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.”