Friday, November 30, 2012

New Strange Maine Gazette is out!

Hello everyone! The Strange Maine Gazette is back in swing after our hiatus! I am mailing all subscriber copies out today, so most of you should get them by early next week. This morning I mailed copies to the various distribution locations across the state, so if you're in one of their neighborhoods, check in early next week to get your copy! Here's the list of statewide spots I've sent them to:

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 gift shop, Prospect
Treasure Chest, Waterville
Lithgow Public Library, Augusta
Books Lines & Thinkers, 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

If your bookshop or cafe needs copies, please let me know so I can add you to the list.

I dropped off copies here in Portland so far at:
Portland Public Library
Maine Historical Society Library
Strange Maine (the shop!)
Coffee By Design (Congress St)
Coast City Comics
Local Sprouts
The Green Hand Bookshop if you're intown, you know where to find them! :) Some of you will have read some of the articles in Vex Magazine or the Portland Daily Sun weekend edition previously, perhaps.

I always have copies here at the Green Hand (661 Congress St), so don't be shy, they're always available here.

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Edward Gorey in Portland, Maine!

I am pleased to take a few moments to remind folks of the opportunity afforded them by the current Edward Gorey exhibition showing at the Portland Public Library here in Maine. A longtime fan of Gorey’s artwork myself, I would hate to find out that any of you had missed out on this chance to see his work here in Maine – a definite rarity!
NOTE: Any image below can be clicked upon to see a larger version for more detail.

While Edward Gorey’s ties with Maine are tenuous at best, he is certainly a New England neighbor, lodging himself in the nearby regions of Cape Cod for the latter years of his life, and he was a great appreciator of New England Gothic sensibilities. He did a bunch of illustrations for author John Bellairs, some for stories which took place in Maine, such as the uber-creepy Johnny Dixon tale The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull, a personal favorite of mine, which takes place near the island of Vinalhaven. There is also a panel in Gorey’s Cycling Cards series (included in Amphigorey Also) that depicts the “Apparition of demon cyclist that appeared in the sky over Gasket, Maine several times during the second week in November, 1911.”

But here ends the Edward Gorey trail in Maine, until now.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is presented by the Bank of Maine, in partnership with the Maine College of Art (MECA) and Portland Public Library. The show opened Friday, October 5, 2012, and will be on display through December 29, 2012 in the Lewis Gallery at Portland Public Library, 5 Monument Square, Portland, Maine. The exhibition is free of charge to the general public.

The show is phenomenal, a once in a lifetime chance to be able to see almost 200 original pieces by this master of the pen stroke, as well as some of the published results collecting those endeavors. I have done my best to take advantage of this unprecedented opportunity, a gift from the show sponsors to those of us living here, and have visited the show almost a dozen times so far. Even with that many visits under my belt, I have yet to look at everything on display!

Although the Lewis Gallery is not gigantic, it is a pretty good size, and many of Edward Gorey’s pieces are intimate in size. They are made to engage the viewer. In fact a friend who works as a security guard at the exhibit describes the inevitable process of looking at the Gorey show. People come in, scan around the room casually, strolling along the rows of framed artwork. Then one of the pieces catches their eye. They stop. They step closer. They step even closer. Slowly, they begin to bend nearer and nearer to the piece, until their nose is only inches from the glass. He tells me this sequence of events is almost inevitable.

I can imagine why. Gorey’s art is made up of infinitesimal pen strokes in the pieces where he really gets going. While this creates a pleasing and engrossing texture when the pieces are reprinted in their respective books, the printing process invariably greys out the tones of the piece. When you see one of these illustrations in person, the effect is staggeringly dramatic. In the original, the tones of ink achieve a drama unavailable in the printed version. The darks are so dark, the details so keenly applied. One cannot help but look more closely, and inspect what one might have missed previously. The colors in his watercolor paintings are also delectable in person. One imagines the glass protecting the artwork is not just to keep dust off (they know some of us just want to EAT them whole).

My own relationship as a fan of Edward Gorey’s work began with the arrival of the series of John Bellairs books mentioned above, given to me as a Christmas gift by a family friend who was also a librarian. The stories were spooky yet I was unable to stop reading them. A few years later, someone else gave my family a copy of his pop-up book, The Dwindling Party. I was fascinated by the macabre storyline of family-outing-gone-wrong and the way it was paired with the playful pop-up book format. It perplexed and amazed my pre-teen mind. But it wasn’t until I began making my own art that I really began to explore Gorey’s work.

Set design for Giselle, Act II
As an avid bookreader, it’s no surprise that my own artistic leanings took off in the direction of book illustration. Edward Gorey was a tremendous inspiration in this respect. Not only did he do typography and book cover design, he also made extensive forays into set design, costume design, and all manner of formats to which his art could be applied. His house on Cape Cod was a live-in museum filled with his collected inspirations – saltshakers, finials, rocks, and other spherical objects. Today it has become the Edward Gorey House museum. He lived his art in all ways, so that one was unsure whether his art imitated his life or his art imitated his life.

Which makes it all the more shocking that someone might say dismissively, “I’ve always thought of him as an illustrator, not as an artist,” when Gorey was so much an artist that he lived his art, with gusto, aplomb, flair, and a curious passion. This is evident in his sketchbooks, four of which are included as part of the exhibit.

Early ideas for the Gashlycrumb Tinies

His finished work is as prolific as his ideas were, totaling to over 100 published books and projects within his lifetime. This exhibit showcases everything from early concept sketches to finely finished pieces, as well as some examples of the final printed products that resulted from his projects. Viewers will also be pleased to see early versions of cover art for some of his books.

In addition to this, he designed sets and costumes for countless theatre productions, some of which are also on display, and created popular animations and illustrated works for a wide array of artists ranging from Charles Dickens and John Updike to Virginia Woolf and H.G. Wells. His hand-illustrated correspondence to his mother and his friends is also present as part of the show, a rare treat indeed.

For a supposedly reclusive person, Edward Gorey was constantly and actively involved in the world around him.

The mysteries of seaweed!
Gorey often worked in black and white, with occasional delightful forays into watercolor. Working in a single color seems a strange thing to fault someone for, though some folks seems to think it is a mark against Gorey’s work (no pun intended). This is ironic when one considers that Gorey’s epic use of delicate nib marks to create texture and definition is a skill many artists aspire to, and when one remembers that James Whistler himself considered his own monochromatic nocturnes to be extremely serious and worthy undertakings, and the fact that Albrecht Durer’s drawings and engravings are some of his most famous art pieces even now.

Illustration has always struggled against the stigma of not being “art.” It is the subject of what seems at time an eternal debate – it is, after all, one of the Big Questions: What is life? What is art? Why am I here? Where did this paintbrush in my hand come from? I think you will find the answers are purely subjective, in many cases, and gain narrow definition only at the exclusion of other potentials, which is hardly a way to live at all. To paraphrase a friend’s remark, should I feel sad if I am considered to be “only an illustrator”? Only if it turns out I'm a slipshod and artless one, I suppose.

Here’s to living one’s art, and here’s to the folks that are giving us here in Portland a chance to glimpse how the art of Edward Gorey became his.

Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey is on view from October 5 – December 29. The Portland Public Library is located in the heart of Downtown Portland Maine at 5 Monument Square and is open daily from 10am – 7pm Monday – Thursday, Friday 10am – 6pm and Satuarday 10am – 5pm. For more information, visit

The show includes approximately 180 original works, including selections from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, The Doubtful Guest, The Unstrung Harp, The Gilded Bat, and other well-known publications, drawn primarily from the extensive archives of The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust and significant private collections.

Friday, November 09, 2012

Funny Side of Maine Comics

As this weekend brings with it the second coming of Maine’s first big neo-traditional comic book convention, the Coast City Comicon, it seemed appropriate to concentrate the Strange Maine lens on weird Maine comic tie-ins.

Over the decades, Maine has appeared repeatedly in various genres of literature, and comic books are hardly to be excluded from this category. My first inkling of this came with a note from a friend who thought I should know about a story purported to appear in an apocryphal 1970s issue of Doctor Strange #53, titled “The Creeping Oozing Murder From Maine.” Someone else told me about a giant killer lobster story featured on the cover of a Silver Age era comic. The stories range from superhero tales to old horror comics, and include a few homegrown horrors such as Glenn Chadbourne’s infamous encrusted artwork.

That’s not even counting all the Stephen King comic adaptations, or the comic book artists and writers who have lived here in the past, and those currently calling Maine home!

Now, I really wanted to show you guys that darn Doctor Strange issue, but I have been searching for it with no luck. Like much of the comic book world, this difficulty is compounded by the fact that Doctor Strange was also published as Strange Tales for many years, and that there is more than one era of even the self-titled “Doctor Strange” series. I found one of the #53s, but it didn’t have that particular story in it. So we will have to make do with other odd Maine comic book stories, and perhaps sometime in the future I will find the missing issue and cry “Eureka!” in a maddening agony of glee.

Meanwhile, did you know that along with the legendary Collinsport of Dark Shadows fame, Maine is also the location of the fictitious Harrow’s Point, part of the grisly Tomb of Dracula storyline? Over at the wiki on Headhunter’s Horror House (, I found a synopsis of the role of this ghostly Maine place -- if you are lucky, you will never find it for yourself.

A small island off the coast of Maine, Harrow’s Point is crowned by an old lighthouse, where at the turn of the century, the Victorian-era lightkeeper fell prey to a vampire after a shipwreck (it’s a long story), and began to prey on victims of his own. An attentive priest/vampire hunter, one Bishop McFarland, noticed what was going on and like any good Van Helsing, he dutifully drove a stake into the monster's once-human heart. However, what thoroughness he possessed left him and for some reason instead of destroying the remains properly, he locked the vampire’s skeleton inside a room in his cabin.

Some time later, another unlucky man accepts the position of lighthouse keeper which had been invountarily vacated by his predecessor with the encouragement of stake-wielding Bishop McFarland.

The new lighthouse keeper, Frank Neal, moves his family to Harrow's Point despite the protests of his wife (whose vampire senses were tingling, apparently). Of course, things don’t go very well for our new lighthouse-dwelling family. Matters are not helped by the fact that the local MD is named “Doctor Chowder.” Interestingly enough, this issue of the comic (Tomb of Dracula Vol. 2 No. 4, April 1980) also featured the first half of a 2-part interview with … you guessed it! … Stephen King, the Maine master of horror himself.

Maine monsters and other weirdness aren’t limited to bygone decades, though. You will find mention of Maine scattered within any number of current comics. Of especially note is the homegrown title of Hopeless, Maine by Tom and Nimue Brown, set to be released by Archaia (publishers of Mouse Guard and other comic goodies) the week following Coast City Comicon. Though now dwelling in Britain with his ladylove, Tom Brown’s creative heart doesn’t stray far from his home here in Portland, Maine.

Hopeless, Maine is set in a mysterious coastal town in our fair and freaky state, a place where anything can happen, and not in a good way, necessarily. The star of the comic is the mysterious Salamandra, shown here in the opening spread from the “Personal Demons” storyline. Check it out when it hits the stands on November 14th, or catch up with the story online at

Lighthouses in Maine do seem to be a favorite of comic writers. And fictive Maine does not just feature Harrow’s Point and Sal’s lighthouse in Hopeless. Did you know that Aquaman spent his adolescent years growing up off the coast of Amnesty Bay, Maine, in Curry Lighthouse?

Lighthouses, mermen and vampires aside, I think one of my favorite Maine comic book characters is still M.O.D.O.K (the acronym for Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing). That little freaky villain, with his zappy powers and robotic levitating body, was invented (or so the story goes) by George Tarleton, a native of Bangor, Maine.

How many other weird Maine comic book characters and locations do you know? You might be surprised…


Coast City Comicon takes place November 10th and 11th at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel across from the Maine Mall in South Portland.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Halloween events 2012: Round #3!

Ready, all my little Halloween hooligans? Here are some more Halloween 2012 events for you!

If you missed Rounds #1 and #2, check them out here:

Southworth Planetarium Halloween Party & Ghost Hour

University of Southern Maine: Science Building, 70 Falmouth St, Portland
(207)780-4249 or (207)317-0827

NOTE: The Planetarium is underground. When you enter the building, look for a mural of the planet Saturn. Descend the stairwell located beneath this mural.

On October 26, 2012, USM's Southworth Planetarium offers its 11th annual Halloween Party at 6:00! During this year's program they've added a new live-action program called SKY MONSTERS, featuring a look at some of the the horrid monsters in the stars, including Draco the Dragon and Medusa. They'll also be running their MOON WITCH show, telescope viewing, and if this isn't enough, the early evening program will be followed by their 4th annual GHOST HOUR at 8:00pm! ($6 per person; $2 if you wear a costume!)

The Ghost Hour is the scariest hour of the year at the planetarium. This program consists of ghost stories (tales of suspense and the supernatural) recited in our star dome theatre with the aim to scare and thrill. It is similar to ghost story sessions like the one depicted in The Turn of the Screw, or the one that inspired Mary Shelley to write Frankenstein. The difference? Mary didn't have a dome of tricks she could use to terrify the audience.

And, if that is not enough of an an inducement, they'll have free treats and snacks!!

Lewiston Zombie Walk
Meet at Simard-Payne Park in Lewiston at 12:00 noon on Wednesday, October 31st!

It's the 5th year the undead have walked the town! Shuffling through the Twin Cities, enjoying all of its beauty, its culture, its...Zombies?!? Come along with them this Halloween at high noon. The walk starts at the Simard-Payne Memorial Park in Lewiston, otherwise known as Railroad Park. Since Halloween is on a school day, a youth walk has been added to the events, running (shambling?) from 3:00 pm 'til 4:30 pm. And since this is their 5th year, they'll be having a few surprises along the way too! So bring your friends and family to the hexstravaganza!

As of this date, here is the itinerary of events:
11:00am - Team LZW sets up. Meeting w/ press & LZW volunteers.
12:00pm - Meet w/fellow "walkers" for make-up (if needed) & zombie calisthenics.
12:30pm - Team LZW's explanation of "Zombie Poise & Posture"(aka- LZW's Rules)
12:45pm - Appearances by special guests... From the upcoming zomedy film "How to Kill a Zombie, assistant director Seth Roberts & producer/protagonist Mr. Bill Freight Train McLean!
(Check out for more info on their work!)
1:00pm - The Walk begins! Here's a link of the route
2:30pm - Returning from The Walk! Team LZW will be providing some water & snacks for our "walkers." Whilst zombies enjoy provisions... The rest of the LZW crew will be preparing for their 1st ever Costume Contest (people painted at the LZW make-up booth will NOT be able to participate in either Costume Contest)! This year's special guest will be helping out with the contest as well as signing autographs, talking about their film and other zombie related stuff, and selling HtKaZ t-shirts (all t-shirt sales proceeds go to the production funding for HtKaZ and in no way is sanctioned/transferred for/to Team LZW or its known creators).
3:00pm - Wrap-up time for the regular LZW, and the start of preparations for the 1st ever Zombie Youth Walk! Team LZW would like to encourage volunteers & "walkers" to stay and help w/ make-up and passing out candy to the next generation of zombies.
3:30pm - Zombie Games! Including: Zombie Trivia, Zombie Plank Race, Zombie Bean Ball, Zombie Gauntlet(games are subject to change due to weather/funding)
3:45pm - LZW Youth Costume Contest! This ain't no Toddlers 'n Tiaras - come dressed up and perhaps be the Costume Contest winner! (Again, people painted at the LZW make-up booth will NOT be able to participate in either Costume Contest.)
4:00pm - Team LZW wraps up the festivities with a ending speech, thanking those involved, as well as some announcements. Next comes clean-up and wishing all of you a safe time out Trick or Treating and of course... HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

Bangor Zombie Walk
Meet at 1 Railroad St, Bangor, on Saturday, October 27th at 4:00pm!

BYOB-- Bring Your Own BLOOD! This page will tell you pretty much everything you need to know about zombie walk protocol: This is an all ages event! MAP VIEW OF THE ROUTE:

The Misshapen Jack-O-Lantern Tour
Bubba's Sulky Lounge, 92 Portland Street, Portland ME

On Sunday, October 28th at 8:00pm, Doctor Gasp touches down in Portland on one of his last stops on the Misshapen Jack-O-Lantern tour of 2012! Those of you who have made the acquaintance of Dan Blakeslee's annual alter ego will know the delights in store for you, but those who are innocent of the Doctor's show will want to add it to their spooky itinerary, as the Halloween spirit is nowhere as evident as in the marvelous antics of the man who sings his dark heart out to the treatful tunes of "The Vampire Fish," "Witchtrot Road," "Sugarpusher," and more. Get thee hence, wee ghosties!!!

Still curious? Seacoast Online has a good write-up of Dan's annual possession by Doctor Gasp here:

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Walk Among the Shadows cemetery tours!

Every year, Spirits Alive sponsors eerie tours of the antique jewel that is Eastern Cemetery in Portland, Maine.

This year's theme, “On Land and at Sea — Portland in the War of 1812” means spirits on the tour have a connection to that war, whether good or bad. Spirits are portrayed by a local performing arts group of professional actors, Acorn Productions.

Victims — er, tourists — will be led down Funeral Lane by hooded specters who wear long, black robes and carry a lantern to lead the way. Tourists will meet spirits such as Sewell and Rhoda Drinkwater, Eliza Clapp, Dr. John Perkins Briggs, Hugh McClellan, Patience Clarke, and John Kilby Smith. Come hear the stories about who they are and how they ended up in the Eastern Cemetery (if they realize they reside there.) It's a family-friendly event, only slightly spooky.

Tours take place October 18-20 and 25-27, 2012, from 6:30pm - 7:30pm each evening. The cemetery is located at 224 Congress Street, at the corner of Mountfort Street.
Half of all proceeds go to the upkeep, maintenance, conservation, and promotion of the Eastern Cemetery. The other half of proceeds go to Acorn Productions, a community theatre group that supports performing artists in Southern Maine.


Halloween events 2012: Round #2!

Ready, all my little Halloween hooligans? Here are some more Halloween 2012 events for you! If you missed Round #1, check it out here:


Destination Haunt
249 Lord Rd, Lebanon, ME 04027 -- (207)351-5171 or
(NOTE: Be sure to come from Long Swamp Rd, not Little River Road!)

See their website for directions, schedule, pricing, and discount coupons for admission. 4 ATTRACTIONS IN ONE!!! Do you dare to visit the TWILIGHT TRAIL, BURIED ALIVE CEMETERY, EXECUTION CENTER, and the LEBANON LABORATORY?

The Gauntlet
Harvest Hill Way, Rte 26, Mechanic Falls, ME -- (207)998-5485

A haunting night ride "through the deep woods on the acreage of Harvest Hill Farms" on Route 26 in Mechanic Falls, Maine will give you the thrill of a lifetime. Perhaps you too will see the Ghost of Route 26! Harvest Hill Farm also has lots of daytime events for families with their Corn Maze, Fall Harvest Tours, Pumpkin Land, and a harvest market on site.

The Haunting at ParSem! -- (207)793-8825 or (603) 539-5233
Parsonsfield Seminary, 504 North Road (Rt. 160), North Parsonsfield, ME

Creeps and freaks at the Parsonsfield Seminary! Travel through the spooky maze of the 42-room seminary building and campus and relive your childhood fears. Frankie awaits you! Presented by the Friends of ParSem Benefit Restoration Fund. October 19, 20, 26, and 27 from 6:30pm-9:30pm. See website for prices, etc., or FMI call (207)793-8825 or (603) 539-5233.

Haunted Hill -- (207) 794-3372
4 Pleasant Street Lincoln, ME 04457

The Town of Lincoln's Haunted House, Haunted Hill, promises to live up to its name. So much so that it is not recommended for children under 5 years of age. The Town of Lincoln tells visitors to "prepare for a scare"! Open every Saturday night the month of October from 6:00pm to 9:00pm and the last weekend of October (the 26th & 27th). Children 12 & under must be accompanied by an adult. Not recommended for children under 5. Admission is 12 & under $3, 13 & older $5.

Haunted Hayrides -- (207)885-5935
Located next to Scarborough Downs in Scarborough, Maine, off Route 1

Amongst acres of horrors, with ghouls and goblins in a haunted forest, the original Haunted Hayrides will frighten you out of your skin. If that doesn't get you, the free Spider Soda and Poisonous Popcorn will! These guys have been at it for 22 years now. Adults $13, children ages 6-12 $9

The Raitt Homestead Halloween Harvest -- (207)748-3303
2077 State Rd, Eliot, Maine 03903

The Raitt Farm Museum's Trail of Terror is open from 6:00 PM to 10:00 PM on October 19th, 20th, 26th & 27th (admission $6). Come on in and board the tractor-drawn wagon ride down to the Haunt Trail...enter if you dare! There are plenty of ghoulish treats, warm beverages and bloody fries which await you if you make it out and back on to the wagon.

There will also be a Halloween party for the kids on October 20th from 2:00 PM - 4:00 PM (admission $3). With a Trick or Treat Walk, Costume Contests, a Carved Pumpkin Contest (bring your carved pumpkin with you and enter it in the contest), a Scarecrow Contest (there are a limited number of kits available for $10 -- get yours now and bring your finished scarecrow masterpiece with you to enter it in the contest). The party will also have a Pumpkin Toss, a Pumpkin Bowl, Mummy Wrap, Jack-O-Lantern & Potato race, Pumpkin Decorating Contest, and of course yummy treats and good food. One free ride on the barrel tractor or tractor drawn hayride with paid admission ticket! The Raitt Farm thanks you for helping to support events such as this. The revenue raised goes to educating kids about farming history and restoring the 33-acre farm property.

Junkins Haunted Estate
87 Wilson Road, Kittery, ME 03904
FMI email

This year visit the Estate from Friday, October 19, 2012 through Sunday, October 21, 2012 and Tuesday, October 23, 2012 through Wednesday, October 31, 2012. The largest non commercial, nonprofit FREE Halloween even in the northeast. Come and celebrate their 25th year! Over two acres of Halloween decorations await guests. Don't let the warm fuzzy decorations from the safety of your car fool you, if you want the candy, it's a quarter mile through the haunted swamp! As you follow the luminaries towards the woods and cross the bridge into the swamp, darkness will surround you and the cold swamp air will chill you to your bones, and YES, they will be waiting for you!!! All 18 or younger must be accompanied by a parent. Special time for the little ones, October 30th at 5:00PM. We are on Twitter too: @hauntedestate


Red Cloak Haunted History Tours -- (207)380-3806
Where: Bath, Boothbay Harbor, Camden, Damariscotta, Wiscasset

The Lady in the Red Cloak guides you on evening walking tours of one of Maine's Midcoast villages (Camden, Damariscotta, Bath, Wiscasset, or Boothbay Harbor). Tours last approximately 90 minutes, and wind through back streets by lantern light, searching for ghosts and history, spirits and mystery. Appropriate for all ages, by reservation only, $12 adults, $7 for children under 12, free for children under 5. Please check the website, or call for complete schedule. Also available for special tours or events.

Wicked Walking Tours -- (888)718-4253
Tours meet at Bell Buoy Park on Commercial St between Casco Bay Lines & Rira

The legends and history of haunted Portland, Maine come to life, with the comedy and tragedy filled tales that abound in this twisted tour. As a doomed guide leads you through Portland's old waterfront, you will be regaled with strange facts and interesting history. Learn the secret past of the shadowed Old Port streets! Reservations required (call M-F 9am-9pm, or visit website to make reservations). For private or group tours, call (207)730-0490 or email

Ghostly Bangor -- (207)942-1900
Tours meet at Thomas A. Hill House, 159 Union Street, Bangor, ME

Hosted by Bangor Museum and Center for History, tours take place on Thursdays and Saturday evenings in October. $10 per person non-member, $8 members, $5 children under 12. One tour per night leaves at 7:00pm. Please call (207)942-1900 for reservations. Prepare for the paranormal! Follow a winding path through haunted Bangor and stop at several sites to hear tales of reported ghostly activity. Don't be surprised if you hear tales of tragedy from the spirits themselves! Whether or not you believe in ghosts, one thing is for certain - some former residents of Bangor are still around attending to unfinished business. Trapped here either by their own will or circumstance, these spirits have something to say to the living. Bring a friend...if you dare!


My Mommy's Mummy! -- (207)942-1900
Sponsored by Bangor Museum and Center for History
Before Stephen King made being scared part of popular culture, Bangor had its own fright night every Halloween at the Kellogg home on Kenduskeag Avenue. Thousands of children participated in one of Bangor's favorite Halloween traditions - seeing a real Egyptian Mummy head. Now housed at the Hudson Museum in Orono, this honored guest will make one final return to Bangor. Join Connor Millard and Gretchen Faulkner, Director of the Hudson Museum at the Univeristy of Maine, to learn about its history including scientific data from C-14 dating, xrays, hair analysis and other testing. $10 per person. Workshops at 6pm and 8pm on October 30th. Seating is limited for this ONE NIGHT ONLY event! Please call for reservations at 942-1900.

Pumpkin Hayrides -- (207)865-4469
Wolfe's Neck Farm, 184 Burnett Rd, Freeport, ME

Come on out to the Farm for a family outing to remember during October on Saturdays and Sundays. Enjoy the Maine fall foliage and take a hayride out to the pumpkin field. While you are here, visit the animals in the barnyard or go for a walk through the woods. Pumpkin hayrides cost $6/person or $20/family (including pumpkins) and benefit the Wolfe's Neck Farm Education Program. Set on the shores of Casco Bay, Wolfe's Neck Farm is a 626-acre nonprofit demonstration farm just a short, scenic drive from downtown Freeport and adjacent to Wolfe's Neck Woods State Park.

Halloweenfest Maine Wildlife Park -- (207)657-4977
56 Game Farm Road, Gray, ME 04039

On Friday, October 19, 2012 and Saturday, October 20, 2012, celebrate Halloween with the Park's native wildlife! Get into the spooky spirit with special Halloween displays, haunted hayrides, games and door prizes! Wear your costumes! Regular admission fees apply. For rainy day cancellation info, call the office at (207)657-4977. The Nature Store and Snack Shack will be open for spooky snacks & souvenirs!

9th Annual OgunquitFest
36 Main Street, Ogunquit, ME 03907

Taking place Friday, October 19, 2012 - Sunday, October 21, 2012. This annual Ogunquit, Maine fall event has activities for the whole family, including pumpkin and cookie decorating, costume parade, classic car show, craft bazaar, haunted house, high heel race, bed race, ghost tours, wagon rides, storytelling, and a scarecrow contest. For schedule of event times, see website above.

Bucksport Ghostport Festival
Saturday, October 20, 2012. Timed to coincide with Fright at the Fort (see listing above), which is held across the Bay, the Ghostport Festival in Bucksport is a family event with a definite Halloween theme. From a children's costume parade (The Little Goblin Parade) on Main Street, to Jonathon Buck's Race to the Grave coffin race, and The Night of the Living Dead, everyone is sure to be in a haunted spirit. Show off your creative skills in the carved pumpkin contest or skip the carving altogether and launch your pumpkin into the Penobscot using our trebuchet. After the sun sets, scare yourself silly at Fort Knox and then take our shuttle back to the waterfront to enjoy music, food and fireworks. See website for up-to-date schedule.

Midnight Explore Ghost Hunt -- (207)380-4677

Friday, October 26, 2012. Join the Mysterious Destinations team for a Midnight Explore at the haunted Winter Street Center in Bath. Three floors of documented paranormal activity will offer plenty of chances for new evidence to be found by YOU, after a brief training about paranormal detection equipment, how to use it, and the history of the building. Mysterious Destinations will provide a variety of paranormal detection equipment for guests, though participants are also encouraged to bring their own gear, with cameras and flashlights recommended. The price for the Midnight Explore is only $35 per person with a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Winter Street Center. Hot coffee, bottled water and light refreshments will be provided. By reservation only, (207)380-4677.

Halloween Haunted House -- (207)474-6901
225 Water Street Skowhegan, ME 04976

Friday, October 26, 2012 - Saturday, October 27, 2012 from 6:30-8:30pm (admission $3). Skowhegan Parks and Recreation Department hosts an annual Halloween Haunted House at the Skowhegan Municipal Building. Beware, the house is full of fright and not recommended for small children! But Casper's House, also in the Skowhegan Municipal Building, is suited for kids. FMI call (207)474-6901 or email

Overnight with Myrtle -- (207)380-4677

Saturday, October 27, 2012. How often do you get to spend the night at a haunted house with a history of paranormal activity? Or spend the night in the same bedroom where the source of that activity passed from her mortal life? How often would you be able to do this at Halloween? And, how often would you be able to join the adventure and use specialized equipment to document any paranormal activity? Join Mysterious Destinations at the Tipsy Butler B&B and the Newcastle Publick House, both haunted by Myrtle! This adventure includes dinner at the Newcastle Publick House. By reservation only, 207-380-4677.


So in other news, there's a lot of fun stuff going on. The bad news? You missed the Giant Pumpkinboat Regatta, a.k.a. the Damariscotta 2012 Pumpkinfest!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

An old Scarborough story

Big thanks to Scott Leonard, who runs the excellent Old Blue Genes blog over at He dropped me a line this weekend because he thought some of you Strange Maine readers would be interested in a story he recently did a piece on, and I think he's right:

The Clukey Fire of 1949

As with many stories of bygone days, the newspapers tell a disjointed and partial version of the tale, revising the events that led up to a disaster as the witnesses step forward with different stories each time. This one is particularly convoluted, and in the end I don't know that the final version of events made anyone particularly happy. But it did make for a lot of newspaper coverage.

Scott Leonard delves into the murky ashes of the fire that killed WWII veteran George Clukey, and the history of Vinegar Road in Scarborough, Maine, where he lived.

Check it out!

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Halloween events 2012 -- Round 1!

Okay everyone, it's my favorite season, and you know what that means -- lots of fun spooky activities across the state! Here is my first batch of listings. Have fun!

Fright at the Fort -- Lucky 13!!!
For the last 13 years, Fort Knox has opened its historic doors to a troupe of volunteers who spookify the already atmospheric location for a benefit haunt attraction which helps fund restorations at the fort.

This year the evenings they will be running the event on Friday and Saturday evenings, 5:30-9:00pm, starting on Oct 19 & 20, and continuing on Oct 26 & 27.

Here's this year's preview trailer!

The Medicine Show
Ziggurat Theatre Ensemble is offering families a unique theatrical experience for the Halloween season with the presentation of The Medicine Show, an original play using masks, drumming, song and dance that will be performed outdoors in a wooded field in Bowdoinham. Drawing upon local Native American lore, The Medicine Show will transport audiences back in time and far from civilization to tell a harrowing story of heroism, sacrifice and redemption. Tormented by demons from his dreams, a young boy alone in the wilderness stumbles upon a traveling medicine show whose performers are all stricken by a mysterious malady. Believing their illness is caused by the same sinister figures of his nightmares, the boy battles these demons. By turns spooky and spiritual, The Medicine Show is “as memorable for its winking wit and raw beauty as for its mesmerizing power” according to the LA Weekly.

The play opens on October 13 and runs through October 28. Showtimes are Saturdays at 7:00pm (October 13, 20, 27) and Sundays at 7:00pm (October 14, 21, 28). It is being staged at the Bowdoinham Public Works building, 8 River Road (adjacent to Mailly Waterfront Park) in Bowdoinham.

Tales of Terror at the Victoria Mansion
Victoria Mansion is excited to announce its 6th annual Tales of Terror, a celebration of the Halloween season featuring spine-tingling stories from 19th-century writers performed by local storytellers. The Mansion’s original 1860 interiors will be dimmed to gaslight levels for the evening, making the event a haunting night of history and horror.

This year, Tales of Terror will consist of 4 shows over two evenings. On Friday, October 19 at 6:00 and 8:00 pm, storyteller/playwright Lynne Cullen performs two stories by great writers of Victorian horror fiction: "The Family of the Vourdalak" by Aleksey K. Tolstoy and "Louella Miller" by Mary E. Wilkins Freeman.

On Saturday, October 20, actress/storyteller Brittany Cook performs works by Edgar Allen Poe in Poe’s Menagerie, a radio play featuring some of the writer’s best-known beasts. The 6:00 Saturday performance is for children 10 and under, and includes family-friendly stories "The Conqueror Worm" and "Hop-Frog." The 8:00 performance is for general audiences, and will include Poe’s "The Raven" and "The Black Cat."

Little Festival of Horrors at Portland Public Library

The Portland Public Library announces its “Little Festival of Horrors” to celebrate the genre of horror during the 3 days leading up to Halloween. The library has created this festival to introduce literature, film and art based in the genre of Horror. The festival offers author talks by local horror writers Elizabeth Hand and Rick Hautala paired with films, including a screening of The Night of the Living Dead followed by a “Zombie Crawl” into Monument Square, and horror related art shows. PPL branch libraries will also be offering events in conjunction with the festival. All events are free and open to the public.

The Little Festival of Horrors will be punctuated by two art shows at the Main Library featuring an art exhibit, Elegant Enigmas: The Art of Edward Gorey in the Lewis Gallery and an art installation by Brunswick artist Christian Matzke based on the writings of H.P. Lovecraft, which will be in a study room in the Teen Lounge.

On Monday, October 29th, at the Main Branch at 5 Monument Square, author Elizabeth Hand will be giving an author talk at 4:00pm about antiquarian ghost stories. This will be followed at 5:00pm by a showing of a related horror film (title TBA). [NOTE: Those of you who have yet to read Elizabeth's work will be pleasantly surprised when you dip into one of her many books. I suggest Saffron and Brimstone and Generation Loss.]

On Tuesday, October 30th, at the Main Branch, Maine horror writer Rick Hautala will give an author talk on the horror genre. This will be followed at 5:00pm by a showing of a related horror film (title TBA). Rick has been writing Maine-based horror stories for many years now. His book Little Brothers is a great favorite of mine.

On Wednesday, October 31st, at the Main Branch, there will be a youth zombie make-up workshop in the Teen Library, followed by a free screening of horror classic "Night of the Living Dead" at 5:00pm, and the Halloween finale will be a Zombie Crawl onto Monument Square at 6:30pm.

Also on Halloween, Riverton Branch Library will have a 3:00pm film showing of "Scooby Doo and the Legend of the Vampire" and at 4:30pm they will show "Monster House." Snacks and treats will be provided! Kids are encouraged to wear their costumes.

If you are on Peaks Island for Halloween, the Peaks branch is hosting stories and a craft program at 6:30pm for ages 5-8.

More on the Edward Gorey show in a separate post all its own, later! :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Captive in the Maine woods

This story appeared on page 1 of the Boston Daily Globe of Monday morning, October 11, 1897. I found it when I was looking for information about the rumored monster of Lake Sysladobsis. Once I read this headline, I knew I had to revive the work of this uncredited Boston reporter, and the story of Rosie Pelletier’s abduction by an all-too-human monster.
It is summer, August in Maine of 1895, a long time ago. In the wooded country near the New Brunswick border at St Croix, in the small town of Lake Lambert, a wedding is taking place in the morning hours. Eli Sirois and Rose Pelletier, surrounded by a small crowd of friends, are united in love. The festivities continue into the evening hours with a dance in the little two-room house. It is a small but lively party, easily drowning out the chorus of crickets in the woods outside with bursts of laughter and the tromp of dancing feet and all the noise that can be made with handheld musical instruments.

A loud concussion stops all the friendly warmth like the arrival of the bad fairy in the old story of Sleeping Beauty. Peter Bubeer, tall and lean, angry and drunk, has arrived with his wedding gift – two loaded guns. The first crash is both barrels of his shotgun, fired into the ceiling. The second, sharper shot is his revolver, aimed without care at the stunned groom.

There is a lot of smoke, and noise, and screaming. Before the guests can sort it all out, the door of the cabin has shut on them. The shrieks of the bride being carried off into the night are all that is left for them to follow, and they disappear too. Eli, bleeding from the gunshot wound to his arm, rallies the guests and they erupt into the night, calling and searching for Rosie and the villain, but they have disappeared, leaving no trace.

For the next two years, Eli is consumed with his search, pressing every hunter and lumberman who passes through the small community to keep their eyes open for his bride while they are out in the woods. A hunting guide himself, Eli spends much of his time in the forest, either on his own or with hunting parties who hire him. They tolerate his strange choice of routes and locations – they know he is hunting something more valuable than trophy game. Besides, he such a good guide that he leads them to plenty of animals whichever way he goes, and it is certainly an interesting trip to tell friends about at the club back in Boston, when they get home.

Sometimes, when he is free from hire, he simply disappears for days at a time, led by daytime visions or dreams in the night – visions that remind him of this or that hidden nook or cranny, giving him new ideas for where to find Bubeer, to track down where the villain has sequestered Rosie, somewhere out there in the woods south of Lambert Lake.

Each time he returns alone to his cabin.

It is mid-September in the year 1897. Local trapper Joe Lacoot sets out from Forest Station, a tiny settlement along the New Brunswick border. His plan is to work his way through the forest of northern Washington County. A group of New Yorkers is looking for a small area in which to set up their own private game club. He travels through some areas he’s never been to before, and two weeks into his ramble, he finds himself arrived at Sysladobsis Lake, or ‘Dobsis, as it is more conveniently called. The next step is to take a shortcut from ‘Dobsis to Saponic (just southeast of the small town of Burlington).

By the time 3:00 in the afternoon rolls around, Lacoot has been pushing through the undergrowth for hours. With relief he emerges suddenly into a clearing in the woods. There is a small pond nearby. Across the clearing he sees some animals, though not the usual woods creatures he is used to. After approaching cautiously, he determines that they are a thin and rangy pigs -- like the feral pigs found down South, aptly called razorbacks or “racers.” But amongst their number moves a beast like no other he has seen. A closer look and he still cannot believe his eyes.

There, grubbing and rooting in the undergrowth with the pigs, is a man on all fours. It cannot be possible, but there he is, in front of Lacoot, in the broad daylight of the autumn afternoon. Periodically in his poking under the dirt, the desperate brute uncovers a string of wild potato or ground nuts, and sits down to devour them. The opportunistic pigs crowd around him each time he begins to dig again, and he elbows them aside as he continues his never ending search for more food.

Lacoot stands some time watching this, amazed. The man acts in all ways like an animal. He is naked except for a bundling of fabric over his back, and he wallows in the dirt. Lacoot's alarm grows as he assesses the situation. He dares not approach the motley herd any closer, knowing how ferocious wild pigs are. At the same time, he cannot consider shooting at the pigs beforehand, knowing that in the chaos he has as good a chance of hitting the strange human amongst the beasts.

A pragmatic man, he simply decides to back into the bushes, and work his way around. Using the edge of the small pond to guide him, he begins to strike another path. To his surprise, he comes across another clearing. There is a little thatch-roofed shack made of birch bark, saplings and spruce boughs. A person runs out as Lacoot emerges from the woods, shrieking in terror, and makes for the shelter of the forest.

As shocked as he was by the four-legged man, he is certainly more shocked now, but his mind catches up quickly to the events. The long hair and the person's ragged garb point Lacoot towards the realization that this is a female alone in the woods, and he halloos at her to stop. Speaking encouragingly to the mystery woman, he is relieved to see her hesitate and finally stop at the edge of the forest.

Halting explanation from him turns into a conversation as she begins to respond, finally asking him who he is and where he is from. As soon as he mentions that he lives at Lambert Lake, she fairly erupts across the clearing, running to him. At first he is unsure whether or not she is simply a maniac determined to kill him, but then as she stumbles in her haste he sees she is weeping, and his heart goes out to her.

Falling on her knees in front of him, she sobs, "Are you really and truly Joe Lacoot? Don't you know me?" Lacoot shakes his head -- her fair skin is dark with exposure, her bones show through her emaciated frame. Her sobs redouble as she cries, "Why I'm Rosie Pelletier!" Lacoot is speechless as his mind works furiously to put everything together. Rosie weeps more and more, lamenting that Eli Sirois will never again want his young bride in this condition. Lacoot comforts her and gradually she calms down. As they talk, she makes him realize that the human in the pig herd is the very villain sought after by all of Lambert Lake.

"That thing is Pete Bubeer," Rosie nods. "He's been like that more than a year and a half. I tried and tried to get away from here. I'm a wicked woman for making him that way, but I couldn't help it -- I struck him with an ax, and he's been like that. But I was trying to get away, Joe, and he followed me and choked me every day, and each time I got away into the woods he came after me and abused me and made me go back with him to this awful place."

Rosie tells Lacoot how the kidnapper Bubeer had muffled her cries so the search parties couldn't follow them in the woods that night. She heard her friends calling for her but her efforts to respond were in vain. Over the next few days Bubeer dragged her through the woods away from town, tying her to trees at night and beating her when she refused to follow him voluntarily, subjecting her to brutalities she had difficulty finding the words to describe to her rescuer.

He would pick a likely spot to settle, stay a few days, become uneasy, and then force her to resume the march into the wilderness in some random direction. Disoriented by constant beatings and fatigue, the young woman would have had a hard time finding her way back to civilization even if she had escaped her captor.

Her wedding night was the last time she had seen another human being until that afternoon when Joe Lacoot emerged from the woods, 50 miles from the town of Lambert Lake.

Rosie admits to Lacoot that her repeated flights into the woods from their final stopping point, from which Bubeer dragged her back each time, were delirious efforts to lose herself in the woods and wait for death, a preferable outcome to what Bubeer was subjecting her to each day at their camp. But Bubeer was an expert tracker and had no trouble finding her each time. The last time, after a particularly heinous experience at his hands, she had run over a mile into the woods, only to be dragged back yet again. But this time her captor was lax, and as he shoved her back into the shack, she darted to the ax in the corner and in her fury drove it into his skull.

Rosie expected him to be dead, but instead the ruffian survived, though after his recovery it became clear that he was now, as she termed it, "an idiot."

Rosie tells Lacoot how Bubeer now imagines himself a pig, and is no longer interested in her, having no grasp of language with which to talk to her anymore. The only time he reacts to her is when she seizes one of his fellow swine to kill for food. She feels guilty for what she did to him, but how can she be truly sorry? He treated her like an animal, and now he himself is the animal. Rosie has no trouble believing that God has something to do with this outcome.

She fears his idiocy will some day turn to outright madness, and that he will attack her then in vengeance, but so far Bubeer has descended each day further into habits docile, gross and stupid. She tells Lacoot how she patiently waited for a hunting party or lumber crew to come this way, knowing if she set out into the trackless forest not knowing her location, it would be a death sentence. Over the months, the pigs had added to their own number, and she has kept herself from starvation by killing and eating one of them periodically, though each time she risks the rage of her deranged kidnapper by invading the pig sty, which he considers his own territory.

Lacoot lets her finish her account, and then without further delay he outfits her with makeshift clothing and shoes for the return trip. They leave the idiot behind with the pigs.

After an arduous hike, Lacoot places the half-starved and exhausted girl in the safety and comfort of a friend's hunting camp while he strikes quickly through the forest to Lambert Lake. The news brings excitement, and the locals can hardly wait for Eli Sirois to hear it for himself. He is away on an expedition to Grand Lake with some Massachusetts sportsmen, but the locals haven't the heart to set out to bring Rosie home without him. Perhaps she will have a chance to recuperate and shed some of the marks of starvation by the time the rescue party arrives at the camp where she now mends.

The authorities at the nearest settlement will be directed to the sorry hideaway in the woods where Bubeer scratches his sustenance from the dirt with the pigs. The officials will no doubt remove him to some place of detention, maybe even the insane asylum at Augusta. The hogs will be shot, and the camp will be burned. It is a monument to the bitterest anguish any Maine bride ever felt, and no one will be sorry to see it destroyed forever.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Sacred & Profane 2012

It's that time again!

The Festival of the Sacred & Profane is unfolding on Peaks Island this Saturday, September 29th. This year there are no advance sales of tickets. Simply buy them from the festival ticket-sellers on Saturday when you arrive on Peaks Island.

Be sure to catch the 2:15 ferry to Peaks from the Casco Bay Lines terminal in Portland, or if you're already on the island, get them by showing up at the Peaks Island dock when the ferry lands at 2:35pm.

True to form, the festival takes place on the very day of the full Harvest Moon this year. If you're staying on the island overnight with friends, you can see the full moon at 11:19 pm!

The Casco Bay Lines fall ferry schedule for Peaks is here:

If you'd like to print out a map of Peaks, you can access a PDF showing the roads and major landmarks on the island here, on the Peaks Island website (their General Island map):

Each year the festival is different. While you are there, it is different every moment. Get ready, but don't prepare.

Have fun, everyone!!!

Friday, September 21, 2012

Carrie & Stephen King: Birthday Twins!!!

As some of you obsessed Stephen King fans may know, today (September 21st) is Mr. King's 65th birthday. What I didn't know until recently (though all of you uber King geeks probably did) is that it is also Carrie White's birthday! Talk about a fire hazard!!!

Yes, it's true -- Stephen King gave the focal character of his first published novel the same birthday as himself. Honestly, what a neat idea.

Well, I know we've all seen far too many iffy Carrie remakes, and a musical to boot, come out of the franchise of the much-loved novel. But they're doing it again. If you're like me, you're always willing to watch a remake, even though they're frequently disastrous. Why? Because every now and then someone gets something about it right, and you get a new piece to add to the canon. And if they get it wrong, there's a fair amount of entertainment to be had in tearing it down.

I'll be clear here. No one is ever going to replace the De Palma 1976 original. That Carrie stands on a burning pedestal for all to see, as far as I'm concerned.

But the new version of Carrie, has a few things going for it.

-- Kimberly Peirce, director of “Boys Don’t Cry” [1999], has taken the helm. So it's going to be serious.

-- The lead role will be played by Chloë Grace Moretz, who played Hit-Girl in “Kick-Ass,” where she did just that. It will be interesting to see her try to convey that same rage and violence with purely psychic backlash. It should be a real test of her acting skills.

-- We all know Julianne Moore, who will have an interesting challenge in the role of Carrie's mother.

-- The scriptwriter is Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, who has recently worked with King's material by writing the comic book adaptation of “The Stand.”

The film will be released to theaters in 2013.

Those of you lucky enough to be attending the NYC ComiCon next month will get a chance to see previews and panel discussions about the film (alongside similar treatment for Sony's other upcoming remake, that of the EVIL DEAD).

Okay. Maybe it's a shameless ploy to promote the new remake of Carrie by Sony and MGM. But I still think the birthday twins thing is really cool.

Here's a link to the official movie page on Facebook:

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Whale eyesight & other things

My schedule doesn't allow me to get out to as many Maine-related talks and lectures as I'd like, but every now and then I manage to squeeze one in. Earlier in August, I was lucky enough to make it down to the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, where Dr. Scott Kraus (of Boston’s New England Aquarium)was holding a presentation about "What Do Whales See?" The talk was well-attended, to the point of being standing room only.

John Annala, Chief Scientific Officer for GMRI, gave an introduction in which he emphasized GMRI's focus on sustainability in the Gulf of Maine, as opposed to an approach focused on locking up resources or “preserving” them. Their goal is to increase collaboration across the board, and their current education program has successfully accomplished outreach to an impressive 75% of Maine's 5th and 6th graders, every year giving school kids a look at GMRI's work no matter where they are in the state.

With that context given, Dr. Kraus took his place under the room's giant projection screen, and began his presentation. Back in the 1970s, he was hard at work with a group of scientists collaborating with local fishermen up in Newfoundland, where each year the cod box nets were accidentally netting humpback whales along with the cod schools. No one could figure out why such a huge, obvious structure was being run into by the whales. By all reasoning, they should have been able to sense them in the water, but instead, hundreds of whales were running into them every year, many of them becoming entangled in them with disastrous results for both the whales and the nets.

His team had begun by zipping around disentangling the whales whenever the fishermen sent out an alert, and while they were doing this, they were studying the whales’ behavior. They were perplexed to find that when the whales were trapped, they did not emit any sounds of alarm to broadcast their distress. By 1975 it was obvious to the scientists that something odd was going on. Could it be that these baleen whales didn't use sound the same way as other whale species, including the generation of sonar by which to navigate?

To answer that question, the scientists rigged up a maze in an ideal spot at the base of a Newfoundland cliff where they could observe from above. This was going to be the first time anyone had done any sort of test of whale eyesight limits.

The next time a good subject whale was disentangled from a cod box net, it was transported to the maze test site and fitted for blindfolds. As you can imagine, this was a time for revving up their creative problem solving skills, because the irregular shape of a whale's head demands a unique design for effectiveness and comfort. They also had to take into account the mammoth dimensions of the whale's eyeballs, each the size of a grapefruit.

The scientists wound up using a pair of eyepatches, giant in size. The edges were lined with foam cushions, which served to block accidental visibility as well as giving a comfortable fit to the whale's contoured eye area. Large suction plungers were utilized to attach the eyepatches.

With them in place, the scientists ran a variety of trials, 33 attempts in all. At no time did the whale ever use sonar! The only time the whale successfully ran the maze was when it was given use of its eyesight in daylight. The only exception to this was one nighttime trial when they were attempting to use a flashlight attached to the whale's tail to give the observing scientists on the cliff overhead an accurate sense of where the whale was in the maze.

It turned out that the flashlight gave enough visibility to the whale to allow it to correctly navigate the maze. Needless to say, they had to find another solution for the observers. They wound up stationing them at each point of the maze, where they could see the whale's movement through the water well enough to determine its success.

At the end of the trials, they set their humpback subject free, and went back to the drawing board with the new information that baleen whales didn't use sonar. They were capable of using their hearing for long distance navigation, and recognition of heavy traffic shipping lanes in the water, but otherwise they depended fully on their eyesight, with no recourse to echolocation.

That eyesight is in the green to blue spectrum, suitable to deeper water. This gave the scientists a new source of perplexity, because the copepods that the whales were using as a primary source of food were red in pigmentation, a color which eluded the whales' sight limits. Further exploration determined that the whales could see the copepods as lightblockers, and this allowed them to locate them in the water for feeding.

The scientists, still experimenting with options that would make the cod box nets visible to whales in spite of their limited eyesight, began a series of trials to determine the best color with which to coat the nets for high whale visibility. Using what they had learned from the copepod coloration as a starting point, all sorts of lines were tried, from the typical green, white and black lines of current fishing practice to glow in the dark lines, to LED-lit lines.

The whales ran right into the white, green, black and glow-in-the-dark lines. On the other hand, they responded consistently to ropes that were red and orange, turning aside in time to avoid them. The glow-in-the-dark lines presented insurmountable problems for the fishermen anyhow, as their luminescent nature attracted algae growth in the dark depths. Anytime sub-aquatic growth accumulates, hauling ropes becomes a problem, as the growth fouls the lines as they’re being drawn up into the hauling mechanism on the fishing boat.

[PHOTO: Brian Murphy cleans algae and other growth from the trapline of the Blue Dolphin II. Every time the traps are hauled up, the buoy line needs to be cleaned to prevent overgrowth and fouling of the line. The barrel has a heating coil, and with the steaming hot water and a stiff scrub brush, the overgrowth is brought under control until the next time. The growth occurs because the buoy line is close to the surface, where sunlight encourages all sorts of species of salt water plants and animals to flourish. Photo by Michelle Souliere, (c)2010]

The LED lines had technical problems on two fronts – power supply and durability. In the end, Dr. Kraus was unable to find existing LED rope structured durably enough to survive going through the sheaves of a hauler, and, as he observed in response to my inquiry via email, “the implantation of any LED within existing ropes turns out to be extremely difficult -- others have tried embedding radio frequency PTT tags in ropes with poor success.” (PTT= Platform Transmitter Terminal tags= radio-frequency transmitters used to enable satellite tracking of animals) It is entirely possible that even if the LED ropes had worked well enough, and had generated a positive response in the whales’ navigation, their luminosity may have been problematic in generating growth on the fishing lines, as had been the demonstrated tendency of the glow-in-the-dark lines during testing.

It should be noted here that throughout the tests, local fishermen have assisted Dr. Kraus's team, ensuring that the eventual solution will work on a practical level as well as theoretical. The next series of usability tests is made possible by the participation of members of the Maine Lobsterman Association.

Progress is slow without the ability to communicate directly with the whales. Each conclusion must be made through simple, regulated observation and slight changes in conditions to observe differences in behavior. Still, each year they get closer to making the heavily fished offshore areas of the Northeast safer for the often endangered whales who also call these regions home.

If this sort of stuff piques your interest, why not check out the Gulf of Maine’s Sea State Lecture Series? The lectures are free and open to the public, and are held at the GMRI’s facility in Portland, at 350 Commercial Street. For more information, contact Patty Collins at
(207) 228-1625 or via – or simply sign up for email updates on their website at

Friday, August 24, 2012

Bats in the... library?

Well, the Camden Public Library had an early Halloween visitor in mid-August this year! This little guy found a perch in the children's room of the library, clinging with his tiny fingers to the edge of an acoustic tile. Librarian Miss Amy safely caught the fuzzy flapper in a glass vase, and he was set free elsewhere after everyone got a chance to peek closely through the glass at their new neighbor. The audience read (very appropriately) the book Bats in the Library, by Brian Lies, to celebrate the little guy's release.
See their photo album here:

Thanks to artist Andy Finkle ( alerting us to this! He's shown art locally here at the Green Hand Bookshop, and loves Maine. And bats. And libraries.

Interested parties might want to know (incidentally) that the Camden Public Library is holding their book sale tomorrow (8/25) and Sunday (8/26)!

More info:

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Augusta pudding thief legend

One of the many Maine urban legends I've been told over the years is about a man who was found hiding in the ceiling of the State Library in Augusta sometime in the 1990s. Up until last night, I hadn't been able to find out much about it, as many Maine newspapers are not yet digitized, and everyone I talked to had been pretty vague about the year it happened. My only clues were that this guy had set up camp in the ceiling of the library, and had a fondness for pudding.

The story, like many Maine news oddities, made its way into a bunch of AP "news of the weird" columns all across the country. When I finally found it via a searchable archive, it appeared in a Galveston TX newspaper article. Once I had the date, and the fellow's name, I made better progress finding the story in Maine papers.

To set the stage, the Maine State Library forms our backdrop. This austere establishment, founded in 1836, is located in our capitol city of Augusta. The library resides in the Cultural Building alongside the State archives and the State museum. The Cultural Building itself is part of the larger State House complex.

As part of the State House, the library is overseen by the officers of Capitol Security. In September 1991, library staff members sought their assistance in solving a series of baffling overnight item disappearances. These petty thefts continued into October and November.

The missing items were mostly useful everyday items -- flashlights, extension cords, things like that. Capitol Security's suspicions at first focused on office employees and members of a recent asbestos removal work crew. But the more noticeable vanishments were food-related. Employees arrived at work and found that not only had a candy vending machine been cleaned out, but two refrigerators had also been emptied. They knew it wasn't spooks, as whoever took the items had left behind a note of apology. Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.

Patterns developed. The staff figured out that the culprits weren't interested in fruit much, but frozen pizzas and especially pudding were favorite targets. Office life being what it is, the employees kept themselves occupied recording a log that tracked what was disappearing and what was staying put. I personally would LOVE to see that log if it still exists.

The staff for the most part seemed to feel sympathetic to the mysterious bandits, and even took to calling up to the ceiling panels to offer assistance if the intruder would simply let them know what they needed. The Capitol Security officers professed themselves "stymied."

The mystery became flesh when on Wednesday, November 20, 1991, a human foot broke through the third floor ceiling of the library, alerting workers to the location of one Andre V. Jatho. He had stumbled while eluding police, who by process of elimination had found his crawlspace hideaway.

Newspaper articles added another character to the script. It turned out that Jatho had company for most of the time. Until shortly before his capture, a companion, the same man who had introduced Jatho to the advantages of the library's crawlspace area, had been his "assistant." By the time the police were closing in on their hideaway, the second man had moved out. Here is another mystery I would love to know more about. Who was the second man? How had he originally found the crawlspace which he later introduced Jatho to? His name is not recorded in the newspapers I have found so far, but perhaps with a little more digging in some microfilm it will emerge.

Why did Jatho need assistance? It could have been because the crawlspace was accessed through a 1 1/2-foot by 2 1/2-foot utility panel, which entered an area filled with bathroom pipes and heating ducts, with no more than 5 feet of clearance at any point. It must have been quite a trick to get in and out of the space, especially carrying contraband. An extra pair of hands for a boost and help maneuvering must have been almost essential.

It's not too difficult to imagine that Jatho might have been somewhat relieved when his arrest finally came. With the departure of his assistant, Jatho admitted that "I was pretty much trapped on the third floor," and expressed doubt that he would have made it on his own much longer. Photos of him being led into court show a small friendly smile on his face, as though he is glad to see everyone and be out in the open again.

Officers found "everything you could think of" in the hideaway, including sleeping hammocks made from mailbags, collections of books by Dickens, Twain and Joyce, 3 VCRs, a crockpot and an overhead projector. Jatho was unable to remember how many days he had actually spent in the crawlspace. Later court documents decided a simple 10-day span of trespass would be left on the record.

Only 20 years old at the time of his arrest, Andre Jatho had traveled cross-country from Santa Clara, California, seeing the country in a blissful fashion until his money ran out. Back in his hometown, his mother, Janine Eichenberger, had no idea where he was, and only learned that he was alive and safe when a newspaper reporter contacted her about her son's arrest in Maine.

Jatho stayed in Maine for some time after his arrest, waiting out his court dates and sentencing, which was gradually reduced to a $500 fine and 25 hours of community service in the local schools. The charges against him had been reduced from felony burglary and theft down to criminal trespass and theft misdemeanors, and even the theft charge was dropped at the end. The library staff he left behind remained fascinated by the events, examining the books and movies the pair had squirreled away, and marveling over their intriguing taste in material.

At the January 1992 sentencing, District Judge Kirk Studstrup spoke disapprovingly of Jatho's "folk hero" reputation, and his notoriety as the "phantom of the library." However he recognized the uniqueness of the situation, and Jatho's cooperativeness in working with authorities since his arrest. Unable to find a paying job in the area, Jatho had since his discovery been working doing maintenance at a local school to earn public assistance.

Jatho announced in court that he would "gladly work with the children" at an Augusta school, where it was arranged he would be installed as an aide to children needing assistance in learning to read better. Once his sentence hours were complete, he looked forward to returning home to California and going to college, and hopefully getting a job in a bookstore.

After the hearing, he smilingly and softly stated to reporters that the people of Maine had treated him very nicely. After the report on his sentencing, his name does not seem to appear in the Maine newspapers again.

If I had to make an educated guess, I would say that a lot of the details of this story still reside in undigitized news archives and in the word-of-mouth realm. The news reports only hint at a wealth of details. This, of course, means I have more digging to do in the future. There are obvious gaps in the press's version of the story which beg to be filled in. If you have any details you would like to add, please drop me a line and let me know!

Information in this article came from:
Lewiston Sun Journal 11/22/91 p1
Bangor Daily News 1/7/92 p7
Lewiston Sun Journal 1/8/92 p1