and the last troops left its grounds in 1898, leaving the fort under the watchful eye of the official “Keeper of the Fort.” Today, the Friends of Fort Knox have collectively taken on this role, as well as the restoration of the fort and the important task of making the fort and its history available to the public.

PHOTO : Fort Knox is made up in a large part by spectacular, endless tunnels, crafted from brick and granite, and constructed in a surprisingly graceful series of arched and angled pathways.

More visitor information about the fort is available online at:
http://fortknox.maineguide.com

If you are interested in helping out the FOFK, simply write to Friends of Fort Knox, P.O. Box 456, Bucksport, ME 04416, or call (207)469-6553, or e-mail FOFK1[at]aol.com for more information.

All photos (c)2009 by Michelle Souliere.

Monday, September 28, 2009

What's happening? Books!!

Posting has been a little slow here on the blog, and as usual I have an explanation. I know, you're thinking to yourself, "What now?" The answer is -- more madness! Here's an interview I did with David Carkhuff of the Portland Daily Sun last week that should serve to fill you in on the latest and greatest.
The Green Hand reaches toward mystery
New book shop promises eerie, atmospheric reads from Strange Maine blog founder
Story and Photo by David Carkhuff, Staff writer

On her path from award-winning blogger to fledgling book shop owner, Michelle Souliere is about a month away from unveiling The Green Hand on Congress Street.

The bookstore promises to be a nod to classic horror, mystery and other subjects that have formed the grist for her award-winning Strange Maine blog. At the same time, the shop, slated to open at 661 Congress Street near Longfellow Square, won't confine itself to strictly strange and eerie topics.

"The selection is definitely going to be slanted by my taste, but I'm going to have a wide selection. My hope is anyone who walks in will find something they're interested in," Souliere said in an interview Tuesday.

The Green Hand, however, is bound to appeal to customers of the International Cryptozoology Museum, mystery-animal researcher Loren Coleman's new feature attraction which is scheduled to open, also on Nov. 1, in the rear portion of the 661 Congress Street site.

For almost four years, Souliere said, she has generated the Strange Maine blog, and subsequently the Strange Maine Gazette, a print version of her intriguing look at mysterious and offbeat subjects.

Her husband, Tristan Gallagher, owns We Hate T-Shirts screen printing and The Fun Box Monster Emporium, which is located across the street from the new book shop at 656B Congress Street. He has run his store almost a year and at the current address since last spring. A loss of employment at University of Southern Maine for Souliere was a catalyst for pursuing her dream.

"For years I've wanted to open a book shop," Souliere said. "I've always had this little stash of books that would become part of my eventual stock. It was only this summer that I started seriously considering it. I was working at USM, and was in the process of being laid off because of different cutbacks and rearrangements, and I started interviewing for jobs, and I realized that these weren't jobs that I wanted particularly, they didn't necessarily get me any further with what I wanted to do with my life. Tristan said, 'Well, why are you waiting to open a book shop? Why don't you do it now?'"

It turned out to be a fateful conversation. Souliere knew Coleman — "We've been off and on corresponding for a few years now" — and figured a pairing of an atmospheric bookstore and a museum of exhibits featuring Bigfoot and other mysterious creatures would make a great fit in the Arts District.

An artist and illustrator, Souliere expected to "concoct a wonderful space that people are excited to visit."

"It's going to be kind of a hybrid, I want to create an atmosphere in here that's different than the other book shops in town. I would like to complement them," she said. "There's no way I can compete with their selections, especially Yes Books and Cunningham Books, they have been at this for years and have walls and walls of wonderful materials. So I thought I would try to bring something else into it, I've always been a fan of hybrid turn of the century Victorian gas lamps and a certain amount of art deco and a little bit of Asia motif. It's going to get a little more colorful in here."

The Green Hand captures a variety of images and motifs — organic growth, based on the concept of the green thumb; and also the traditional "old pulp magazine cover art of the green hand reaching out for the victim" and the science fiction idea of an alien hand.

"It's just an image that has come to me over and over again, it seems to evoke a lot of things for people. It's a wonderful, universal and mysterious symbol of what I'm trying to do here," she said.

Souliere anticipates offering a mix of used and new books in about 2,500 square feet of space, with additional space in back for the museum.

Her favorites are "weird fiction," horror and mystery stories by the likes of H.P. Lovecraft and M.R. James. Souliere said the blog and gazette will continue, possibly with more opportunity for research as she tends the book shop.

Souliere said the Arts District appears to be on the cusp of a revival, with several developments promising a rejuvenation of the Congress Street corridor.

Across the street at 660 Congress St., near her husband's store, Souliere is keping an eye on the old Zinnia's antique shop, where a developer is unveiling plans to create gallery space and four to six studios in a three-story building. Down the block from Souliere's shop is an ongoing renovation and reconstruction of the old USM dormitories, creating what promises to be residential and retail space.

"It seems like this area could really start to jump up and take the city by surprise," Souliere said.

[Source]
Please also check out Carkhuff's companion article about the public opening of Loren Coleman's International Cryptozoology Museum!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Review: Weird Horror Tales by Michael Vance


Reviewed by Michelle Souliere

Weird Horror Tales, despite its generalized title, collects 13 tales very specifically centered around the fictitious town of “Light’s End” in Maine. While varying in their historic timeframe and even at times in their style, they are all crafted in the weird tales tradition. A great find for fans of this field of fiction!

Unlike many writers who claim to be inspired by Lovecraft, Vance is not afraid to produce stories using an efficient and sparse storytelling technique, which suffers nothing from omission, and lends itself to the very Lovecraftian theme of cosmic horror that rears its indescribable head throughout. The reader is more likely to encounter a poetry-like flow of Bradburyesque proportion than the purple prose of Lovecraft’s fantasy pieces, especially in such stories as “Wishful Thinking.”

His characters are normal, desperate, deranged, owners of strange agendas, people who want basic and harmless lives, and people who want to cause harm to enrich their lives. The settings are reflective of the strange arrangement of the townspeople’s history and continued existence. They live in the shadow of “the Great Secret Hidden Openly.” The length and breadth of the human betrayal taking place in Light’s End is brought into sharp focus when the reader is reminded of the simple, honest need for a good life, even as communicated via the otherworldly narrative in the award-nominated* story “The Lighter Side.”

Humor, the likes of which fans of Tales from the Crypt will appreciate, creeps in from time to time. There is something rottenly appealing in the idea of the faux lighthouse restaurant in “Knock-Off,” with ever-popular tourist-attracting features such as the “irritating moaning of ‘the alien dead, giddy with hunger’, that incessantly gibbered from hidden speakers in the floor,” d├ęcor inscribed with “symbols and mermaids with needle teeth,” and “wallpaper that illogically seemed to creep across the wall.”

The wonderful thing about independent publication, and the use of short stories, is the freedom that both give an author to pursue a variety of storytelling techniques, while the collected format allows a common ground for tales to form from. In more ways than one, this collection reminds me of Bradbury. Vance seems to feel a similar need to tie together the ingredients of tragedy and transcendence, and a brave daring to try new storytelling techniques and voices pulled from the fringe of the genre. I can only imagine what will happen if he finds a really keen editor with the ability to help him shape this series into the crescendo it could become (this is the first of 3 planned volumes).

"Weird Horror Tales” really winds up working as the title for this collection, and Vance’s years of writing experience show in his Jack-of-all-trades approach to fantastic fiction. Take a solid, squirming bedrock of horror, throw in some satellites of sci-fi, a generous helping of Twilight Zone plot twists, lace it with the eldritch horror of H. P. Lovecraft’s favorite poisons, and you have yourself a hefty volume of entertaining and engaging stories which will surprise you with its variety, and reward you with each re-reading.

While I may not be completely sold on Maine as the setting for this series, I understand the effort given to make these stories come alive in a Maine that Vance has never seen, and I more than understand his love for the weird tale, and the honor given Maine by choosing it as the place for these stories, outside of their Midwestern author’s experience of his home state of Oklahoma. Maine is an “other” place. These stories certainly are alive in their other place, a place with a unique kind of strangeness that I think Lovecraft would have been well pleased to see spawned from his legacy.

I would really like Michael Vance to visit Maine as he completes work on the next collection in the planned trilogy of Light’s End anthologies. But then again – maybe if he came here he’d be too charmed to write more Maine-based horror! Perhaps we should simply invite him to come during February to prevent such a tragedy.

Those of you who are interested in my critique of the Maine-related elements of the book can read on. Those of you who are happy to read the collection as a weird tales feast can feel free to skip this final part.

-- -- --


In preface to this section, let me just say that I realize how difficult it is for an author to research a location he is unfamiliar with. Vance says he does “a lot of research to get my setting right.” This is obvious in his use of a wide range of specific details used in his world building, both in his attempts to reference Maine, and in his use of the Oklahoma town he grew up in to form the structural matrix of the concocted Maine town of Light’s End.

Perhaps in his copious note-taking, certain cultural elements have been misattributed to Maine when they really belong to other New England locales. Perhaps all of New England seems like a single collection of places to folks from the Midwest. At any rate, there are too many small moments when questions arise, speaking as a Maine reader, when Vance includes specific place-related details in the tales. Plus the feel is just a bit off.

It was always the little things that cocked my eyebrow, like a Providence, RI, reporter and radio commentator showing up to interview a Maine senator during a fishing trip in his hometown locale, away from his usual Washington, D.C., setting, instead of the much-more-likely Boston press, or the fact that Vance set the stories in Maine to honor Lovecraft, who, (although a professed fan of the state), had little to do with Maine beyond a few sightseeing trips and the use of its wily and weird backwoods as way-stations in a couple of his stories. Lovecraft is much more thoroughly identified with Rhode Island, where his final resting place is marked with a stone that bears the legend, “I am Providence.” Heck, I wish Lovecraft was Maine’s. At any rate, Light’s End is Maine’s now!

* “The Lighter Side” was nominated for the Speculative Literature Foundation’s Fountain Award for Best Short Story in 2004.

Weird Horror Tales is now available at Barnes and Noble, amazon.com, and any bookstore with interesting weird fiction book selections.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

EVENT: Maine horror film premiere SUNDAY!

Filmmakers Shawn French and Sue Stevens lead the way into no-holds-barred terror in the latest Maine horror film to hit the big screen. A short Q&A session with the cast and crew will follow Sunday's screening, as an extra treat to premiere attendees.

There's a great article about the movie in today's Portland Press Herald (click here to read).

WHAT: "The Wrong House" makes its premiere in its homestate!
WHEN: Sunday, September 20, 2009, at 6:30pm
WHERE: Cinemagic Theater, Westbrook, Maine
COST: A mere $5 to help support local film arts!
FMI: thewronghouse[at]gmail.com

The story: An isolated house in the woods looks like an easy mark to a group of friends camping in the Maine wilderness. The thieves haul away several ounces of pot and hallucinogenic mushrooms in the heist. But when the homeowners track them down, the thieves learn too late that there are some people you just shouldn't mess with... and that they picked The Wrong House.

The story was inspired by a rash of area burglaries around the home of husband/wife producers Shawn French and Sue Stevens (who play serial killers in the film). They initially started working on the script to vent frustration, but once the story fell into place, they knew they had to shoot this movie.

"The Wrong House" was written by Shawn French of Wisdumb Productions and co-directed by French and Andy Davis of Emptyhouse Film.

"We were incredibly fortunate to find a group of actors who were up for anything we threw at them," said French. "From waterboarding to very physical fight scenes, we put this cast through the ringer. Everyone walked away bruised."

"The Wrong House" is a hardcore flick with horror effects created by artist Eric Anderson (recent winner of the Portland 48 Hour Film Festival award for Best Makeup) of the Portland-based FX group The Shoggoth Assembly. It features an original score by composer Timothy Butcher of Washington and music by local artists The Motengata Band, Damien Zygote and Stream Reggae.

View trailer online here.

Tickets are $5 and can be purchased at the door, or in advance at http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/79348

Friday, September 11, 2009

Sword Swallowing in Maine

In a random way I happened upon a great website, the Sword Swallower's Hall of Fame. The page lists a wide range of sources and information about historic and current sword swallowers, and lists their purpose to exist as "the Internet's most comprehensive list of sword swallowers past and present." Looks good to me!

Among the sword swallowers listed is a certain Professor A.J. Pierce, a.k.a Albert J. Pierce, a Victorian-era sword swallower who appears to have lived in New York City, though he comes to our attention because of a show that occurred in 1905 on Harlow Street in Bangor, Maine:
Professor A.J. Pierce, Albert J. Pierce
Performed 1905, Died May 30, 1909?
Bangor, Maine / New York, NY (USA)


Professor A.J. Pierce was the star sword swallower of a show run for several days out of a vacant storefront on Harlow Street in Bangor Maine in 1905. "He runs swords and small saws and scissors and bayonets down his throat until it seems that it must slash his vitals; but he gets through all right and smiles at the frightened spectators."

"He chews and swallows glass, eats hot pitch and rosin and sealing wax, swallows tacks and does other stunts that cause the observer to wonder what his insides are composed of. ... He finished his stunt by swallowing about 16 inches of a snake," wrote a reporter for the Bangor Daily News on Nov. 11, 1905.

Pierce performed with two other colleagues who performed similar feats of daring. LaCrosse, the Human Stone Crusher, let people break stones on his stomach with a sledgehammer, while Madame LaMonte, the Hindoo rope juggler, freed herself after being bound in 50 feet of hemp. The show took place in East Market Square (near where City Hall is today) in what the reporter referred to facetiously as "the tenderloin," a reference to urban neighborhoods known for vice and graft.

The show was operated by Professor H.H. Perkins, a scholar of bizarre amusements like his partner Professor Pierce. An article in the New York Times dated May 30, 1909 states, "Albert J. Pierce of No. 2076 Lexington Avenue, a sword swallower, is in Harlem Hospital in serious condition. While doing his usual stunt in a Fourteenth-street show last night, the sword got too deep and cut the lining of his stomach. Dr. Cassini of the hospital says he is suffering from a gastric hemmorhage." Seeking photos and more information.

[Source, with link to 1909 article]
The Sword Swallower's Hall of Fame is seeking further information about this sword swallower, including photos, which you can e-mail to them via research[at]swordswallow.com. If you have any info for them, or would like to share any other info about performers in Maine history, please feel free to post a comment or contact us!

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Harlan's First Day at School


This portrait is one I found at a flea market earlier this summer. As everyone goes back to school this week, there is a certain funny poignancy about the tragic expression on the face of young Harlan, setting off on his first voyage into the land of the classroom back in 1905. While wardrobes have changed, the facial expressions on some kids' faces sure hasn't!