Saturday, December 31, 2011

Victoria Mansion's winter finery

I would be remiss to wave a flag pointing all of you to pay a visit to Victoria Mansion's wonderful holiday adornment this year (even if I'm a little late in jumping on that particular bandwagon).

If the lack of snow disappointed you over December, then you are in luck, because the Mansion keeps its finery on through January 8th, 2012, before closing for the season. Step into a Victorian winter wonderland, revive your holiday spirit, and find a sense of wonder that you thought had passed with the years!

The museum, located at 109 Danforth Street in downtown Portland, Maine, is open daily 11am-4pm (excluding Sunday, January 1st).

The holiday fantasia version of the Mansion happens each year when local decorators vie room-by-room for the admiration of visitors, unified in their efforts by an annual theme. This year, the overarching theme is "Deck the Halls: the Carols of Christmas," and the dozen areas encompassed in its rooms and passages portray ideals as varied as "It Came Upon A Midnight Clear" to "I Saw Three Ships Come Sailing By."

The photos shown here, taken by Aubin Thomas, give you just the barest hint of the decorations -- just a trifle to whet your appetite. There is nothing quite like entering the front door of the Mansion and finding the glimmer of its rooms and grand flying staircase sweeping before you with a promise of discovery around every corner.

For more information, please call them at (207)772-4841 or visit their website at

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Black Widows in Bath

The Portland Press Herald confirmed stories of an incursion of toxic black widow spiders in Maine. I've been hearing stories about these buggly uglies in recent years from friends working in local kitchens, but usually they are rumored to arrive in tomato shipments, not vertical launch system components!
BIW unpacks a load of black widow spiders
The Associated Press

BATH — Bath Iron Works says it had to fumigate a warehouse and part of a warship because a shipment of parts from California contained about two-dozen venomous black widow spiders.

Bath Iron Works employees discovered the arachnids in a crate containing vertical launch system components.
DeMartini said the spiders were discovered earlier this month. The shipyard is confident that exterminators eliminated any spiders that weren't stomped.

Full article:

Oddly enough, the black widow spider showed up in an informational 1984 article in the Biddeford Journal (pg 9, 8/13/84), appropriately enough in the Science section, although Maine is not mentioned once in the article. The article did, however, describe the occasions in which one might be bitten, and the ensuing symptoms. In other words, do not go unwary into dry, dimly lit, secluded places, do not dangle your hand in their webs, and if you are a child, do not play with them! Even more oddly, another Maine mention of black widows occurred in... you guessed it!... the Biddeford Journal, this time way back on September 24, 1955 (pg 2). Again, no mention of Maine, and again an informational article. Maybe it was a slow news week? "Hey Marty! If ya got nothin' else to run, throw in a bit about poisonous spiders, will ya? That always gets 'em hoppin'." A random tiny paragraph telling of black widow bite symptoms appears in the midst of local news on page 2 of the Biddeford Journal in its 7/3/64 issue, too.

In the March 25, 1977 issue of the Biddeford Journal, the urban legend of black widow spiders in Bubble Yum bubblegum is recounted, including the fact that the company felt compelled to run full-page ads in 30 New York City metropolitan area newspapers telling parents "someone is telling your kids very bad lies about a very good gum." Apparently the company also went so far as to mail copies of the ads to school principals and PTAs (pg 5).

But the black widow has made actual forays into Maine before. Twenty years ago, in a 7/10/91 article in the Chicago Daily Herald (pg 40), picked up from the Reuters news feed from Portland, Maine, is a story about grocery chain Hannaford Bros. refusing further shipments of red seedless grapes from Southern California'a Coachella Valley "after two of the deadly spiders were discovered Monday in packing crates at its South Portland distribution center," and "a woman also reported a spider in grapes purchased at a store in Gorham two weeks ago," according to the 1991 article.

Anyone with their own Maine-related urban legends of black widow spiders is welcome to share them in the comments!

Photo from

Friday, November 11, 2011

Dead Files TV show looking for stories!

Hey everyone, just thought I'd pass this along -- Erin Krozek, producer, emailed me earlier this week hoping to scare up some ideas from Strange Maine readers. See below for ways to submit your case.
The Dead Files, on the Travel Channel, is currently looking for new cases to investigate on our second season - and we'd like to find the perfect story in Maine.

If any of your readers have a home or business that is haunted and need answers, they can submit their story at or they can even reach out to me directly.

To learn more about our show, you can go to and click on The Dead Files under "Shows."

Thanks so much!

Erin Krozek
Painless Entertainment
310.839.9900 main
310.943.8178 fax
According to the website, "The Dead Files team approaches every case from their two specific areas of expertise: Steve DiSchiavi is a Homicide Detective and Amy Allan is a Physical Medium. They are a paranormal team like no other, combining their unique, eclectic and often-conflicting skills to solve unexplained paranormal phenomena in haunted locations across America."

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Old unsolved Portland murder resurfaces

Marge Niblock did a bang-up job on this article in today's issue of the Portland Daily Sun, on a topic to be covered in more depth tomorrow, Sunday, October 30th, at 2:00pm, as the subject of a talk at the Maine Irish Heritage Center (corner of State and Gray Streets) in Portland. Suzan Roberts Norton will present the results of several years of research she has undertaken with the consent and assistance of the Connolly family. The talk is free and open to all.

From the sound of the article, it will be a talk well worth attending. Sadly, I'm stuck at work, but maybe some of you can attend!
Who Killed Officer Connolly?
By Marge Niblock
Oct 29, 2011 12:00 am

Since the establishment of the Portland Police Department in 1848, two officers have been killed on the job. The first was Charles McIntosh, in 1915, when he was shot and stabbed by two felons who were later caught.

Patrolman Michael Connolly
The second was Patrolman Michael Connolly, and the 81-year-old mystery of his death remains unsolved. Whoever killed Officer Michael T. Connolly literally got away with murder.

Connolly’s lifeless body was found not far from “a sinister squatters’ colony beneath the brow of Eastern Promenade . . . near Fish Point.” That grim discovery was made on the morning of August 15, 1930, and bold headlines to that effect emblazoned the first page of that day’s Portland Evening Express.

Longshoreman John Lee discovered the body in the sand while gathering driftwood on the beach at about 8:15 a.m. Connolly was lying face down and had been shackled with his own handcuffs. The officer’s fully-loaded service revolver was in his right-hand pants pocket, raising many questions. According to newspaper accounts, Connolly’s gun holster was carried on his left hip because he was left-handed.

Patrolman Connolly was considered to be “an efficient and faithful officer,” and was described as having a strong physique, weighing about 190 pounds. He left behind his wife Mary Connolly and five children, James, Edward, Catherine, Margaret, and John, ranging in age from 3 to 11.

The autopsy verdict was cause of death due to drowning, with no marks of violence on Connolly’s body. There was an embarrassing delay before the arrival of a medical examiner, causing strong criticism by police and County officials, as reported in the paper that day. It was more than three hours for a medical examiner arrive at the scene. There had been a “drenching rain” during that period of time. The medical examiner concluded that the officer was alive when thrown into the water.

Officer Connolly’s key for pulling the call boxes was around his neck on a string, but his uniform hat was missing. Connolly’s watch stopped at 4:07. He had called headquarters from a box at Congress and Mountfort at 5:09, and the time for him to pull the next box on his foot beat would have been at 6:07 at India and Commercial Streets.

Fifty-one new call boxes had been placed throughout the city in the early 1920s, replacing the old ones from the late 1800s. There was a phone inside each box, allowing officers to speak directly to police headquarters, located at 132 Federal Street at that time. After making an arrest, prisoners were walked to the closest call box. The boxes had two keyholes, with the one on top marked as “wagon call,” used when an arrest was made. Headquarters would then send a wagon to that location. Officers also left notes in these boxes at the ends of their shifts, to alert the next person on duty to any special circumstances that might warrant their attention. The use of call boxes ended in 1972.

There was a 15-minute grace period allowed to officers in pulling boxes, so police began searching for Officer Connolly around 6:25.

Connolly had been appointed to the force in 1918. For many years he had patrolled along the Western Promenade, but six weeks prior, local beats were changed and he was assigned to the Eastern Promenade area.

There were several possible theories involving bootleggers bringing in a shipment of liquor. The County Attorney ordered police to question all sailors from three battle cruisers that were docked in the harbor who may have gone ashore overnight.

This was the era of Prohibition, with smuggling of alcohol was big business, and many bootleggers’ boats carrying the illegal cargo pulled in near the shore of the city’s East End to unload their goods. The docks and warehouses on Portland’s waterfront held many secrets during that era.

Connolly’s badge number 71 was officially retired shortly after the tragic incident.

On June 28, 1985, a ceremony was held to celebrate the christening of a new police boat, the Michael T. Connolly. A rendition of that badge was painted on the vessel’s side. Numerous Connolly family members were in attendance, along with then-U.S. Sen. George Mitchell, Police Chief Francis Amoroso, and Mayor Joseph D. Casale. The 31-foot boat served the department until August 1, 1992, when it was retired from service. The department never has purchased another boat.

Kevin MacDonald, an evidence technician with the Portland police department who has been in that job longer than anyone else in the unit, said Connolly’s death would have been hard to investigate.

“Water complicates things due to rinsing effect.” He said under the circumstances that existed on that particular rainy day, and a body that had been immersed in water for many hours, “the transfer of hairs and fibers would be much less likely.”

MacDonald stated “If it happened today, we’d take the handcuffs, swab for DNA, and check for fingerprints.” He also felt there might be some significance connected to the officer’s missing hat, which was never found. “A lot of times guys would keep papers and information in their hats,” noted MacDonald.

This remains a cold case that the passage of time has not helped to solve.

Article and photo source:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

REVIEW: Mark LaFlamme's Box of Lies

This review is really, really late in coming, because I wanted to do it up right, and I didn’t want to skimp on it. Chances are you wouldn’t have known if I hadn’t told you, because chances are you haven’t heard of the book, Box of Lies, even though it’s been out a full year as I write this. You may not have even heard of the author, Mark LaFlamme, unless you live in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Why this is, I can’t explain. LaFlamme has been steadily writing and releasing excellent horror and weird fiction books since 2005, and each one has had a slightly different but equally captivating overall character. I’ve liked and admired every single one of his books I’ve read, and that’s most of them. Why one of the big publishers hasn’t picked up his contract is beyond me.

LaFlamme was born in Waterville, Maine, and continues to live here with the rest of us loonies. Clearly this has affected his brain, and has fertilized his imagination to an ungodly level. As if that wasn’t enough, for the last 17 years or so he has been writing the Lewiston Daily Sun’s crime beat, and has been the author of their “Street Talk” column for many years. The influence of this journalistic work on his fiction is a straightforward approach that takes the reader on roads that would never have been taken otherwise (one hopes).

I know in the past I’ve compared some of his storytelling skills to Stephen King’s, but truly his voice is his very own, and a strong one at that. Unmistakable and somehow honest even though what he tells us word by word is a string of lies. That, I suspect, is because he knows the truth, intimately. Working the crime beat in Lewiston, Maine, is a hard way to learn about reality, yet that is what he does, every day, every late night shift. Yet somehow within him a spark of light still lives – though perhaps that light simply serves to throw darker shadows as he speaks in these stories.

Page by page in Box of Lies, LaFlamme giveth and he taketh away. Is what we imagine real? Is that which we think real imagined instead? In "Table for One," LaFlamme turns the fancies of the paranoid mind of the restaurant diner into solid worse-than-you-could-imagine reality. In "Pepper," a visiting alien finds out what makes Earthmen tick. In "The Bender Argument," LaFlamme gives us a scenario that posits what you might get if you like philosophy a little TOO much, a story which would make one hell of a nightmare movie, a perfect Twilight Zone episode, and would make Philip K. Dick himself proud.

Those of us who spend time musing about the unknown histories of our local street people may notice that LaFlamme has the talent to transmute these blanks into new stories, such as Elsy in "Find a Penny," wherein we find out what happens when you can’t tell a bad penny from a good one until its spell is woven in intractable time. Others of us who wonder what happens in communities after the press is done reporting on the latest icy winter sport fatalities will find out perhaps more than we wanted to know in "Bone Lake," where the search goes on for the dead that have left land for the cold dark waters.

The 28 stories in Box of Lies vary in size from 5 pages to 31 pages in length, which gives a wonderfully varied pace to the collection, and subject matter ranges from the graphically horrific to the futuristically normal, which reminds me of some of my favorite horror/weird fiction authors’ collections, like Ray Bradbury and Stephen King. But when I asked him if he prefers writing scifi or horror, LaFlamme answered, “I'm constantly telling people that I don't write either. I don't set out to write horror or science fiction. It's just that my characters tend to do things that are: A) horrifying, or B) in defiance of known physical laws. I like to think of myself as a perfectly normal writer whose characters misbehave. I even tried to write a romance once. The heroine ended up dead, hacked into a dozen pieces and shipped to Venus. Not really. But that sounds pretty good. I might write that one.”

As a Mainer, his stories are often set here in the Pine Tree State, but as he succinctly explains, “The slithering freak plants in Vegetation are no more creepy because they are set in Homefield, Maine. I could have set that book in Dork, Utah and the substance of the tale wouldn't have changed a bit.” Yet somehow his home state creeps its way into the tales, for whatever reason. It may have something to do with the long winters, which form the impetus for him to create: “I absolutely hate winter. It's cold. It's dark and it seems endless. I can't ride my motorcycle much and there's no point in going to the beach at all. Maine winters are harsh and long. With all that time spent indoors, it's easy to become introspective and gloomy. Which I do. If I didn't have fictional worlds to turn to, I'd probably go into my basement and never come out.” (Maybe that’s another story for you to write, Mark!)

Like me, he has pondered why Maine does seem to stand out from other settings. “There IS something about Maine. It's rugged. It feels isolated from the rest of the world. The people here have their own way of doing things. I think that gets overplayed in Hollywood sometimes, but there's no doubt that living here is conducive to creativity. And perhaps lunacy.”

Some folks who read LaFlamme’s work in the Lewiston Sun Journal develop the idea that he’s from away, but that may be due to the fact that he, like many Mainers, has felt the need to roam. “I spent some time in the south - Charlotte, NC and Newport News, Virginia, specifically - but didn't last long down there. Like so many others, I came back. It was almost a subconscious decision, some homing mechanism I don't fully understand. Someday, I'd like to move out to California or Arizona. Could I stay out there? Remains to be seen. In the meantime, I'm here in Maine, my roots getting thicker by the hour.”

Since I couldn’t figure myself out why none of the big publishers has picked LaFlamme up yet, I asked him directly. He said he hadn’t initially planned to stick with his independent publisher, Booklocker, beyond his first book The Pink Room, but “six years and four novels later, I have no plans to go anywhere else. Why would I? Right now, I have final say on things like title, cover and layout. Once my novel gets through tweaking, editing and design, it gets to the market fairly quickly. It's out there getting read and making money instead of sitting on some big publisher's slush pile along with five hundred others. It's the golden age of indie publishing, although too few people know that right now.” For LaFlamme, going indie has allowed him to focus his time on book writing instead of spending futile hours trying to craft proposals to big publishers and agents, a gamble which doesn’t often pay off in the floodtide of material coming through their office doors each day.

LaFlamme made an observation on the newly rejuventated state of independent publishing in a growing electronic book market: “A lot of authors are turning down respectable offers from traditional publishers these days because they like the freedom and earning potential of the indie way. And yet, a lot of people still believe that authors are self-published because they have no other choice. There's still that stigma, but I suspect it won't last forever. With more and more indie authors out there, chances are good that your next favorite book will be written by one of us. Hopefully by me personally. There are plenty of authors doing extremely well just by selling their books on Kindle. Look up Amanda Hocking, Joe Konrath or John Locke to find out just how well.”

In September 2011 he released his newest book, Delirium Tremens, which lands solidly in the horror genre. This latest accomplishment from LaFlamme leads readers into the terror-laden life of alcoholic Stephen Boone, soon to die if he doesn’t cease his liquor habit. Problem is, if he stops drinking, all the dead people that visit him when he’s sober will come back. A Catch-22 erupts when spirits of a mother and daughter involve him in the details of their murder, and there is no going back. You can find this book on Amazon in either print or electronic versions, along with his prior volumes, such as Box of Lies, Dirt, and The Pink Room. You might even find copies of a few of his titles at your local independent bookshop, such as Portland's Green Hand Bookshop. You never know!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sacred & Profane 2011

FYI folks, no advance sales of tickets this year for the Sacred & Profane festival!! Buy 'em Saturday at the Casco Bay Lines terminal when embarking for Peaks on the 2:15 ferry, or get 'em @ the Peaks Island dock when the ferry lands @ 2:35pm.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Death photography at the Victoria Mansion

As Halloween rolls around, the mind turns to ghost stories, and more obliquely, mortality. Victorians dealt with death in a far different manner than we do today, almost seeming to embrace its reality at times, and transposing it into objects that embodied and replicated death in a well-crafted and beautiful version of itself to encourage contemplation, such as hair brooches and postmortem portraits.

Portland's Victoria Mansion gives us a glimpse into the ornate world of upper class funereal memorials in today's post on their blog at There are a bunch of touchingly beautiful memorial photos and painted portraits in the post for those who are interested.

Friday, October 07, 2011

EVENT: The mysterious lobster lecture!

Wish I could go to this, but I'm going to have to listen to their audio recording of it after the fact, 'cause I'll be out of town. But maybe some of you are available to go! This is a great lecture series, you won't be disappointed.

WHAT: Sea State Lecture: The Secret Life of Lobster
WHEN: Thursday, Oct. 13th, 2011 from 7:00-8:00 p.m., Doors open at 6:30 p.m.
WHERE: GMRI (Gulf of Maine Research Institute), 350 Commercial Street, Portland, Maine
RSVP: to Patty Collins at or (207)228-1625
COST: Sea State Lectures are free and parking is provided in GMRI's adjacent lot.

For 30 years Dr. Win Watson, Biological Sciences Professor at UNH, has been studying the animal physiology and animal behavior of lobsters and other marine animals in the Gulf of Maine.

In this presentation Dr. Watson will mix together a little bit of data, a lot of videos and a few pictures to educate the audience about the behavior of these fascinating creatures.

"One might think that we know everything there is to know about lobsters, but in reality, there is much to learn." Win Watson

See our upcoming Sea State Lecture series schedule and hear audio recordings of previous lectures at

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

EVENT: Shoestring Theater Halloween Parade!

Hold onto your horses, it's October again, and that means fun things like the Shoestring Theater's annual Halloween parade are lining up and ready for you to join them for some Halloween fun!

WHAT: Shoestring Theater's annual Halloween parade
WHEN: Monday, October 31st @ 6:00 - Participant lineup starts @ 5:30
WHERE: meet at 155 Brackett Street, Portland ME

This annual parade is Portland's howling, dancing, and drumming reminder of what Halloween is. Everyone is invited, all ages are welcome. If you'd like to participate in the parade, either in your own costume, with your own instruments, or by using some of the Shoestring puppets and instruments that are available, please arrive at 5:30 so they can get everyone settled in time for departure at 6:00.

The parade leaves the Shoestring Theater's home at 155 Brackett Street, across from Reiche School, and winds its way through the shadows of the West End, bringing a little bit of Halloween brouhaha to everyone in its path. Come and have fun! The Portland Police Department provide an escort car, and the event is wild but family-friendly for sure.

Here is a really long video of 2009's parade by Aaron Woodbury -- unfortunately you can't hear the wonderful raucous madness of percussion and cheering that is the parade itself over the soundtrack song, but the visuals are there -- up to the 2:45 mark it shows the preparations for the parade, and then it really kicks in.

Shoestring Theater's Annual Halloween Parade from Aaron Woodbury on Vimeo.

However, if you watch this video of the 2007 parade, you can get a real sense of the noise and fun that awaits you!

EVENT: Stephen King in Boston

I got all excited because the JFK Library in Boston is hosting an appearance as a stop on Stephen King's current book tour, but the seating is full, according to their website ( However there is another option!

For those unable to get tickets, they also produce a webcast of the event at

WHAT: Stephen King reads from his new novel 11/22/63 and discusses his long literary career with novelist Tom Perrotta.
WHEN: Monday, November 7, 2011, 1:30-2:30 PM
WHERE: JFK Library, Boston, MA,

All forums are free and open to the public. To make a reservation, call (617)514-1643 or go to their site. Seating is on a first come, first served basis. Once the main hall is full, seating is in an overflow theater where the forum is streamed live. Doors to the main hall open one hour before the program begins

For more information, visit their site at

In addition, if you have cable, Turner Classic Movies will be presenting A Night at the Movies: The Horrors of Stephen King during the month of October. As part of the program, Stephen will be discussing the classic horror films that influenced him. The show premieres Monday, October 3rd, at 8:00 PM (ET). Stephen will be discussing how he discovered terror at the movie theater. For more information about the program, please visit their site, which has a full schedule of the airings and more details on the program itself:|449900/A-Night-at-the-Movies-The-Horrors-of-Stephen-King.html

Saturday, October 01, 2011

EVENT: Eastern Cemetery rain or shine today!

The launch party for MERCY IS TAKING PLACE AS PLANNED at the Eastern Cemetery.

Join us for cloudy and possibly misty:

-Undead Makeovers

-Antiqued Photos with the Ghost of Mercy

-A Reading from Mercy: The Last New England Vampire

-Book Sales & Signing

-Edible and Tattoo'd Hearts for the Taking

Come or eat your heart out!

Fun stuff for those interested in the old New England vampire stories...

WHAT:book launch party for MERCY: The Last New England Vampire
WHEN: Saturday, October 1, 2011, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
WHERE: Eastern Cemetery, 224 Congress St, Portland, ME (Rain location: Portland Public Library, Main Branch, Teen Room)
FMI: Curious City, 207-420-1126

MERCY, the last New England vampire, was pulled forcibly from her tomb in 1892. The teen novel about this horrific true incident and the present-day girl who uncovers it will be launched at the Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine on Saturday, October 1st at 2:00 PM.

The author, Sarah L. Thomson will be reading and signing her novel while the ghost of Mercy walks the graveyard. Readers will have a chance to catch Mercy on film, to try out a choice of supernatural makeup (vampires, zombies, or ghosts), and to tour the graveyard with its caretakers, Spirits Alive. Spirits Alive will tell stories of other teen girls taken tragically at the turn of the century. Each reader will walk away with a memento of Mercy.

Mercy: The Last New England Vampire is published by Islandport Press and the event is sponsored by the Islandport Press, Portland Public Library, and Curious City.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Old York's October events

The museums of Old York ( have released their October schedule, and I thought some of you in the area might have fun at some of the events, especially the Oct. 29 Haunted Historical Halloween celebration! :)


October 3 Needle Wizards. Join us every Monday morning as we socialize while sewing costumes for Old York's education interpreters. Whether you are good at cutting out patterns, hand-sewing caps, piecing skirts or sewing on the machine, we could use your help. Come to The Parsons Center upstairs in the gallery at 3 Lindsay Road for an hour or the whole morning. 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. For more information, email Cindi Young-Gomes at

October 6 Who Discovered York? Observe Columbus Day in a different way by learning about the several "discoveries" of York from the 1630s - 1900s. 7 p.m. at The Parsons Center. For more information, email

October 10 Needle Wizards. Every Monday from 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. upstairs at The Parsons Center. Email for more information.

October 12 Scarecrow Making. Learn the origins of the scarecrow while you make one to decorate your yard. Bring old clothes to stuff with leaves and create a crazy face out of cloth. 3-5 p.m. at The Parsons Center. Ages 6 and up, $8 per child ($6 members). Registration required. Email to sign up.

October 15 Marketfest! The Museums of Old York will be a busy place Saturday October 15th from 9 a.m. - 4 p.m. Jefferds Tavern will be open to the public for $1. Visitors can watch the Tavern Mistress cook a full meal over the open fire, enjoy traditional crafters, and check out our new upstairs exhibit on WWII home front efforts. Outside Jefferds Tavern children and adults can help press apples into cider, enjoy home baked goods and have fun making a rag doll at our kids table. The Parsons Center will be open for $1 with the upstairs exhibit on life in 17th century York, titled "The country heer is plentiful", open all day. Downstairs people can view the pies entered in our Autumn Pies contest, or have their photo taken in costume in our Old Time Photo Booth. The pies will be judged in the Parsons Center at 2 p.m. The 1719 Old Gaol will be open all day so people can see the original stone cells and learn about the prisoners incarcerated within. For $1 join us at 11 a.m., 1 p.m., or 3 p.m. to watch theatrical prisoner performances and hear stories told by the jail keeper! If you would like to enter a pie in the Autumn Pies contest, or are interested in volunteering at the Museum for Marketfest, please email

October 17 Needle Wizards. Every Monday from 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. upstairs at The Parsons Center. Email for more information.

October 19 Fall Fair Day. Join us for traditional fair activities and fall fun! Potato sack and three-legged races, human ox pull, skillet throw, bobbing for apples, leaf diving for treasure and apple cider pressing. 3-5 p.m. at The Parsons Center. Ages 6 and up, $8 per child ($6 members). Registration required. Email to sign up.

October 24 Needle Wizards. Every Monday from 9:30 a.m. - 12 p.m. upstairs at The Parsons Center. Email for more information.

October 26 Pumpkin Carving. Come carve pumpkins in front of the fire! Learn the history of Halloween as you transform your pumpkin into a jack-o-lantern and eat the seeds roasted over the open fire. Bring your own pumpkin. Knives, newspaper and cleanup will be provided. 3-5 p.m. at The Parsons Center. All ages are welcome. $5 suggested donation. Registration encouraged. Email to sign up.

October 29 Haunted Historical Halloween -- Where Facts are Scarier than Fiction! Join a tour of historic ghosts starting at The Parsons Center and traveling through the buildings and grounds at Old York. For the young or skittish, we offer storytelling in Jefferds Tavern and spooky games in the Parsons Center. 6 - 8 p.m. All ages are welcome. Members free. $5 for teens and adults and family rates for non-members. For more information, email

Thanks to Nancy Noble at the Maine Historical Society for tipping me off to this event! :)

Sunday, September 25, 2011

EVENT: New England vampire book launch

Fun stuff for those interested in the old New England vampire stories...

WHAT:book launch party for MERCY: The Last New England Vampire
WHEN: Saturday, October 1, 2011, 2:00pm - 4:00pm
WHERE: Eastern Cemetery, 224 Congress St, Portland, ME (Rain location: Portland Public Library, Main Branch, Teen Room)
FMI: Curious City, 207-420-1126

MERCY, the last New England vampire, was pulled forcibly from her tomb in 1892. The teen novel about this horrific true incident and the present-day girl who uncovers it will be launched at the Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine on Saturday, October 1st at 2:00 PM.

The author, Sarah L. Thomson will be reading and signing her novel while the ghost of Mercy walks the graveyard. Readers will have a chance to catch Mercy on film, to try out a choice of supernatural makeup (vampires, zombies, or ghosts), and to tour the graveyard with its caretakers, Spirits Alive. Spirits Alive will tell stories of other teen girls taken tragically at the turn of the century. Each reader will walk away with a memento of Mercy.

Mercy: The Last New England Vampire is published by Islandport Press and the event is sponsored by the Islandport Press, Portland Public Library, and Curious City.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Lost and found graves

Speaking of graves in odd places, WABI-TV5 reported earlier this month on the discovery by a work crew of unexpected gravestones during a recent dig.
Construction Crews Uncover 19th Century Tombstones in Lincoln
by Laura Roberts - September 13th 2011 10:29pm

Lincoln - It was a normal day for construction workers in Lincoln until they dug up something strange.

"We're digging and putting in a new water line and just came across some white stones and we pulled them out to see what they were and found out they were headstones," said Jason Cameron, a worker for Maine Earth Construction.

Knowing this wasn't business as usual, they alerted town officials to what they had uncovered.
"Fortunately last night we did have a regularly scheduled town council meeting. We needed to get approval from our town council that they were okay with the project continuing. All work yesterday stopped for 25 feet from where the tombstones were found," said Shelly Crosby, Lincoln Town Clerk and Office Manager.

The town council gave construction crews permission to keep working but they're told to proceed cautiously in case any human remains are found.

"We started digging again today but we never found anything beyond that," said Cameron.

Meanwhile, Lincoln officials did some digging of their own in town records. They found out more about who these stones belonged to and matched their names to those already on a marker in the town cemetery.

"We brought the tombstones to our actual cemetery, they are here and then from there we're going to determine how we're going to proceed," said Crosby.

The town plans to unite the three stones with the larger marker in the cemetery, creating a more complete monument in these early town settlers' memories.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Bear mystery meat?

The Press Herald reported this morning about an unusual occurrence in Portland, in which a bear was spotted "acting strangely" (WMTW) in the East Deering area, and was consequently shot by game wardens. WMTW also reported on the incident: Both sources declined to show photos of the dead bear, improving my morning immensely.
Black bear killed in Portland
The bear is initially spotted in a tree on Oregon Street early this morning.
From staff reports

PORTLAND — Officers of the Maine Warden Service shot and killed a black bear today around 7 a.m. in the woods off Veranda Street in the East Deering neighborhood.

Portland police reported the treed bear to the Wardens Service around 4:30 a.m. Wardens initially tried to tranquilize the bear, but were unable to, according to Portland police Lt. Jim Sweatt.

"It was getting to be 7 o'clock and you don't want school buses and firearms on the scene," Sweatt said.

The bear initially was spotted in a tree on Oregon Street, a residential area, before climbing down and running off, Sweatt said.

The wardens service said the bear weighed around 120 pounds. The hide is being sent to the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife so researchers can determine the bear's sex and age and other factors.

The meat will be distributed to soup kitchens.

Not so sure about the decision to send the meat to the soup kitchens, unless the bear wasn't really "acting strangely," and was just a normal-acting bear that it was safer and more convenient to shoot.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Not-so-fun while it lasts?

Bangor Daily News reported last week on an odd juxtaposition of graves and Funtown USA in Saco:
Saco workers to move graveyard amid Funtown/Splashtown
The Associated Press
Posted Sept. 16, 2011, at 9:24 a.m.

SACO, Maine — A small, 150-year-old private cemetery amid Maine’s Funtown/Splashtown USA is going to be moved.

Next week, municipal workers in Saco will help move the graves with the assistance of a local funeral director to the Laurel Hill Cemetery.

Over the years the amusement park has grown up around the cemetery, believed to contain at least 17 graves.

In 2006, Bob Phillips, a retired postal service worker from New Hampshire whose grandparents are buried there, discovered a 10-foot-deep trench that was part of a park attraction passed within 10 feet of the cemetery, which he claimed was a violation of a state law requiring a 25-foot buffer around cemeteries.

Phillips family attorney Sandra Guay told the Portland Press Herald the family is happy the graves are being relocated.

5 years ago, the All Things Maine blog reported on the initial struggle to protect the graveyard from desecration by development. Read more:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The new Gazette is out!

Hear ye, hear ye! The so-called "Late Summer" issue of the Strange Maine Gazette is out and has hit the streets! Subscribers should have their copies any day now, and vendors will likewise have the new issue in hand -- they've all been mailed. If you're in Portland, you can find it at several locations in the downtown area (see below).
Places you can find copies of the Gazette right now:

-- The Green Hand Bookshop, 661 Congress St, Portland
-- Arabica Coffee, 2 Free St, Portland
-- Coast City Comics, 634 Congress St, Portland
-- Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland
-- Strange Maine, 578 Congress St, Portland
-- Maine Historical Library, 489 Congress St, Portland
-- Coffee By Design, 620 Congress St, Portland

Places that will have their copies within the next few days:

-- Boat House Beverage, Long Island
-- Captain Perry's Cafe, Long Island
-- Little Dog Coffee, Brunswick
-- Boothbay Harbor Memorial Library
-- Maine Coast Bookshop, Damariscotta
-- Owl & Turtle Bookshop, Camden
-- Fort Knox, Prospect
-- Treasure Chest, Waterville
-- Lithgow Public Library, Augusta
-- Books Lines and Sinkers, Rangeley
-- Mr. Paperback, Ellsworth
-- Mr. Paperback, Dover-Foxcroft
-- Mr. Paperback, Farmington
-- Mr. Paperback, Caribou
-- Obadiah's Bohemian Cafe, Machias
-- Calais Bookshop, Calais
-- York's Book Store, Houlton

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Review: Sex, Drugs & Blueberries

Written by Crash Barry
reviewed by Michelle Souliere

At face value, Sex, Drugs and Blueberries is a painfully honest, raunchy, raw read, a fictive treatment of a not uncommon Maine way of life presented to the reader in an entertaining format. Crash Barry’s narration sucks you right into his too-real make-believe world. You are warned by the epigraph, before you even get to the text: “This is a story about how quickly things can go wrong. The characters and events are inventions of the author.”

It could be said that never was a book more aptly titled. Sex, Drugs and Blueberries is rife with all three, and Barry’s not about to deny it. Given a chance to do a reading from the book, he doesn’t shy away from plot points ripe with juicy material. It’s really something to see, and hear.

But at the real heart of the book is the ingredient that makes it both impossible to put down, and also difficult to read all at the same time. That unlabeled ingredient is the normal mishmash of circumstances and motives that creates the tangled dance that is life in the fields of Washington County, which in one way or another mirrors life wherever in the country it is hard to get by.

This is the territory where resources depend on what comes from the dirt and what you can scrounge or finagle to make ends meet when the dirt fails you. You may have other, better, more highly paid skills, but is there a market for them? Is it worth moving to a more tightly-packed urban environment where rent is high and skilled workers are a dime a dozen? Not usually, and so inevitably some folks find themselves sticking it out in the proverbial boonies, trying to get by without overextending themselves in futile efforts.

It is the life many people lead, the kind in which one constantly asks oneself if what one is doing is worth the price, where poor judgment can spell doom or survival, and the odds of either result are as unpredictable as the roll of dice. Your decisions are a double-edged sword -- do you do things that will allow a marginally fiscally-viable existence at the potential cost of your mental, physical, and emotional health? Do you do things that compromise your moral happiness in order to try to bridge that fiscal gap? That emotional deficit gap?

We could hash these choices out for hours, but luckily Barry has recorded at least one version of them and their results for us to read through, like some kind of entertaining dastardly variant of a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story. But don’t expect me to give away the ending. You’ve gotta read it for yourself, just like I did. Do you have the guts to take a chance on a new author who may well be the Next Maine Great of Prose? Not many of his generation have spoken yet from our state’s ground, this is your big chance to hear the word first.

Sex, Drugs and Blueberries is available in softcover at your local bookstore now, or online via Barry’s website at

Fans will also be excited to know that Barry has just released another book, which is currently a bestseller at Longfellow Books in Portland -- Tough Island: True Stories from Matinicus, Maine. Those of you who have been to his readings at Longfellow Books know a Crash Barry reading is like NO OTHER!

For regular installments of his writing, please check the current issue of independent monthly The Bollard at a newsstand near you.

Cover art by Pat Corrigan.
Photo by Abraham Schechter

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Flying Moose of Maine!

I thought Strange Maine readers might enjoy an intriguing field note from one of our readers, Gary Dick, who told me about the Flying Moose statue he had spotted while out and about in the Greenville area. Here is what he has to say about that elusive creature:
The moose is on SR15 between Greenville and Rockwood. You will do a double-take when it appears, as it's a really lonesome road. You can google it and get more info also. The full story which is related on the moose's placard is:

Legend of the Flying Moose

Well before the arrival of the first white settlers, the Abenaquis tribe lived in a village where the Mechatigan and Manosak rivers meet.

The Abenaquis tribe would return to this area every year to stock up on food, which was plentiful here thanks to the two rivers and the surrounding forests.

According to the legend, Mahanak, the son of the grand chief Metgermett, befriended a young moose that had lost its mother when she tried to protect it from a pack of attacking wolves. When Mahanak found the young moose, it was badly injured and weak and was slowly dying.

The two friends became inseparable. One spring day, Mahanak and his friend were returning to the village after a long trek through the Etchemin countryside. They were forced to take a different route because the melting snow had caused the mighty Manosak river to rise. In an effort to avoid a huge rock, the two companions lost their foothold, fell into the raging river and were swept away by a powerful current.

Mahanak managed to grab hold of the moose's antlers and climb onto its back. As they were approaching the Devil’s waterfalls, Mahanak implored the spirits of the forest to come to their rescue.

The spirits remembered Mahanak’s act of kindness on the day he saved his young friend. The spirits helped the moose descend the falls by keeping its head above the water and saving Mahanak from drowning. Two old hunters, who had witnessed the scene, said that the moose had descended the falls slowly, as though it had wings.

The following night, Mahanak had a dream. The spirits of the forest told him that his moose would be leaving him to go to the land of the spirits where it would watch over the inhabitants of the forest. Mahanak then saw his companion nod good-bye and slowly fly away, opening its mighty wings. By sunrise, the moose had disappeared.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

EVENT: Full moon ghosthunt in Damariscotta

WHAT: ‘Midnight Explore’ PWA Benefit at haunted house
WHEN: Saturday, Aug. 13, 2011 -- 9:00pm to 2:00am
COST: $45 per person. A light buffet and a donation to the Pemaquid Watershed Association is included in the fee.
RSVP: Spaces are limited. Please contact Red Cloak Haunted History Tours ASAP at (207)380-3806 or to register for the event.

This unexplained bolt of light coming from the
roof of the Salt Bay Café building in Damariscotta
sometimes appeared in a photos taken during a
Red Cloak Haunted History Tour.
Heavy footsteps on an empty stairway and an ethereal mist that passes through darkened hallways can be a bit unnerving, but a ghost that knows you by name? Now that’s just downright creepy, say employees at Salt Bay Café in Damariscotta.

“That’s a very interesting paranormal manifestation; it implies that the presence has an understanding of its present circumstances,” said Sally Lobkowicz, the Director of Red Cloak Haunted History Tours. “Yet there are two employees who say they have been called by name when there is no one in the area, with one of the employees reporting two incidents.”

It’s a good reason for further investigation, which is why Red Cloak Haunted History Tours is hosting a Midnight Explore at the Main St., Damariscotta building that houses Salt Bay Café, the Damariscotta Region Chamber of Commerce (DRCC) and the Pemaquid Watershed Association (PWA). The Midnight Explore will take place on Saturday, Aug. 13 – a full moon night.

A portion of the proceeds generated by the event will go to benefit the PWA, which has the mission of conserving the natural resources of the Pemaquid Peninsula through land and water stewardship and education.

The Midnight Explore invites guests to participate in actual evidence collection activities, such as using meters to identify areas of electromagnetic field (EMF) activity (thought by some to be associated with a paranormal presence), using a digital recorder to pick up electronic voice phenomenon (EVP), and using video and still cameras to capture unusual images.

Equipment such as the EMF detectors, the EVP recorder, a digital movie camera and other assorted gear will be provided by Red Cloak Haunted History Tours, along with training on how to use them. (Participants are encouraged to bring their own cameras and any equipment they may have.) The group will be split into teams to explore the building and, hopefully, collect evidence that will shed light on some of the reported paranormal activity at the location.

Whether or not any evidence reveals itself, there’s no shortage of reports regarding paranormal activity at the building. According to Salt Bay Café owner Peter Everett, late night and early morning incidents began occurring shortly after he purchased the business in the late 1990’s.

Often, a side door was heard to open and close, followed by heavy footsteps moving up the stairs and into the second floor of the restaurant. Employees who thought they were working alone in an empty building would go to investigate, and find no indication that anyone had entered. These occurrences were so common that over the years most employees have come to take them in stride.

But some reports are bit more disturbing. The first report of an employee called by name was over 5 years ago, but that manifestation has continued into the present with another employee who has heard name called out twice – as though the person were right behind her – in a completely empty room. As recently as July 3 Peter Everett reported that he was alone at the end of the night in the upstairs office when he observed a vertical mist pass through the room and disappear through a wall.

Several years ago, a guest on a Red Cloak Haunted History Tour photographed an unexplained image that appears to be an energy bolt emanating from the roof of the building. The image was captured by the camera, but was unseen by the photographer.

The potential source for these manifestations is not apparent from the building’s historical record. The structure was built in 1810 for Rufus Flye and in more recent times was the home of Dr. Parsons. Perhaps the most unique aspect of the building is that it has changed position since it was built. In 1980 the original house was lifted off its foundation and turned sideways to allow space for the Damariscotta Bank & Trust driveway. So, the front of the present day building was the side of the original building. The Mainway Café opened there some 24 years ago, and later became the Salt Bay Café.

The Midnight Explore will begin at 9 p.m. with a light buffet at Salt Bay Café. During the meal there will be a briefing on the building and the manifestations associated with it, as well as instructions on how to use the paranormal detection equipment. The group will split into teams and explore the Salt Bay Café areas of the building, then move on to the upper floors occupied by the PWA and the DRCC. The Midnight Explore will wrap up at 2 a.m. Observations and any evidence from the Midnight Explore will be published on the Internet.

“This will be a great opportunity in that we will exploring all three floors of this unique building, which has a long and solid history of manifestations,” Lobkowicz said.

The fee for the Midnight Explore, which includes the light buffet, is $45 per person. A donation to the PWA is included in the fee. The group’s size is limited due to both the size of the building and the availability of equipment, so reservations will be accepted on a first come, first serve basis. To make reservations, or for more information, contact Red Cloak Haunted History Tours at (207)380-3806 or

If you can't make this event, but are interested in knowing more about local history, other Red Cloak tours tours have been ongoing since July and will run through through October. Their website is, or you can reach them at (207)380-3806.

They regularly hold tours in Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Wiscasset and Damariscotta, by reservation only.

For more information on unusual images in photos, check the “Ghostly Sightings” section at

Photo by Cathy Orne, (c) Red Cloak Haunted History Tours.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Lobstering in Casco Bay

This article appeared in the spring issue of the Gazette, but I figured you all might like to read it online, too!  Enjoy...
- - - - -
Lobstering in Casco Bay
Article and all photos (c)2010 by Michelle Souliere.

Last year I decided that one of the things I needed to do as the voice of Strange Maine was to spend some time on a working boat. So much of Maine’s economy and history has been driven by what one can pull in on a boat. I thought to myself, “How can I possibly understand this context unless I’ve been aboard?”

Luckily, I know some folks who are out there making their living this way, and found a crew that was willing to take this landlubber out during their daily lobstering work. While I realize that it is impossible to get a clear vision of the entirety of the working fisherman’s life from such a small glimpse, I’ll do the best I can to show what I saw that day and what I learned afterward.

With Brian Murphy’s assistance, I met with Tom Marr, who owns the Blue Dolphin II, and on a cold mid-November morning we set off from Long Island, from a mooring in Harbor De Grace before the sun rose to see what the day would bring us.

The first thing I realized is how close I was to the frigid water while sitting in the dinghy. That underlying awareness never really recedes once you’re on the gray November waters, whether it’s in a dinghy or a 36-foot boat. I’d wager that it doesn’t ever go away, even if you’ve been out on it for years.
Brian Murphy baiting the needles in the gray morning light.

We got on board the Blue Dolphin II and chugged out into the open water. Brian worked through the early morning blear by prepping the bait needles – pulling salted redfish and pogies out of a big black plastic vat and sliding them onto long, wood-handled metal needles, each with an eyelet at its tip. Bait needles work kind of like a backwards needle threader – the line from inside the trap goes into the eyelet at the tip, and the bait fish are pushed down the needle until the line threads through them, and then the line gets tied back into the lobster trap. The pogy is technically called the Atlantic Menhaden, though I don’t suppose you’ll ever hear that name out in the harbor!

We spent most of the day circling around in Casco Bay, pulling up lines in different spots, locating each on a list of coordinates kept by Tom in a well-worn notebook. Depending on where we were, we could see different angles of Outer Green Island, Junk of Pork, Cliff Island, and even the Ram Island Ledge lighthouse which lies off the coast of Cape Elizabeth.
Junk of Pork, off the shore of Outer Green Island.

Each time we located one of Tom’s fluorescent green buoys, the boat would slow to a stop. Tom would reach over with the gaff hook and drag the line and buoy up into the boat, running the line through the winch. Then the stringer, usually carrying 9 traps along its length, would be hauled up from the deep one trap at a time, making the boat pitch as it fought to stay in place with all that weight dragging against it from below.

Brian grabbed the buoy as it came aboard and dunked it into a tank of steaming water, heated by a coil. By the time they’d finished hauling up the stringer, a lot of the algae and other sea growth that had attached itself to the buoy and its rope had been cooked to a point where it was easy to clear it off with a big scrub brush. In the cold November water, the accumulation wasn’t too bad, but during the summer it could go out of control easily as the water warmed and plant life flourished.
Tom Marr pulls a trap on board after the
winch pulls it up from below.

As each trap emerged from the ocean, dripping streamers of salt water, Tom reached over and hauled it up onto the edge of the boat by hand. Opening the trap, he quickly sorted through the various lobsters, crabs, and occasional other sealife to see what qualified as keepers. Most of the trap contents were tossed back in.

Stray fish, crabs, and peculiarities such as sea mice were easy to pick out and return over the side. Smaller lobsters, obviously undersize, were another easy elimination, as were v-notched lady lobsters who were known breeders, and eggers -- female lobsters carrying a heavy coating of tiny dark eggs under their tail. Any lobsters of a more mature size were set aside into a handy milkcrate, where they waited to get the official word from the little brass ruler used to measure their carapace to see if it was too big, too small, or just right for keeping.

As each new trap on the line came up, Tom would pass the previous one along the side of the boat to Brian for more picking and for rebaiting. Once the trap was tidied and rebaited, Brian would swing it into place on the stern for its return to the water.
A sculpin gives me the hairy eyeball before he
gets tossed back in the drink.

A few minutes pass while Tom maneuvers into place to drop the stringer back down into the deep, where most of the traps will land around 100 feet down after they’re settled. They’ll stay there for the next few days, hopefully attracting lots of fat lobsters. The trick is to find a spot the lobsters like without crossing your line over another fisherman’s string of traps or into his general territory. Good fences, even invisible ones, make good neighbors in Casco Bay as elsewhere.

At this stage in the game, as the long wet line begins to slide off the boat more and more quickly, the most important thing to keep track of while you’re setting out a stringer of traps is where the other parts of the line are. You don’t want to suddenly find you’ve stepped into a loop of rope that is about to zip you into the freezing cold of Casco Bay.
Brian swings the traps onto the stern.

For the fisherman, this goes on and on, all day long, zigging and zagging between navigational points. Occasionally another boat, such as Skip Werner’s Foxie Lady, would come within earshot, and a holler and a wave came across the water. Other boats were visible in the distance, tending their traps, and the chatter on the radio came in small waves, which ranged from checking how many totes of bait were needed for the end of the day to commentary on whatever current event was on folks’ minds.

Tom and Brian got a good chuckle out of telling Skip I was along from the New York Times for the day. The radio got much quieter after that!

The sky shifted from leaden to glaring greywhite to pearly streaks and back, occasionally raining. The surface of the water changed appearance constantly, variations on a rippling or choppy theme. The sloshing of the seawater that pumped constantly into the holding tank was background noise, occasionally spilling onto the deck as the boat turned and maneuvered into position to pull the next buoy up. The smell of salt water was pervasive but was buried easily under the heavy competition of baitfish and sea sludge. Everything was in motion, all the time, either the boat or the ocean or both, and even the horizon line seemed unstill as the halted boat pitched and yawed at each buoy stop.
Each lobster has to be measured
with a regulation brass rule. If it’s
too big or too small, it cannot go
to market, and is tossed back.

While it seems there is a certain peace in time spent on the open water, it is an illusion, for underneath it all moves the changeable ocean, and her ways are many, strange, and strong. Let the unwary beware.

By late afternoon the catch had filled the better part of the on-board holding tank with lobsters, and Tom headed off with the boat to get the day’s haul weighed and to pick up some totes of bait for the week ahead. The grey day had gotten darker, and I was happy to be heading for shore. Standing around on a lobster boat when you aren’t the one throwing the heavy traps around gets cold pretty quick, and since I didn’t feel confident enough of my sealegs to venture astern much, that’s exactly what I was doing. Brrr!

At the weigh-in, the day’s catch came in around 200 pounds. After dumping totes of fresh bait fish into the bin on board, Brian shook a hefty amount of salt over them. The salt system of preservation has been in use for centuries, and still does the trick. Even in the cold weather, baitfish need help to stay fresh long enough to get them into the traps.

Tom got started as a fisherman in a roundabout way. When he was only 5 or 6 years old, his father took him out on a trip to help pull traps for a friend down by Southport Island (near Boothbay Harbor), “and that just stuck in my head,” Tom recalls. “Then as I got older, I don’t know how old, maybe 10 or 11 years old, I remember building my first lobster trap out of an orange crate. I threw it off the back porch. You know, in a make-believe world.”

Tom keeps a sharp eye on the water and his gauges as he
takes the Blue Dolphin II to the next buoy.
The early and continual exposure to the ocean, the waterfront environment and all the activity that surrounded it made a lasting impression on Tom Marr. By the time he was 15 he had a chance to haul lobsters on his own with a friend out of Falmouth Foreside, running a little skiff for the summer as a team, and with the return to fishing, Tom says, “that really got into the blood, for sure.” The rest of high school passed without much fishing, though, and was followed by a stint in the Navy. But as soon as he finished his duty, Tom was back in Maine and working as a sternman on a lobster boat.

It was in the back of his mind all the time that he wanted to lobster, and so he did as soon as he had the chance. Decades later, he continues his work.

Like other lobstermen, early in his career he found himself without winter work. He switched to steadier jobs, but he was always out on the water, from working on Casco Bay Lines’ boats in the 1960s, to Harbor Supply’s oilboat, to tugboats, and back to lobstering again. Since about 1980 he’s lobstered full time.
Skip Werner and his sternman aboard the Foxie Lady.

In 1985 or ’86, Tom and his wife Sharon moved out to Long Island for good, after going back and forth from one or another mainland residence on a seasonal basis. This allowed them to do away with unnecessary commuting, and committed them to something few people experience – the loneliness and cold of the Maine island winter. As Tom says, in the winter, “you’ve got to keep busy.” Not many people stick it out, and many that do find a way to visit somewhere warm and southerly for at least a week or two to make the winter pass more quickly. Tom estimates only about 150 people stay on Long Island on a truly year-round basis, while in the summer the population fluctuates to upward of 1,200 people.

I asked him about concerns that lobstering won’t last. He laughed. “They’ve been saying that for 50, 60 years. My father-in-law said it.” Which is not to say that things will remain as they are now. “The question is can it sustain the population that’s fishing it now?”

The smaller lobsters are the feisty ones. Tom figures it might
be because of the wily, finger-crushing ways of young lobsters
that the entire breed earned the nickname “snappers.”
Certain regulations are in place to help weigh the trade against the depletion of the lobster population. Some are statewide, and some vary depending on location within the Maine Lobster Zone Councils’ jurisdictions. In Casco Bay we fall into Zone F, which runs from Cape Elizabeth’s Two Lights in the south to Small Point in the north (just below of Popham Beach). According to Tom, Zone F has a 5-in-1 ratio for replacement of lobstering licenses. In other words, before a new license can be issued, 5 need to be retired. This should reduce the overabundance of boats currently fishing the region, and balance it more appropriately over time.

Tom operates a 36-foot boat with himself and one sternman aboard. He estimates that the majority of the local boats are running similarly sized crews. Only a few of these crews run all the way through the winter, and those that do often carry two sternmen instead of one, “because it’s safer, it’s harder weather.” The winter storms keep the boats in port an unpredictable number of days, and sometimes weeks in a row go by without passable weather. Some fishermen won’t pick up the season again until May.

Tom lets one of the big guys
stretch his claws before he
goes back into the water.
One of the advantages of only bringing one helper is obviously low overhead cost, but as Tom jokes, “the best way is to go alone, there’s no overhead!” Captains will pay helpers in a variety of ways, most often either a percentage of the haul or a flat daily rate. Tom believes most of the island boatmen use the percentage method, a way of encouraging their crew to be more attentive to their work and use of time, “because the more they catch the more they’ll make.”

Noticeable on the boat is the lack of downtime. Even in between hauling stringers, the helper’s time is spent measuring and banding the previous traps’ haul, hosing down the muck that comes on board from the muddy traps, and whatever else needs attending to as the captain steers the boat toward the next buoy’s location, pivoting his attention between the ocean and his equipment readings, leaving
nothing to chance.

I of course asked Tom if he knew any ghost stories, or had any interesting tales that Strange Maine readers might get a kick out of. While he couldn’t think of any haunting legends offhand, I did find out that the biggest lobster he’d ever caught was over 2 feet long, right out back of Long Island, and there were a few other odd items that came up with his traps over the years, some animate, some inanimate.

In 1994 Tom pulled up a piece of helicopter windshield in one of his traps after that year’s tragic crash when poor weather hampered a med-evac transfer of a burn victim from Ellsworth to Portland. The pilot, operating at higher than normal altitudes to gain visibility, ran into turbulence which increased the flight time to the point that the copter ran out of fuel and crashed into Casco Bay only 8 miles north of Portland, killing the patient, nurse, and paramedic on board. The pilot survived.

In 2004, Tom was surprised to fi nd a buoy moving around in an odd way. “It looked like something was snarled up on the end. I thought I’d picked up a rock, or a log or something, or seaweed.”

As the line came up, wrapped in the slack of the line was the neck and flipper of a gigantic leatherback turtle, clearly annoyed by the event. Tom guessed the turtle was about 6 feet long, as he and Arthur, his helper, pulled him gently up to the surface. Their main concern was to undo the line and set the creature free, which the turtle helped hurry along by repeatedly smacking Arthur with his huge flippers. (I bet Brian was glad he wasn’t around for this abuse!)

Last year, in 2010, Tom spotted the unmistakable tail of a thresher shark making its way through the bay. He was surprised, since larger predators are not often evident this close to shore. “I haven’t seen a shark this close in a long time.“ Smaller sharks such as dogfish are often around, and more of a nuisance than a danger. Dogfish show up in the traps after they try to get at the bait inside. “They get in, and they’ve got a spine in their back, atop their tail, and they get snarled up in the net when you’re trying to get them out.” Of course they’re fighting with the fishermen as they’re trying to get them out of the trap, just to complicate matters. “The only thing you worry about is that horn, you know. You’ve got to be, because you could get an infection. The teeth aren’t much to worry about.” The best bet is to grab them by the tail.

The Blue Dolphin II at its mooring in Harbor De Grace.
So now you have a snapshot of one part of Maine’s traditional life and livelihood. When I asked Tom why he keeps on lobstering, he told me it was either because he loves it, because he’s foolish, or both. It’s different from a 9-to-5 job, and within its compass you find self reliance, camaraderie, and competition, each element showing strong in the mix. Whether this is a way of life that is disappearing is anyone’s guess. There doesn’t seem to be any shortage of new lobstermen cropping up, and the lobsters keep showing up too.

As Tom put it, “I guess there will always be a lobster in the water.” And there will always be someone who wants to catch it.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Summer 2011 Eastern Cemetery events

Interested in cemeteries? Intrigued by their history? If you're in Portland, Maine, or passing through sometime this summer, be sure to schedule around these opportunities to participate in the living history of the Eastern Cemetery, as hosted by Spirits Alive! This historic burial ground is located on Congress Street, just before it mounts Munjoy Hill in downtown Portland.

Summer Tours
1:30 PM - 2:30 PM
WHERE:Meet at the Dead House near the front gate at 1:15 PM
COST:$7 per person, seniors and students $4, children under 12 free

It's summer, and that means guided tours through the cemetery! Learn about the types of stones, some of the stories of those who are interred, and some fun facts about burial grounds and funerary customs. The terrain is uneven, the sun can be warm, and the wind can be cool, so wear layers and appropriate footwear. There's so much to see and learn, so join us every Sunday! You can pre-register by emailing but it's not required. Check our Twitter feed at!/easterncemetery for cancellations due to weather.

Unearthing the History of the EC
WHEN:Most Every Saturday
8:00 AM – 12:00 PM
WHERE:In the back, down the hill

A group of us continues with the survey of every single stone in the cemetery this summer! Each Saturday we move from stone to stone, filling out a form for each that records the inscription on the stone, the location of it, and the condition of the stone itself. Weather determines whether we will be there or not, so check the Website for the most up-to-date schedule . You can also check our Twitter feed each Saturday morning – we often post updates on what we've encountered.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Zombie Kickball VI video!

Clearly, as always, fun was had by all. Can you tell it's a family-friendly event? Look at all the kids this year!! :) Hot diggity, zombie fun in the sun.

Thanks to Mark Hensley, who took the time to put the film together and post it to my Strange Maine book page on Facebook with this note: "Today was a great day for ZOMBIE KICKBALL in Portland Maine!!! I would like to thank Pete Witham & The Cozmik Zombies for letting me use their song I Wanna Be A Zombie!!! Thanks Guys."

Thanks Mark!
Click on this link for the YouTube Video if the embedded video above isn't working:

Thursday, June 23, 2011

SUNDAY: Zombie Kickball VI!

Better late than never. Those sneaky zombies, crawling about under my radar...

Here are the details if you would like to join the horde of cheerful undead kickball players (or just come and watch 'em lurching around the playing field) this Sunday:

WHAT: Zombie Kickball VI
WHEN: Sunday, June 26, 2011 from 12:00pm - 4:00pm
WHERE: Softball field, Eastern Prom, Portland ME 04101
COST: Free! Just bring your undead team spirit and sense of humor, you won't be disappointed.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Bizarre art stunt met with oblivion

"White Heart Bar" (acrylic on receipt folder; 2008)
by Christopher Michael Sullivan
The Bollard is one of the most interesting independent Maine publications around, but every now and then they have a story that is even more wildly-improbably-but-true than their usual fare.

For instance, their June 2011 issue features a short but jaw-dropping piece by Christopher Michael Sullivan, titled "Customer Copy," wherein he recounts his attempts to dazzle Portland waitstaff with his artistic feats of illusion, only to find them so focused on their jobs that no trick of skill was perceived:
Customer Copy: An artistic gift that failed
By Christopher Michael Sullivan

I imagined myself as David Blaine skillfully performing street magic. Not so much the flashy Blaine frozen in Times Square, or the ripped, glowering Blaine who held his breath for 17 minutes on Oprah. I would be the benevolent, unfettered Blaine, the one who wields a simple deck of cards, and who then might suddenly, quietly levitate for an audience of one or two zaftig tourists on a boardwalk. The Blaine who doles out intimate acts like the transformation of a playing card’s color; a delicate trick that brightens the day of the few people fortunate enough to witness it.

As an artist, my deck of cards would be a paintbrush, and my trick would be the transformation of restaurant receipts into paintings. My magic would brighten the night of all the servers who stumbled upon it. It would be my gift to the service industry.

The trick was supposed to work like this. When dining out, after finishing my meal, I would ask for the check and hand the server my credit card. The server would return with a black receipt folder containing my card and the receipt. The server would see me take my card, sign the receipt, and leave. When the server came back to collect the receipt, she would discover that – magically! – the folder now contained two identical receipts: alongside the paper original was an exact replica, meticulously hand-painted onto the inside of the folder.
I have spent the past two years performing this trick and can assure you that no one has mistaken me for Banksy. In fact, eight “receipts” have been dropped at establishments all around Portland and not one has conjured any excitement whatsoever. They have, without exception, been completely overlooked. After a cursory glance, the painting is mistakenly thought to be another receipt. The work of art, and the magic, are wasted.

My tragic magician’s tale began (as so many tragic tales once did) at the now-defunct White Heart Bar and Cocktail Lounge on Congress Street. [...] Over the course of several weeks and half-price bottles, I studied the rhythms of the White Heart, noting prices, the servers’ work schedules — even the time it took to pour and deliver a drink. I gathered all the information I would need in order to create a convincing facsimile of the receipt I would be given. Then I went to work in the studio, meticulously painting a receipt onto the inside of a folder just like those used at the bar.

After a week of painting, I was ready. With the folder concealed beneath my coat, I returned to the White Heart, ordered and drank wine, executed the switch, and left. A secret magician’s assistant, planted elsewhere in the bar, stayed behind to observe the server’s reaction. He picked up the folder. He entered the totals into the register. Then he put the folder on a stack of others behind the bar and went to take another order.

Maybe the White Heart was the wrong venue, I thought. Two more bars, two similar reactions. Two restaurants, two similar reactions.

Maybe it was a lack of complexity – perhaps the painting wasn’t dazzling enough. I made double receipts, folded and creased receipts, wine-stained receipts, stapled receipts. Nothing. The most notable response was, “Wow! It is really stuck down.” Each time, the work was tossed aside. The hours of preparation, the sleight of hand, and the artifact were all lost on their intended recipients. The work wasn’t received as art. It continued to be perceived as a receipt, and thus failed to manifest magic.

Click here to read the full article and see more of the paintings!
While you're there, don't forget to take a peek at this month's cover story, NPR's Other Enemy," about John Crosby, interviewed while in jail for sending threatening messages to NPR via email, including a death threat directed at the host of the popular show, "All Things Considered." Or, if you prefer lighter fare, a regular favorite Bollard feature is "That's My Dump," a column which investigates the history (and possible futures) of abandoned or ill-treated properties around the Greater Portland area, here: