Author Mark Allen Leslie to speak about new book at Winslow Library

Winslow area families put their lives and fortunes on the line connecting to the Underground Railroad

Maine’s connection to the famous Underground Railroad that helped free runaway slaves in the mid-1800s does not begin and end with Harriet Beecher Stowe. Indeed, people from Kittery to Ft. Fairfield, including Waterville-Winslow, Augusta, China and Vassalboro, conspired to break the law — the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 — forming a network of “safe houses,” hiding slaves from slave hunters and scurrying them to Canada. If caught, these Underground Railroad “conductors” faced fines and jail.

At the Winslow Public Library at 6 p.m. on Oct. 18, author Mark Alan Leslie will weave the tale of the brave families who housed and fed slaves in hidden rooms, attics and elsewhere en route to the next secret “way station” on the “railroad.”

Former Morning Sentinel reporter Mark Allen Leslie

“Some called slavery ‘the absolute power of one person over another — the vilest human behavior and institution,’” said Leslie. “Others called it ‘essential to our economy and prosperity’ and even ‘a humane institution which provided food, shelter and family’ to the African race.”

“Slavery was the one issue that has been able to tear America apart, and that included Mainers,” he added.

And slavery remains in the news. The Treasury Department plans to add Harriet Tubman, a heroine of the Under­ground Railroad, to the $20 bill. Also, the Brunswick home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, a National Historic Landmark since 1962, was placed on the National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom. The former parlor room, where it is believed she wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin, is open to the public as “Harriet’s Writing Room.”

Publisher’s Weekly hailed Leslie’s novel, True North: Tice’s Story, about a slave’s escape over the Underground Railroad through Maine, naming it a Featured Book for 2016. The Midwest Book Review cited Leslie’s “genuine flair for compelling, entertaining, and deftly crafted storytelling.”

And AFA Journal called Leslie “a seasoned wordsmith” whose contemporary novels are “in the class with John Grisham.”

A longtime journalist whose career started as a reporter for the then-Waterville Sentinel, Leslie first burst on the literary scene in 2008 with his novel Midnight Rider for the Morning Star, based on the life of Francis Asbury, America’s first circuit-riding preacher.

Since then, in addition to True North he has written The Crossing about the Ku Klux Klan in Maine in the 1920s and three contemporary thrillers: Chasing the Music about the hunt for King David’s music of the Psalms, The Three Sixes about Islamic terror cells in America, and the just-released The Last Aliyah about the Jewish escape from America when the United Nations bans Jewish emigration to Israel.

A book signing will follow Leslie’s presentation.

Nelsons celebrate long family history with reunions

In the Spring of 1862 church bells rang out over the land, as President Lincoln called for volunteers. In Palermo, Maine, Erastus Foote Nelson was hoeing potatoes. He stuck his hoe in the row he was hoeing and walked to the Branch. When he returned home he told his wife, “Eliza, war has been declared. I have enlisted and am to go to Augusta tomorrow.”

Eliza was left with a farm and four children to care for. Wesley was seven years old, Prince was five, Oville was three, Harriet was two and a new baby on the way. As Eliza recounted to her granddaughter, “I put my wool on my shoulders and carried it to the Branch, had it carded and went to work spinning and knitting. We got along real good. The boys helped real good. When I wrote Erastus that I had a baby boy the day after Christmas, he wrote back on a piece of brown paper, “Name the boy Yeaton Dutton for my two tentmates who have been shot besides me.”

Erastus served with the 19th Maine Infantry from 1862 to 1865. He returned to Palermo and the farm on the hill that is currently the home of Keith Nelson and his sister Jacqueline. The family of Erastus and Eliza grew to include nine children, all of whom were born in Palermo. Erastus Nelson died of pneumonia in 1885. His wife Eliza died in 1921.

The first organized Nelson Family Reunion was held at the home of Erastus son, Frank, on the Western Ridge Rd., in Palermo. This reunion has been held every year since then. Some years it has been held in New Hampshire or Vermont where some of the family settled. This year, the 93rd annual Nelson reunion will be held on Saturday, August 11, at the home of Bob and Marion Foster, in Albion. Marion is the great-great-granddaughter of Erastus and Eliza.

The family of Erastus and Eliza Nelson, circa 1814.

Waterville’s First Baptist Church celebrates 200 years

by Roland D. Hallee

On the corner of Elm and Park streets, in Waterville, stands one of the more magnificent buildings in the city. An iconic landmark that stands tall in the Waterville skyline. This year, the congregation of the First Baptist Church will celebrates its 200th birthday. The official date of the anniversary is July 15, 1818.

According to Jan Goddard, chairman of the 200th anniversary committee, church secretary, and China resident, “Two hundred is a number. Numbers in themselves are insignificant; it is the events of those years that make it significant.”

The First Baptist Church, circa 1955, which doesn’t look much different than today. (Contributed photos)

Organized by Rev. Jeremiah Chaplin, in 1818, the original meeting house was located in a farmhouse on the site later occupied by the Elmwood Hotel, at the intersection of Main Street and College Avenue. Chaplin was the first president of Colby College, when it was located on College Ave., where the Waterville Police Station, Social Security Office, and the Waterville Homeless Shelter now stand. Recognizing the need for the college to be affiliated with a church, Chaplin gathered a few Baptist families at his home, a building later known as the Elmwood Hotel.

The First Baptist Society, a legal entity to hold property, was formed in 1924, and the society sold pews to help finance the new meeting house. At a cost of $4,000, the new meeting house was completed in 1926, on the corner of Elm and Park streets. The main part of the building still rests on the original foundation. The land was donated by Timothy Boulette, Waterville’s leading attorney and state senator.

“This small group of Baptists did not want to depend on the availability of the town meetinghouse, where most others met to worship,” Goddard added. “They were determined to have their own church.” *

Stephen Chapin served as part-time minister until the election of the first full-time pastor, Harvey Fritz, in 1829.

Between 1836 and 1904, additions were built in four separate stages, resulting in the present vestries, classrooms, parlors and dining facilities.

The bell was hung in the belfry in 1844 and the first small reed organ was put in place in 1850.

In 1855 saw the first major alterations to the sanctuary with the removal of the doors from the pews, the lowering of the pulpit and the installation of carpeting.

In 1866 the congregation accepted into membership Samuel Osborne, a former Negro slave, on his own statement that he had been baptized and accepted into a church in Culpepper, Virginia, where the Civil War had destroyed all records.

In 1877, the first baptism was performed inside. Previously, all baptisms had taken place either in the Kennebec River or Messalonskee Stream.

The church underwent major renovations in 1875, and services were temporarily held at the Unitarian Church. The re-dedication sermon was delivered by Rev. George Dan Boardman Pepper, the only man since Jeremiah Chaplin to be both pastor of the First Baptist Church and President of Colby College.

In the 35 years between 1879 and 1914, only two men served as pastor, William Spencer (1879-1899) and Edwin Whittemore (1899-1914).

Electric lighting was installed in 1889.

The pipe organ that is now used in the church. Contributed photo)

Rev. William Spencer, who had a successful pastorate at the church for more than 20 years, shared his appreciation of music and secured the enrichment of the service of song, most notably with the purchase of a new, hand-pumped organ in 1893 at a cost of $2,200.

In a change in the law in 1901, permitting churches to hold property, the society was incorporated as the First Baptist Church of Waterville, thus ending its run as a “society.

A new Purinton organ was installed in 1924.

On the 100th anniversary of the building, the Philbrick parlors and Morse Baptistry were opened, and new lighting was installed.

The sanctuary underwent another remodeling in 1951 when the central pulpit was changed to a lectern and pulpits were added on either side of the chancel, with the altar in the center. This remodeling cost $60,000 – 17 times the original cost of the entire building back in 1826. In 1960, the Purinton organ was rebuilt and placed in the balcony.

The building was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1976.

Many other occasions were instituted in the more recent years. The steeple was renovated in 1990, and the Purinton organ underwent another reconstruction in 2002. From 2002-2009 the Handoll Mission Church (Kor­ean) used the facilities for their services.

In 2010 the lower level of the building opened to accommodate the overflow of the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter. From 2012-2014 the basement became the the shelter’s primary facility.

Some facts about the church:

  • The First Baptist Church is the tallest building in Waterville, and its oldest public building.
  • While many of the ministers who have served at the First Baptist Church have a notable history, perhaps none would exceed that of Samuel Francis Smith, composer of America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee), who served as pastor from 1834-1841. The first time the song was sung indoors was in this church.
  • Rev. B. F. Shaw, who became pastor in 1867, was said to have been the most popular pastor the church has ever had.
  • Every Colby College annual commencement and baccalaureate sermon were held there from 1827-1917.
  • Four former members of the church have streets named after them in Waterville: Jeremiah Chaplin, Nathaniel Gilman, international merchant and the town’s wealthiest man, Asa Redington, the most prominent local Revolutionary War veteran who served in George Washington’s honor guard, who also built the Ticonic Dam, and buried at Pine Grove Cemetery, in Waterville, John Burleigh, publisher of the town newspaper.

When the First Baptist Society was formed in 1818, Maine was still part of Massachusetts (becoming a state two years later in 1820).

Jeremiah Chaplin was president of the Maine Literary and Theological Institution (now Colby College) when he organized his friends to convince them to organize the church.

James Monroe was president of the United States, and William King was Maine’s governor.

Goddard once reflected on a sense of what had filled the past 200 years.

“I came into the sanctuary one morning, and had a compelling feeling to sit in silence for a bit to enjoy the peace, the beauty, the tranquility of this room. Sitting in silence is not entirely true; I may have been silent, but the building was not. I do believe that this building ‘talks.’”

Local and foreign missions were a prime consideration for members of the First Baptist Church.

Rev. Jonathan Forbush started what was known as the “French Mission,” serving French Canadian immigrants. Later, Rev. Isaac LaFleur presided over morning worship in French. The French mission eventually grew to the point where they moved on to what is now the Second Baptist Church, on Water St., in Waterville.

Since 1990, the church has held weekly organ concerts during the Lenten season, featuring many local organists, including China resident Don Pauley.

In an anniversary presentation, Goddard once commented, “Only during the organ concerts held each Sunday afternoon during the Lenten season, does it [ the organ] come out of the corner and is placed in the middle of the sanctuary for all to see and hear the various area professional organists. Then, the congregation and audience can truly appreciate the art of the organist, for not only can we see the hands on the keyboard, but also the feet dancing on the foot pedals.”

Current pastor Russell D. Laflamme.

Current pastor, Russell D. Laflamme, assists in providing a time of worship to residents living in area nursing homes.

“The First Baptist Church, which we in the community use and enjoy, represents our inheritance from hundreds of devoted and generous forefathers,” Goddard concluded. “Proudly, we say, ‘Happy 200th birthday, First Baptist Church!”

The celebration will continue throughout the year with Adoniran Judson, by Rev. Foster and Mary Jane Williams, in July; Tea and Tour, in August, which is open to the community; Dean Ernest Marriner’s Little Talks on Common Things,” by David Brown, in September; Earle Shettleworth: ˆWho was Rev. Henry S. Burrage?, in October; The Mt. View Chamber Singers, in November; and December will see the Christmas Cantata, the combined choirs of Getchell Street and First Baptist churches.

* From an article written by Jan Goddard in Discover Maine magazine, Vol. 27, Issue 2, 2018.

PAGES IN TIME: St. Denis Church observes 200th anniversary

Peter Taylor, from the town of Washington, has attended St. Denis Church, in Whitefield, for 40 years, and for him, there is no place like it.

“I just feel the Holy Spirit in this building,” he said. “It’s the community that brings that feeling to me.”

Al Parker, who has attended the church for more than a quarter century feels similarly. He said he used to travel around the country and the world for his work, but none of the churches he found compared to St. Denis.

“St. Denis is very, very unique. The people there are unbelievable. The community that we have is second to none,” he said.

Taylor and Parker were among the many parishioners who filled St. Denis Church on Sunday, June 10, to commemorate the church’s 200th anniversary. Bishop Robert Deeley celebrated the anniversary Mass (20 pictures below).

“The records of history show that there was only a small Catholic community here in Whitefield when Bishop Cheverus, then Bishop of Boston, of which Maine was a part, visited in 1812. There were perhaps five Catholics. Five years later, however, the reality was quite different. The rich farmland of the Sheepscot River Valley, available for a reasonable price, had drawn many Irish immigrants who had come to America seeking a new way of life, just as immigrants do today,” the bishop recounted in his homily.

St. Denis Church, originally spelled with two “n’s”, is the second oldest Catholic church in New England, predated only by St. Patrick Church in Newcastle. The church got its start when Father Dennis Ryan, who had been assigned pastor of St. Patrick by Bishop Jean-Louis Lefebvre de Cheverus in 1818, recognized the growing population in Whitefield and chose to move there.

Work on the first church began that same year, and it was consecrated by Bishop Cheverus in 1822. The original church was a white, wood-framed building with no pews. People would stand or kneel on the floor.

“The first settlers knew they needed their faith, and their faith was not their own. It needed a community and a place to celebrate Mass. They knew the meaning they derived from the love of God they experienced in their relationship with Jesus. They wanted to nurture that for themselves in the harshness of winter in a new place, and they wanted to hand it on to their children. It is the legacy they passed on to you. You and I are now the brothers and sisters of Jesus in this place,” the bishop said.

The church community continued to thrive, and in the 1830s, the Irish Catholic population of the parish had grown to nearly 1,200. Unfortunately, the church also wasn’t well maintained, which caught the attention of Bishop Benedict Fenwick, the second Bishop of Boston, who visited in 1832. He urged the community to build another church, and the following year, work on the current church began.

“The Irish Catholics wanted the new church to be on the same spot as the old church, so they put the bricks right over and around the wooden church, so they still had a place to go to church,” said Libby Harmon, a longtime parishioner who researched the history and was one of the organizers of the celebration. “When they got the walls and the roof of the new brick church done, they then disassembled the wooden church and took it out through the front doors.”

The new church was consecrated by Bishop Fenwick in 1838. At the time, it was Maine’s largest Catholic church building, as well as having the largest congregation.

The church was designed like a typical New England meetinghouse, an appearance it retains today. Among the changes along the way, however, was a new Italianate-style tower, which replaced the old belfry in 1862. Around 1890, stained-glass windows were added, the sanctuary was enlarged, and decorative work was added to the walls and ceiling.

In 1976, it was entered on the National Register of Historic Places. The church underwent a major restoration beginning in 1997.

“It’s quite a quaint building, very nostalgic, old, but very comforting. It’s a very nice place to worship,” said Parker.

St. Denis Church is now part of St. Michael Parish in Augusta, but it has maintained its rural character, as well as its loyal congregation.

“I think one of the things that maybe is special for us is that families come from surrounding communities. It’s not like being in the city where everybody is right here. People come from afar to come here,” said Mary Caswell, whose ties to the church span four generations, since her great grandparents immigrated from Ireland. “We’ve had, over the years, to be very independent.”

“My mother, she brought us up here, and I still live in this area. It’s just very special,” said Louise Reed, Caswell’s sister.

“It’s very nice. Wonderful, wonderful people,” said Anne Springer, age 102.

The church was full for the Mass, as was the parish hall for a celebratory brunch.

“I’m just very, very happy to be part of this 200th, because it is so significant in the history of the Church in Maine,” said Father Frank Morin, pastor of St. Michael Parish. “People really supported it, and I’m very happy that we gave them the opportunity to appreciate again their heritage, especially the descendants of the original families, several of whom are here and who have not forgotten their roots.”

Among those in attendance were several Sisters of Mercy. From 1871 to 1888, the Sisters of Mercy ran an orphanage at a convent across the street from the church and also taught schoolchildren. Several sisters are buried in the church’s historic cemetery.

Concelebrating the Mass with the bishop was Father Morin; Monsignor J. Joseph Ford, a native son of the parish; Father Ralph Boisvert, who formerly served there; and Father Roger Chabot. Father Arokiasamy Santhiyagu, HGN, a parochial vicar of St. Michael Parish, joined the gathering for the reception.

As the St. Denis community celebrates its 200th anniversary, the bishop stressed the importance of continuing to gather for the celebration of the Eucharist, which is why the church was first built.

“As we begin the third century of Catholic life in this valley, it is a good opportunity to ask God for the grace we need to be faithful to Jesus’ invitation to be part of his family, ‘whoever does the will of God is my brother and sister and mother.’ If we do that together as Church, the Lord will be with us, and we will bring the light of Jesus’ message into our world,” the bishop said.

PAGES in TIME: Maine is the main thing

by Milt Huntington

Just when you think everything good about the State of Maine has been said or read, you come across another platitude from another source that makes your chest swell with pride. Here we go again.

Almost every time I look out the window or go for a ride in the car, I see something else that makes me thankful that I live here in the Pine Tree State. Before I attempt to wax eloquently about my personal love for this incredible place, let me offer my credentials.

I was born on Bay View Street in Belfast, Maine, a stone’s throw from the harbor. It was on those rocky shores I played with my toy soldiers, watched the tides come and go, and sat behind a sloping ledge pretending I was operating a ship. I caught flounders off the Belfast wharf and picked berries on the embankments leading to the beach. I observed the mail boat arriving each day from Castine and the humongous Boston Boat when it docked on the outside of the wharf to discharge passengers from away. No one ever had a better playground than I. We moved to Augusta when I was ten.

To add further to my Maine credentials, I had the enviable pleasure of working with the old Maine Department of Economic Development. Equipped with a typewriter and camera, I was charged with the responsibility of promoting Maine’s recreational, agricultural and industrial pursuits. Talk about a labor of love, I would have done it for nothing. Well, maybe that’s carrying my enthusiasm a little far.

I did, however, serve without pay, as president of the Maine Publicity Bureau. In my days of work and play, I got to know Maine pretty well. I think back on those days of joy and remember attending the New England Governors’ Conference, in Rangeley, which was set deep in the woods on Kennebago Lake.

I was afforded the opportunity to handle publicity when Maine officials went to Fenway Park on Maine Day, and when Governor John Reed went to New York City for the opening of No Strings. The Broadway play, starring Richard Kiley and Dianne Carroll, featured a song about the Pine Tree State. It was called Maine is the Maine Thing, by Rogers and Hart. One verse went: “The fields and streams are like a frozen cup.” It stunk! So did the play. It closed after a couple of weeks.

We also visited back stage during rehearsals with the likes of Perry Como, Carol Burnett, Don Knots, Gary Moore and a bunch of other well-known stars of the day. Perry Como didn’t like Maine lobsters, but I photographed him with a dead one anyway. We orchestrated a contest between Maine clam chowder and Manhattan clam chowder. Maine won in the judgment of a nutritionist from Harvard who also raved about the healthful values of Maine sardines.

As far as Maine Day at Fenway Park is concerned, the DED and Old Orchard Beach cooked up a scheme to promote that incredible Beach area. Old Orchard girls, during the seventh inning stretch, swept the outfield with brooms to accentuate the cleanliness of their white sand beaches. Best of all, however, a ten-foot-long hot dog was trucked from Maine but became impounded by Bay State troopers for some perceived violation of the Pure Foods Act. Imagine the publicity we got with a story about a hotdog from Maine that was arrested in Massachusetts.

I was there for the dedication of Two Lights State Park, in Cape Elizabeth, having written the speech for Governor Reed who delivered the message against the beautiful backdrop of the Atlantic Ocean. Lady Bird Johnson was a special guest when she was the wife of the vice president. I heard her say she didn’t like potatoes, and I heard her aide say, “Yes you do. You’re in Maine.” Lady Bird proceeded to fill her plate.

On another occasion, I escorted a Japanese film star and her crew along the length of our marvelous coast as they filmed it all because it reminded them so much of the coast of northern Japan. The cute little Japanese TV star ate lobsters raw in Tennant’s Harbor and filmed seagulls the same day on a Bar Harbor wharf.

My other publicity score was when I was publicizing Maine at the Eastern States Exposition, in Springfield, Massachusetts. We had somehow arranged to obtain as a model for the day – Tina Louise, who appeared as Ginger Grant on the TV comedy Gilligan’s Island. I got to drive her around in my family car and photograph her in a Maine potato sack. My picture went everywhere thanks to the Associated Press.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Memories are made of these

by Milt Huntington

Sit back, relax, and make a few withdrawals from your collective memory banks while I dredge up a few nostalgia nuggets of my own.

I had the honor of speaking at my 60th Cony High School class reunion a while ago and used the occasion to delve into the pages of yesteryear where fond and distant memories were lurking.

I assured my classmates that some things never change like the Hartford Fire Station whistle that still sounds religiously every single day at 12:30 p.m. and again at 9 o’clock. I reminded them that the State House and the Blaine Mansion are still there along with the old Post Office, the Armory, the AMHI buildings and of course the old flatiron building where long ago they built a school upon a hill.

Speaking to a room-full of Cony grads from here and away, I reminded them of the icons of long ago that no longer exist–places like the Augusta House, Jose Motors, the State Street Diner, Forrest’s Drug Store and the A&P. Gone, all gone, I lamented are our old hangouts like McAuley’s Restaurant on Outer Western Avenue, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, The Roseland, Foster’s Smoke Shop, McNamara’s and the Oxbow out in Winthrop. We still all smile with happy memories when we hear of Island Park.

It was my sad duty to remind folks that McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth;s have all disappeared from downtown Water Street. No more can they visit Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Adam’s, Chernowsky’s, Farrell’s Clothing Store, Nicholson & Ryan’s or Bilodeau’s jewelry stores.

Other institutions that have faded into the pages of time include: the Colonial and Capitol theaters, the drugstores with the wonderful pinball machines, the barber shops, the beer joints, the Depot News, the Army-Navy store, Foster’s Smoke Shop and the Hotel North.

Stealing thoughts from one of my earlier columns, I pushed some buttons of memory concerning the clothes that all of us wore. The boys of the 40’s and 50’s wore maroon corduroy jackets with plaid trousers rolled up at the cuffs. Their shoes consisted of white bucks or penny loafers. Crew cuts were far and away the style of the day. I wish I could grow one now.

The Cony girls of long ago displayed pony tails, up-do’s or page boys, and they looked “sharp” in blue velvet, sweaters, clinging skirts, Gibson Girl blouses and midi-skirts. Their feet were decked with bobby sox, white sneakers and saddle shoes.

The guys never called them “cool.” Nah! They called them sharp, groovy, snazzy or neat. Today, of course, all the younger whippersnappers say “like” and “you know” most of the time. Not all the time, just when they open their mouths. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that subject. I think of the the Red Sox pitcher I watched who said “you know” 32 times in a three minute television interview. I expressed my amazement that a lot of college graduates who go on to sports never learned to exhibit some degree of articulateness.

Seizing my moment in the spotlight, I dug down deep to dredge up memories of icons of 60 years ago and more. I asked them to sink into the depths of their memories to remember stuff like table-side juke boxes that played the music of Frankie Lane, Joni James Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. The songs that continually spring from my memory of years gone by are the likes of Mule Train, Jezebel, Come Fly With Me, See the Pyramids, Music, Music, Music, Purple Shades and a thousand more.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, but they did–just like the pant leg clips we wore when we road our one-speed bicycles. Gone forever are the glass milk bottles delivered to our doorsteps and the ice boxes that actually contained blocks of ice. Gone, all gone, are the telephone party lines, Howdy Doody, 45 rpm’s, S&H Green Stamps, Hi-Fi’s, Studebakers and Packards, roller skate keys and pizza when we called it pizza pie.

I could go on and on…and I usually do, but suffice it to say: “Those were the good old days.” How much fun it is to pause now and again to think back on all the things that we remember of our own particular and special Camelot.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”

PAGES IN TIME: Horror films scared me out of my gourd

PAGES IN TIME

by Milt Huntington

Frankenstein, The Wolfman and Dracula were the trio of terror who lurched from the silver screen to scare me out of my gourd during the early days of horror films. They survive to this day in sequels and parodies, but they’re not nearly as frightening as they were in their original form.

How well I remember, crouched in a darkened theater, peering through my fingers with my hands over my eyes as the music swelled to indicate something really bad was about to occur. My most horrific nightmares and trepidations of terror were brought to the surface by the monsters on the screen as I continually reminded myself: “It’s only a movie.”

Frankenstein

If I had to pick a favorite spook, I guess it would be Frankenstein, adapted from Mary Shelley’s novel and originally starring Boris Karloff. In spite of his square head, borrowed body parts and electrodes sticking out of his neck, he was kind of pitiful as he walked stiff-legged through the film, not quite understanding what the heck was going on. What fun Hollywood had with their countless repeats of the Frankenstein theme. When Abbott & Costello met Frankenstein in the movie of the same name, Costello looked down on the prostrate monster and scared poor Frankenstein half to death. Herman Munster, of course, was the epitome of modern day Frankenstein parodies.

The Werewolf

The werewolf flicks will never die. They go on endlessly from the original 1935 “Werewolf of London” in which a scientist brings the wolf curse upon himself. Next was the 1941 version of the Wolfman with Lon Chaney Jr, whose remarkable make-up transition from man to wolf captivated me every time. The type-cast Chaney then appeared in a bunch of B-grade sequels, including “Frankenstein Meets the Wolfman.”

The full of the moon brought the Wolfman into full bloom with his evil eyes, two big fangs and hairy face and body. Only a silver bullet could take him out. The King of Pop, Michael Jackson, was the latest to do a take-off on the werewolf legend in his top-selling “Thriller” album.

Dracula

The well-dressed but blood-sucking Dracula may have been the most successful of all the horror films. The vampire has been portrayed nearly 200 times in horror films since the first one was released in 1931, starring Bela Lugosi. No silver bullet for him! You could hold him at bay for a spell by holding a cross to his face, but it took a stake through the heart to really do him in. Daylight was also tough on his skin, so he hunkered down in his casket and waited for night fall to take a bite out of life.

I love the story about Bela Lugosi’s actual funeral. It seems that his real-life friend, Boris Karloff, was standing and peering into the casket. Lugosi was looking ghastly white and very dead, not unlike the way he looked when he was made up for the movies.

Karloff was heard to say” “Bela, you wouldn’t put me on, would you?” Some of the humor born of horror films is equally entertaining. I remember George Hamilton, in a Dracula tale-off movie, being asked: “How do you like your stake?”

Lon Chaney Sr. was undoubtedly the best of the beasts. Known as the man of a thousand faces, his most famous role was perhaps “The Hunchback of Notre Dame”. Quasimodo, the poor deformed bell ringer, was enthralled by a lovely maiden, but he was hopelessly unattractive. I remember the scene when he clamored to the top of the cathedral and said sadly to the cement decorative cornice: “Oh, Gargoyle! Why am I not made of stone!” James Cagney had the leading role in the film depicting Chaney’s life and turned in a memorable performance.

Chaney delivered big time with his portrayal of “The Phantom of the Opera” in which he gets unmasked to reveal a hideous face. Several versions of the movie followed Chaney in the years ahead, one with Claude Raines. “The Phantom” was also a smash on Broadway.

Then, there were the Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde films with leading actors like John Barrymore, Frederic March and Spencer Tracy. The kind doctor was transformed into the evil Hyde by drinking some concoction he had devised. Miriam Hopkins and Ingrid Bergman each took a shot at co-starring as the wicked, slutty prostitute. More recently, Julia Roberts gave the role a little different spin with her portrayal of Dr. Jekyll’s innocent maid.

Creaking doors, sudden sounds, fog-shrouded moors and the ever-present scary music all combined to keep my hair standing on end in movies like “The Mummy’s Ghost”, “The Invisible Man”, and “The Hound of the Baskervilles” with Sherlock Holmes. I particularly enjoyed being terrified by “The Beast With Five Fingers” in which a separated hand walks around throughout the flick. In the final close-up scene, the hand appears to be crawling up the shirt front of the narrator. When he sees the hand approaching his throat, his eyes bulge and he grabs at the hand only to find it is merely one of his own.

All the morbid tales of the living dead, the mad scientists and the half-man–half-animal creatures were cinematically designed to slip into the minds of theater-goers like me and keep us on the edge of our seats. Every kind of slimy, over-sized, reptilian monster is being brought to the screen today in movies like “Jurassic Park”. Then we have the movie, “Jaws”, which featured a great white shark approaching unsuspecting victims as the beat of a drum grows faster and louder to herald the monster’s arrival. As a grown-up adult, I handled that scene very well. I simply lifted my feet off the movie house floor and placed them under me on top of my seat.

Ah yes, all these classic monster movies from years gone by and all the scary films of today with their horrifying special effects are designed to raise our blood pressure and send chills down our collective backs. All those vampires, zombies, ghosts, and other grotesque and supernatural fiends play on our fears of the unknown and eventual death. Hey! Get over it. It’s only a movie!

Milt Huntington is the author “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That MakeYou Grin.”

Remembering the Saturday afternoon serials

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

We hunkered down in Augusta’s Capitol Theater to watch pulse pounding, thundering, throbbing, breathless, breakneck adventures packed with thrills, spills and chills. It was one of many Saturday afternoons of long ago, when we watched the countless movie serials.

Sometimes we were mesmerized by the adventures of Superman, Batman and Robin, The Lone Ranger or perhaps Flash Gordon. The 20-minute episodes always closed with life or death cliffhangers, only to reappear the following week with miraculous escapes. Sometimes, the movie makers would conveniently invent a different ending to enable the hero or heroine to escape from certain death. I always remember the time that Jackie Cooper played Donn Fendler in the serial and fell off a three-story roof. When the serial picked up again the following week, he managed to land in a rain barrel full of water. Donn Fendler was the real life boy scout in the book about him: Lost On A Mountain In Maine.

The Green Hornet

The Green Hornet

It was an inspirational book for boy scouts everywhere, but the movie serial was really a stretch.

A lot of the serials originated as comic strips, enhanced by special effects and original sounds. I always liked the Green Hornet and Cato who would tear through the night in the Black Beauty super car as The Flight Of The Bumble Bee music buzzed in the background. Who can ever forget the mysterious masked hero of the plains with his faithful Indian companion, Tonto. I can hear the bugle ringing out even now to introduce The William Tell Overture as The Lone Ranger Rides Again. Robert Livingston and Chief Thundercloud were the originals, and then Clayton Moore and Jay Silverheels appeared in the feature films when we all “returned to the golden days of yesteryear.”

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon

Flash Gordon was a fixture of the movie serials. He was played by Buster Crabbe, and Jean Rollins was his sexy blonde heroine-girl friend, Dale Arden. One of the villains was Mingo The Mercilous, ruler of the planet, Mongo. Flash Gordon conquered the universe and took a trip to Mars. It was the most expensive serial ever made, something in excess of $350,000. I remember it being portrayed in green and white instead of black and white. Incredibly, the futuristic rocket ships and equipment were ahead of their time and materialized as the actual space travel of today.

One of my all-time favorite serials had to do with a guy in a tight fitting costume who could leap tall buildings in a single bound, was more powerful than locomotive and was faster than a speeding bullet. Clark Kent was a likeable wimp. Lois Lane was stuck on the Man of Steel. They were both reporters for the Daily Planet. If it weren’t for that darn kryptonite, Superman would have been invinceable.

Then of course, there was Bruce Wayne and Dick Grayson, the dynamic duo who rode around in the Bat Mobile as Batman and Robin. I never really understood how the police chief was able to send the Bat Signal into the sky in broad daylight . Strange!

The Phantom

The Phantom

 The Phantom was another fugitive from the comic books. He wore a purple and black uniform with a skinny black mask. I sent away for a Phantom ring with skull and crossbones. I also sent away for a full- blown King of the Mounted Police uniform and a magic decoder ring.

I remember Captain Marvel as being a little bit chubby with an ill-fitting costume, but I liked the lightning bolt on his chest and the way he exclaimed “Shazam.” Captain Marvel Junior was another favorite hero, who changed from a handicapped newspaper boy to super hero by simply saying: “Captain Marvel.”

Zorro

Zorro

I also remember Dick Tracy, Terry and the Pirates, Mandrake the Magician, Brenda Starr-Reporter, Jack Arm­strong – All Ameri­can Boy, Hop Harrigan, The Spider’s Web, Adven­tures of Tarzan, Zorro, Tim Tyler’s Luck, Jungle Jim, Gang Busters, Don Winslow of the Navy, and Nyoka of the Jungle.

“Years ago in the Orient, Lamont Cranston learned a strange and mysterious secret, the ability to cloud men’s minds so they could not see him”. That’s when he became “The Shadow,” and philosophized: ”The weed of crime bares bitter fruit. Crime does not pay. The Shadow knows.” Then we would hear his sinister, nasal-like laughter. How much fun was that!

Blondie and Dagwood were technically a series of 28 films with Arthur Lake and Penny Singleton, but they also qualified as feature films. Unlike the cliffhangers described before, they were just a lot of fun with the bumbling Dagwood character and their kids, Baby Dumpling and Alexander. Dagwood was always getting into trouble with his boss, Mr. Dithers. I loved those flicks.

By the 1940s and early 1950s, serials were so numerous with so many boring and stale plots, they totally lost their popularity. There was a brief revival of serials in the late ‘50s and ‘60s, but, but alas, they were never quite the same again, but they were certainly great while they lasted.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter’ and ‘Things That Make You Grin.”

Pages in Time: Mushy stuff from years gone by

Pages In Timeby Milt Huntington

Fifty percent of the many responses I received from my newspaper articles come from senior citizens over 65 years of age. I know this for a fact because one of them told me so. Both responders agreed that they love all the mushy stuff from years gone by.

So, let us reminisce. Flipping back through the dog-eared pages of time, I found a piece about the home front in WWII. I told of air raid wardens, rationing of butter and gas, patriotic movies and buying savings stamps at school. Yes, there were no bananas, and we ate sherbet instead of ice cream. Contributing to the war effort by helping mother squish red dye into white margarine to make it yellow was a genuine source of pride.

Growing up in Augusta was a priceless chunk of my young life, so I described the beauty of early Western Avenue and the bustle of Downtown Water Street. Western Avenue was lined with shade trees back in the good old days, and it had a skating pond. It didn’t have a federal building or a shopping mall. You could actually cross the street without taking your life in your hands. Heck, you could even watch soap box derbies there or ride down the hill on your bike with your feet on the handlebars.

There was no traffic circle at the bottom of Western Avenue–just the intersections of State Street, Grove Street and Grove Street Extension. There was, however, an elegant yellow brick building–The Augusta House. The historic old meeting place played host to the rich and famous and was the site where many legislative measures were lobbied to death but often revived by mouth-to-ear resuscitation. Gone now–all gone.

To our young eyes, Water Street was the Broadway of the Capital City. There were Class “A” movies at the Colonial Theater featuring musicals with new Technicolor technology. The Capital Theater drew us in with the Class “B” westerns, vaudeville and cliff-hanging serials. The names of a lot of the flicks are beginning to fade from memory, but I remember well, and always will, the nickel candy bars, the Ju-Jy fruits and buttered popcorn. I also remember the eleven-cent price of admission.

Thoughts of the old American Legion building by the little park stir memories of teen-age dances, football on the lawn, post-war suppers and playing pool with friends in that old front room. Those, indeed, were the good old days.

Still there at the top of Rines Hill is the Hartford Fire Station with all of its history and its bellowing nine-o’clock whistle. The beautiful train station at the bottom of the hill was replaced by a parking lot. Arlene’s Bakery and the aroma of doughnuts and pastries is still a tantalizing memory. You can’t get your shoes repaired or shined anymore at Turcotte’s.

The shop is long gone along with Augusta’s shoe factories – R.P. Hazzard and Taylor Shoe.

You want to talk about change? Just take a look at Bangor Street. Whatever became of Hussey Hardware, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, Williams School, The A&P, Charlie’s Market and the Esso gasoline station?

I can still remember, with delight, the taste of a good steak at Hazel Green’s, a shrimp scampi at Al Biondi’s 89 Winthrop or First Tee on Water Street. I remember well how great the meals were at Ray Lammer’s Pioneer House. Nobody served up cheeseburgers like John McAuley did at his place on Outer Western Avenue. Then, of course, we salivated over the fare at the Roseland Restaurant on the Waterville Road and McNamara’s in Winthrop. The beer was also pretty good over a hamburger and fries at the Oxbow hangout in Winthrop.

Don’t even get me started about Island Park. Suffice it to say, the memories are many. All I need to resuscitate recollections of your own is to casually mention the revolving ball that left colorful squares on the dance floor below and the 21 Club that got us high on a bottle of beer. It was the site of my first date with the girl that I married.

For the beer drinkers in the crowd, I would be remiss in failing to mention Ray’s Dine and Dance in the lower end of Water Street and Duffy’s Tavern on the Bond Brook Road. Don’t talk to me about inflation. I remember when “dimies” went to 20 cents a glass. In some of those places and in most cafeterias, juke boxes were mounted on the walls over the tables. For the drop of a nickel, you could listen to Sinatra, the Chairman of the Board; Mel Torme, The Velvet Fog; Vaughn Monroe, Frankie Laine, Perry Como, Patti Page, Jo Stafford, Joni James and Doris Day. If you’ve read this far, you can easily recall the names of all the others who helped promote romances of the teenage years.

OK! That’s it for now. I’m beginning to tear up. I just hope that all my fans, (both of them), will think back on all the things that they remember if I’ve been successful in jump starting their memories again.

Milt Huntington is the author of A Lifetime of Laughter and Things That Make You Grin.

Memories are made of these

Pages in Time

by Milt Huntington

Sit back, relax, and make a few withdrawals from your collective memory banks while I dredge up a few nostalgia nuggets of my own.

I had the honor of speaking at my 60th Cony High School class reunion a while ago and used the occasion to delve into the pages of yesteryear where fond and distant memories were lurking.

I assured my classmates that some things never change like the Hartford Fire Station whistle that still sounds religiously every single day at 12:30 p.m. and again at 9 o’clock. I reminded them that the State House and the Blaine Mansion are still there along with the old Post Office, the Armory, the AMHI buildings and of course the old flatiron building where long ago they built a school upon a hill.

Speaking to a room-full of Cony grads from here and away, I reminded them of the icons of long ago that no longer exist–places like the Augusta House, Jose Motors, the State Street Diner, Forrest’s Drug Store and the A&P. Gone, all gone, I lamented are our old hangouts like McAuley’s Restaurant on Outer Western Avenue, Doc’s Lunch, Mike’s Lunch, The Roseland, Foster’s Smoke Shop, McNamara’s and the Oxbow out in Winthrop. We still all smile with happy memories when we hear of Island Park.

It was my sad duty to remind folks that McLellan’s, Kresge’s and Woolworth;s have all disappeared from downtown Water Street. No more can they visit Penny’s, Montgomery Ward, Sears & Roebuck, Adam’s, Chernowsky’s, Farrell’s Clothing Store, Nicholson & Ryan’s or Bilodeau’s jewelry stores.

Other institutions that have faded into the pages of time include: the Colonial and Capitol theaters, the drugstores with the wonderful pinball machines, the barber shops, the beer joints, the Depot News, the Army-Navy store, Foster’s Smoke Shop and the Hotel North.

Stealing thoughts from one of my earlier columns, I pushed some buttons of memory concerning the clothes that all of us wore. The boys of the 40’s and 50’s wore maroon corduroy jackets with plaid trousers rolled up at the cuffs. Their shoes consisted of white bucks or penny loafers. Crew cuts were far and away the style of the day. I wish I could grow one now.

The Cony girls of long ago displayed pony tails, up-do’s or page boys, and they looked “sharp” in blue velvet, sweaters, clinging skirts, Gibson Girl blouses and midi-skirts. Their feet were decked with bobby sox, white sneakers and saddle shoes.

The guys never called them “cool.” Nah! They called them sharp, groovy, snazzy or neat. Today, of course, all the younger whippersnappers say “like” and “you know” most of the time. Not all the time, just when they open their mouths. It doesn’t take much to get me going on that subject. I think of the the Red Sox pitcher I watched who said “you know” 32 times in a three minute television interview. I expressed my amazement that a lot of college graduates who go on to sports never learned to exhibit some degree of articulateness.

Seizing my moment in the spotlight, I dug down deep to dredge up memories of icons of 60 years ago and more. I asked them to sink into the depths of their memories to remember stuff like table-side juke boxes that played the music of Frankie Lane, Joni James Patti Page, Jo Stafford and Frank Sinatra. The songs that continually spring from my memory of years gone by are the likes of Mule Train, Jezebel, Come Fly With Me, See the Pyramids, Music, Music, Music, Purple Shades and a thousand more.

Those were the days, my friends, we thought they’d never end, but they did–just like the pant leg clips we wore when we road our one-speed bicycles. Gone forever are the glass milk bottles delivered to our doorsteps and the ice boxes that actually contained blocks of ice. Gone, all gone, are the telephone party lines, Howdy Doody, 45 rpm’s, S&H Green Stamps, Hi-Fi’s, Studebakers and Packards, roller skate keys and pizza when we called it pizza pie.

I could go on and on…and I usually do, but suffice it to say: “Those were the good old days.” How much fun it is to pause now and again to think back on all the things that we remember of our own particular and special Camelot.

Milt Huntington is the author of “A Lifetime of Laughter” and “Things That Make You Grin.”