Hidden History of Bangor
"When celebrity aviator Harry Atwood made the first airplane
flight over Bangor on June 17, 1912, local observers were
ecstatic...Flight would shorten the distance between the city, which
seemed increasingly isolated far up on the Penobscot River near the
very northeastern tip of the United States, and the major population
centers along the East Coast and 'Out West,' where so many had moved
in the past few decades. Optimists predicted Bangor would one day
live up to its regal nickname, the Queen City of the East."
One of the things I can look forward to when I get up on Monday
mornings is Wayne Reilly's Bangor Daily News column. Whether
commenting on the Great Fire and its aftermath, the growing popularity
of motorcars, or a thriving business Veazie saw fit to not boast of
during the town's 150th anniversary, he always gives a vivid picture
of the way things were 100 years ago in the Queen City and environs.
So when I finally was able to get my hands on his Hidden History of
Bangor: From Lumbering Days to the Progressive Era I knew I was in for
a real treat.
Reading Hidden History of Bangor is like time travelling without
violating the laws of physics. Wayne's tales, amply illustrated by
photographs courtesy of Richard Shaw, really bring the past to life.
Grouped into chapters by subject, the representative columns cover a
great deal of ground.
Of course there are the disasters that probably made major
headlines. Six young men died in a summer sailing expedition.
Misjudgement on the part of a conductor caused a two train collision.
A heat wave at a time when most Bangoreans could only dream of
electric fans had breeze craving people riding the open trolleys.
(Looking at a picture of the riders in their proper clothes makes me
amazed they all didn't perish of heat stroke!). Of course the great
fire of 1911 has a chapter of its own.
There were also some pretty funny incidents. The great
porcupine war, like so many government initiatives then and now, ended
up costing far more than had been budgeted for it. The mayor's pig
took men and boys on quite a chase when he escaped and visited the
business district. But my favorite story was one in which the
superintendent of the Christian Civic League (I am no fan of the CCL),
trying to prove the immorality of a fair midway act, did the hoochee-
coochee dance for a group of his peers.
I think Hidden History of Bangor, a compact volume that will
easily fit in a backpack, is a great read for beach sunbathing (Please
remember the sunscreen!) or airplane layover. What's not to love
about a vision of a not-so-long-ago world in which electricity seemed
like a miracle and airplanes were thought to hold the power to help a
city fulfill its destiny?
Oh, yeah, that business staid, proper Veazie was not bragging
about in 2003? Let's say it involved the world's oldest profession.
On a personal note, a picture of Hersey Retreat really brought back
precious memories. Back when my kids were little it was owned by the
UU church. As members, we spent wonderful times there with other
members of the congregation for week and weekend long stays: picking
blueberries, walking on the beach, telling scary stories around a
campfire, falling asleep and waking up in a beautiful place... When
it was sold I felt like a member of the family had died.
A great big shout out goes out to Wayne (who is a really nice guy) for
all the serious research he puts into his columns.
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