Pages in Time: Mushy stuff from years gone by

by 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 World War II. 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 11-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  9 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.

Useful Citizens Tour: Guided walking tour of Skowhegan’s North Cemetery

Pages In Time

by Melvin Burnham

Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center will be hosting a tour of the historic North Cemetery off Madison Avenue on July 29th at 10 AM. During this guided walking tour participants will visit with some notable citizens that proved to be useful in developing country, community, and business.   In her two volume history of Skowhegan, Skowhegan on the Kennebec, Louise Helen Coburn selected a few useful citizens that “may be regarded as representative of the human stream, which during the late 18th century and early 19th flowed eastward and northward to come to rest beside the Kennebec near Skowhegan Falls, and here to pause for a generation before flowing outward to the ends of the known world.” Many of these notable souls rest in the North Cemetery.

This tour visits many prominent citizens of early Skowhegan including Amos Mann and Asa Dyer.  Dr. Amos

Dr. Amos A. Mann

Dr. Amos A. Mann

Angier Mann practiced medicine in Skowhegan for many years preceding 1882. He evidently didn’t go to school until he was 15, attended Lancaster (NH) for one term and served as assistant teacher in that institute.  Being an unusual doctor, he was sometimes summoned as a last resort because he did things that no other practitioner would dare attempt. In some cases of indigestion he would prescribe “plenty of pork and beans and stuff the potatoes right to her.” Dr. Mann was interested in politics and did not hesitate to share his opinion in his newspaper entitled “Mann’s Family Physician and Down East Screamer.”  His home was located on the corner of the Dr. Mann and the Athens’ road.

Many of the homes and businesses in Skowhegan are constructed of brick.  Most of those bricks were manufactured by two firms in Skowhegan, one being owned by Asa Dyer.  Louise Coburn notes that Asa was the first settler on his considerable farm of 85 acres which ran eastward across the plains on what was considered upper Madison Street known as Dyer Hill. Mr. Dyer ran a brick-yard just behind his home and the business was later carried on by his sons, Chandler and Isaac.  Isaac Dyer, notable Civil War General, is also at rest in the North Cemetery along with his servant slave Morgan Ellis.

Ellis Morgan Freed Man

Ellis Morgan Freed Man

Skowhegan History House Museum & Research Center strives to bring local history alive through guided tours and research assistance at the museum, history related presentations, and by hosting tours featuring historic Skowhegan. After the Useful Citizens Tour, there is one remaining tour

Gen. Asa Dyer

Gen. Asa Dyer

scheduled for this season and it is new.  Early Bloomfield Settlers, Tour of the Bloomfield Cemetery on August 12th at 10 AM.

Participants will meet tour guide Melvin Burnham at the cemetery gate and a donation of $5 per person is suggested. For more information: info@skowheganhistoryhouse.org.

Pages in Time: A parrot gives me the bird

page8pict1by Milt Huntington

We had just come from a Celtics games at Boston Garden and had decided to stay at King’s Grant just outside of Beantown on the way home to Maine.

We had stayed there before and knew the food would be good and the rooms comfortable and quiet. The Inn boasted a delightful cocktail lounge and live musical entertainment on the weekends. A small swimming pool in the lounge was centered in a jungle-like atmosphere. It was a little steamy, but all in all, rather pleasant.

Large columns were located around the pool to add to the atmosphere, and a wooden foot bridge crossed over what appeared to be a stream feeding the indoor pool. During the course of the evening we notice a large parrot sitting in a cage behind one of the columns. When we cooed “Hello” to the colorful bird, it would politely respond: “Hello! Hello!” We kept it up until the bird got sick of the routine and refused to speak anymore.

The next morning, I woke up a little early, so I decided to don my swimming trunks to take a dip in the pool. The place appeared to be deserted, so I had the pool to myself. After splashing around awhile, I sat in a chair to dry off approximately where we were the night before, right up against a column.page8pict2

It was at that point I remembered the loquacious parrot from the previous night. I leaned forward in my chair and peered around the column. Sure enough, there was the talkative bird half-asleep in his cage. “Hello!” Hello!” I cooed to my feathery friend in a high-pitched falsetto greeting. The bird didn’t move, but the man sitting on the other side of the column moved. Did he ever move! He dashed out of the lounge as though his bathing suit was afire. He stole one quick frightened glance at me over his shoulder as he pushed through the door and out of my life forever.

It was sometime later when I told my good friend, the late John Gould Jr. about the humorous incident. That was a mistake. It was a big mistake.

John Gould, a Maine paper industry lobbyist, would frequently go to great lengths in the interest of playing a practical joke. On one occasion, he casually asked me over to his house in Hallowell for a couple of drinks. It sounded like a relaxing way to end a day of lobbying at the State House in Augusta. Upon arrival, I discovered he had neglected to tell me a candidate for Governor of Maine was also there. As it developed, I wound up writing some of the candidate’s campaign speeches. The candidate lost the election and I felt partially responsible for having written a rather biting presentation near the end of the campaign. John assured me the candidate would not have done as well as he did if not for the speech.

A few years later John had moved to Washington to take a federal lobbying job with his company. I had flown down to attend a Maine State Society banquet, and responded to John’s kind invitation to stop by his house in McLean, Virginia, for a libation before we both headed for the banquet in downtown D.C.

When I arrived at John’s home, I couldn’t help but notice a sleek stretch limousine parked in his driveway. I didn’t find that too unusual. John’s company provided him such transportation on special occasions from time to time. John’s two sons were playing basketball in the driveway. I grabbed the ball and flung it over the limo. Nothing but net! Without so much as a word, I turned and strode into the house, knowing full well I couldn’t do that again in a million years. I hope I impressed the kids. It certainly surprised the heck out of me.

I entered the house, was warmly greeted by John and his wife, and got myself another surprise. John introduced me to the then current Governor of Maine. We all rode to the banquet in the big old limousine.

Now, getting back to the parrot. As I recounted before, I had unwittingly told John of my experience in the King Grant’s cocktail lounge. He couldn’t wait to tell the Governor all about it. Then John asked me about my plans for the following day and I told him I had an appointment to meet with Senator George Mitchell on Capitol Hill. He seemed to think that was wonderful.

That next day, I walked into the Senator’s office, and announced very formally: “Mr. Huntington to see Senator Mitchell. I have a 10 a.m. appointment. The receptionist and the entire officer staff broke into a falsetto chorus of “Hello! Hello!”

I guess you could say they gave me the bird!

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