Garden lilies: L. testaceum, L. washingtonianum, L. humboldtii, and more – they came by the dozens from across North America, and they came to a small corner of mid-coast Maine.
Their destination? The gardens of the Spite House in Rockport, Maine.
Despite some plants having come thousands of miles their travels are not nearly as impressive as that of the Spite House itself. Listed on the National Register of Historic Places since 1974, the Spite House owes its existence to a family dispute from the early 19th century.
When Captain Thomas McCobb returned from a long voyage at sea, he discovered that his relatives had broken his father’s will and moved into the fine house his father had built in Phippsburg. In retaliation, or “spite,” he had an even more ornate home built strikingly close to his father’s usurped house.
The house was completed in 1806. By the early 20th century the house had seen better times and, in 1925, it was bought by Mr. and Mrs. Donald D. Dodge.
Shortly after purchasing the home, Mr. Dodge arranged for it to be moved (completely intact) from Phippsburg to Deadman’s Point in Rockport. The house was braced, lifted onto a barge, and shipped 85 miles to its present location. Once safely back on dry land, two more wings were built.
The following year, Mr. Dodge had gardens installed according to a design by the landscape architect Robert Wheelwright. Now, thanks to a recent donation to the Maine Historical Society, we know just what bloomed!
Relatives of Mr. Dodge donated his documents pertaining to the gardens of the Spite House to the Maine Historical Society. Among the papers are purchase orders, receipts, plant lists, notes on plant care and propagation, catalogs, and letters.
Looking through the correspondence with over half a dozen plant nurseries (most of which appear to no longer exist), you discover the wide variety of lilies, roses, and alpine plants ordered and planted by Mr. Dodge and his gardener, Henry B. Williams, during the 1950’s. Mr. Dodge kept carbon copies of his letters detailing their successes and failures. It’s clear that he was an avid gardener with a keen interest in learning all he could about lily propagation.
Reviewing the papers, you’re regaled with their struggles to control a common plant disease, Botrytis, that plagued particular species, especially during wet and damp periods of weather. Controlling the local woodcock population also took precedence, as it’s assumed the gamebirds – primarily an insect eating species – rooted around in the flower beds, disturbing young seedlings and causing general havoc to the flower beds.
Here’s a passage from a letter addressed to A.D. Rothman of Strawberry Hill Nurseries, dated October 15th, 1954:
I am having a wonderful time in my garden now preparing the planting arrangements for these lilies and planning where to put them. You can be assured they will have every care possible. They are planted amongst shrubs – Azaleas, Kalmia, Rhododendron, Mahonia, Bayberry – but I have learned to give them plenty of room and I have also learned to restrict the roots of the Mahonias and Bayberries by putting in sheets of zinc to give the lilies a head start. The Kalmias and Rhododendron are no problem and the same applies to most Azaleas but some of the Azaleas do have runners. However, I am having a hard time keeping up with my woodcock shooting and getting the lilies planted too!
By all appearances, the time period covered in the collection marked one of the high points in the history of the Spite House Gardens. While under the care of Mr. Williams, the gardens underwent an extensive expansion with a lily and wildflower garden planted in the woods south of the house, installations of a rock garden, an enclosed rose garden, island gardens in the lawns surrounding the property, and the construction of a greenhouse.
All in all, the collection provides a glimpse into what it took to plan, execute, and nurture flower gardens on the coast of Maine nearly 70 years ago!
By Jessica Vogel, Simmons College Library Science intern, Fall 2018
Recently, I have had the pleasure of processing the Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection. The family spent many years living on Peaks Island and in the Portland area. The collection includes a great deal of correspondence between husbands and wives, as the men worked out at sea. Letters illustrate the difficulties of being away from family, the endless assault of weather, and the often futile search for fish.
David Poor was born in Portland in 1818 and went to sea at the age of 11 working first as a cabin boy. He rose up over the years finally becoming a captain of his own ship. He worked for many years as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Captain Poor married Hannah Haskell of New Gloucester, Maine in 1843 and together they had three children: Frances Ella, Melissa Aurora, and Truletta.
Life as a family in the maritime profession could be difficult and lonely as a letter from Captain Poor to his wife Hannah illustrates.
October 5, 1857 New Bedford
I have had a hard long day this time hard luck and everything seems to work against me. I shall loose more this trip than I have made on any other but I must make the best of it. I think that when I get home I shan’t go away more this fall. You spoke of some money but I can’t get aney until I get to dischargin my cargo and then I will send you some and when you write again I don’t want you to rite such melancholy letters for you must now dear that it is very unpleasant to me. I don’t now what I have done that makes you feel so down hearted and speaking of promises I have not broke any that I now. of what folks say about me I can’t help when I am away but dam them I can when I am at home. I am very sorry to hear that Francis is no better and that lotty is sick to but my dear these troubles we can’t help I hope that they will soon get better I wish I was at home with you but I must finish out this trip and do the best I can and then I will be with you
I right as often as any man that goes to sea and when I make up my mind to run away and leave you I will right twice a day. these long and lonesome letters are not very cheering to any one so I hope that when you rite again you won’t have so much lonely in it now you won’t will you dear say you won’t and I don’t think you will break your promise.
Following his retirement, Captain Poor and Hannah spent their winters in St. Augustine, Florida. Captain Poor also found time to charter boats for residents. The Poor-Parsons-Frellick family collection includes stereoscopes of Florida and letters from their grandchildren during this time.
Captain Poor’s second daughter Melissa married Edward L. Parsons in June of 1865. Parsons, like Captain Poor held a variety of maritime jobs. Parsons worked for a time alongside his father-in-law as a Portland Harbor Pilot. Edward Parsons many letters to his wife describe battles with weather and the endless search for fish from Calais, Gloucester, Portsmouth, Provincetown, and beyond.
Sunday October 4,1868 Portsmouth
Dear Wife, It is with pleasure that I write a few lines to let you know that we are all well and hope you are the same. We have not got many mackerel for the weather is so bad. We have got 5 and if the weather had been good we should have done well but we was one day to late the day we came from home some of the vessels got as high as 90, your father, or our father was in the fleet but I don’t know how many he got we expected to have been at home to day bit I don’t know now when we shall be. We shall keep with the mackerel until we get some if we have to go to Cape Cod. I have felt some worried about you since we left but I want you to write as soon as you get this and let me know how you are and the baby how is she and has she got any big?
Edward L. Parsons and his wife Melissa had five children in total: Arlette, Arlette, Charles, Truletta, and Charlotte, however only three lived past childhood. Their second daughter Arlette, enjoyed a courtship with fellow Peaks Islander William Frellick before their marriage in 1893.
Peaks Island October 26
My dear Will, So you have really left the home of your childhood- but for a short time only, I’m so glad of that. Thought I’d send this to you it’s been waiting for you since the 9th. I made it for you and every stich was a prayer for my dear Will. Mama asked me why I was so still when I worked on it. Hope you will like it well enough to wear it. Ellen A. advised me not to send it, ‘He’ll wear it to see some other girl” I replied I can trust him anywhere. Your letters are a great comfort to me. Sat. Eve. I looked and I looked thought I heard you coming twice and went to the door. Did not know then that you were not coming home. Evelyn told me yesterday in S.S. It was rather hard yesterday to say goodbye and to miss you of so much. I just sat and cried about all the time in church yesterday
Lawrence, Mass October15 1891
Dear Arlette, your letter was most welcome and comforting. It is nice to travel but when a fellow is still he begins to think. This is a nice country but there is no place like home. Wednesday eve is a hard eve with me, I can think of nothing else but the pleasant times we have had on that particular evening.
Lawrence Mass. Nov 8, 1891
Dear Arlette, I bless the man who invented writing for that is the only outlet I have for my feelings. You in Portland and I in Lawrence. What would we do without pen and paper. Your last was quite pleasing to one who hasn’t seen a familiar face for a whole moth. Still it is quite pleasant to go away a while and have folks tell you how they miss you. I was sorry for your sore throat. Hope you are well by this time, see plainly that I am not to blame for all your sore throats though I have been to blame for a good many.
Arlette and William were married in October of 1893 on Peaks Island by Rev. B. Freeman who had married Arlette’s parents. According to news reports of the day the couple was well-known to residents and generally popular on the island. Frellick held a variety of positions over the years working at carriage and sleigh manufacturers, Zenas Thompson & Brothers on Elm Street in their blacksmith shop, the Post Office on Peaks Island, and was licensed to sell milk from a cart on Peaks Island.
In her later years, Arlette helped start the Calends Study Club on the island and was known as a local historian. She wrote a History of Peaks Island and Landmarks of Peaks Island in which she remembers the island of her youth.
This collection was generously donated by Arlette and William’s granddaughter Elisabeth Smith.
In the 1920s and 1930s City Hall was the place to enjoy special events in Portland, Maine!
Parades and processions marched to City Hall, presidents and politicians spoke from its front steps to crowds gathered in the street, and honorees received awards and recognition outside of City Hall. Essentially, when something exciting happened in Portland, at least a part of it took place at City Hall.
Below are event images at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s from the Gannett Glass Plate Negative Collection (Coll. 1949) given to the Society by the Portland Press Herald. These images are being digitized and made available on Maine Memory Network thanks to a grant in 2016 from the Institute of Museum and Library Services.
At the Maine Centennial celebration in 1920, several high-ranking Naval officers visited City Hall during the celebration. City Hall was decorated in patriotic colors, and a large crowd was gathered around the officers.
From left to right: Commander Joss Manoel de Carvalho of the Portuguese battle cruiser, San Gabriel; Rear Admiral E.W. Erbele, U.S.N. commanding Battleship Division 5, U.S. Atlantic Fleet, and U.S.S. Utah, Flagship; Rear Admiral Allan F. Everett, R.N. of M.M.S. Calcutta; Captain Henry H. Hough, U.S. commanding the U.S.S. Utah; Captain P.N. Olmstead U.S.N. commanding the U.S.S. Florida. This image appeared on page six of the Tuesday, June 29, 1920, issue of the Portland Evening Express.
In the summer of 1921, President Warren Harding visited New Hampshire and Maine. In Maine, Harding addressed a crowd from the steps of City Hall in Portland and concluded his visit with a game of golf at the Poland Spring House. People congregated on Congress Street during the President’s speech. He was joined by the First Lady and other politicians during his address.
In 1925, the annual convention of the National Federation of Business and Professional Women’s Clubs (NFBPWC) was held in Portland. Delegates from all over the country came to Portland for the event. Many arrived by train at Union Station and traveled by special train cars for delegates. Two women (below) from Wyoming posed for a photograph beside their car and outside of City Hall.
Franklin D. Roosevelt also made a trip to Portland and City Hall on October 31, 1932. Governor-Elect Louis Brann (right), introduced him to the crowd. Presidential candidate Roosevelt gave a campaign address to the people of Maine at this event. In his address, he explained his plans to work with Democrats and Republicans and to work in harmony with the other branches of government. Roosevelt went on to win the 1932 presidential election; although Maine was one of the six states he lost.
Memorial Day parades and celebration in often concluded at City Hall in the 1920s and 1930s. Many military officers and their spouses were honored for their service or honored those who died in service. Families often attended these events and gathered on Congress Street outside of City Hall.
Large-scale celebrations usually happened at City Hall, but smaller events often happened here as well. Many group photographs were taken on the front steps throughout the years: Boy Scout troops, Portland High School clubs, winners of Miss Portland Beauty Pageants, etc. often posed on the steps.
We hope you have enjoyed this brief walk down memory lane to Portland’s City Hall almost a century ago!
All photographs in this post are Collections of Maine Historical Society/Maine Today Media
In November 1996, James Kane sent Maine Historical Society a document about violin makers in Maine, which included the names of the violin makers, where they lived, and their birth and death dates. In his cover letter, Kane described a wealth of research papers on this topic and asked: “Would your organization be willing to eventually accept this material and house it there?”
Twenty years later, in May 2016, Kane sent us 18 notebooks of research papers about amateur and professional violin makers from Maine, including research notes, photographs, and newspaper clippings. Kane died shortly thereafter, in September of that year.
Who was James Kane, and what was his interest in violins?
James R. Kane (1948-2016) was from Portland, Maine, and graduated from Deering High School. He taught bands and orchestras in California for 36 years. His family summered in Maine since the 1960s at their camp on Sebago Lake, which had been in his family since the 1940s.
In 1978 Kane acquired a few locally made violins at an auction, and after trying to learn more about them he found there was very little to be learned from existing data in various books and historical institutions. His interest piqued, Kane researched and collected information on about 200 individuals in Maine who crafted violins, violas, fiddles, cellos, and basses from before the Civil War to the early 2000s.
He researched violin maker names online, in research libraries, historical societies, newspapers, and through writing letters to individual family members and friends. Whenever possible Kane traveled to examine individual instruments for authenticity and craftsmanship. Data collected by Kane verified that 200 Maine craftsmen constructed stringed instruments during the time span from before the Civil War to the early 2000s, for an estimated total of 2,500 to 3,000 instruments.
We are delighted to announce that this collection is now available for research (Coll. 2978)! Photographs of many of the instruments Kane researched can be found in the collection.
This rich collection provides a glimpse into one man’s passion, as well as providing detailed information on Maine’s legacy of violin makers over the past few centuries.
Below are several items from this collection featuring Henry Harris, considered one of Maine’s most famous violin makers and one of the instrument makers Kane researched.
Henry Harris (1832-1913) of Mercer, Maine, was a cobbler and farmer. Born in Winthrop, Maine to Caleb and Dorcas Harris, he made his first violin when he was 14 years old. Henry Harris was married three times: Abbie Maria Hatch, Ruth Works, and Rose Pickens (1840-1930).
“The project, initiated in 1923 by then Superintendent of the Bible Society, Edmund T Garland, involved distributing pages from an old Bible along with large (21’x28′) blank sheets.
Individuals from across the State each copied a page using pen and ink. The desire was for a broad cross-section of citizens to participate.
The oldest was Aunt Mary, a 91-year-old Quaker from Brunswick; the youngest was a 6-year-old who wrote, ‘Jesus wept.’ One page was written by a millionaire, one by a pauper. One copyist was a college president; another was a man whose whole school life consisted of only a few weeks. Another was written by then Gov. Percival Baxter [Editor’s note: Governor Baxter’s page is the last page (Revelations)], and yet another by a prisoner serving a life term. A Jewish Rabbi and a Greek Catholic Priest did their pages with equal grace, and the Book of Ruth was copied by girls named Ruth. Many of the copyists were students at secondary schools or colleges, including a student from Cuba. Each signed their name at the bottom of the page.
There are also beautifully ink-drawn, full-page illustrations. Includes a hand-drawn title page by H. W. Shaylor that states ‘Hand-written copy of The Holy Bible containing the Old and New Testaments copied by 1607 Different People representing all classes, ages, and creeds with Seventeen full-page Illustrations and Maps made by seventeen other people.”
The Big Bible, also known as the Large Handwritten Bible, is one of the largest Bibles in the world and weighs about 88 pounds.
Although the names of the 1,607 transcribers were already indexed (and available in a small pamphlet), we asked our volunteer Charles A. Lane, Esq. (Charlie to us) to further index the transcribers so that we can learn more about them, such as where they lived and what school or organization they were associated with.
After Charlie finished this project we asked him to write about The Big Bible. He said:
“The Big Bible is an imposing document, measuring 23 x 29 x 4 ½ inches and weighing 88 ½ pounds. It was compiled under the auspices of the Bible Society of Maine from May 1923 to July 1924. 1607 persons volunteered as scribes, copying the text of the Old and New Testaments on paper which was carefully sized and ruled so that each page would contain 55 lines of text.
The participants come from many different backgrounds: one had served as a missionary in Japan from 1882-1919; one was the dean of Bowdoin College; one was a young student from Auburn who later would serve as an associate justice of the Maine Supreme Court; the youngest scribe (who noted that her birthdate was December 25, 1916) was seven; and Percival P. Baxter proudly inscribed the final page as Governor of Maine.
Some participants were critical of their peers: “This page was well written by Hazel Dwelley. . . and then spoiled by [a] careless writer. …”
The Bible contains drawings illustrating familiar Biblical stories and ends with several maps drawn by students at the Emerson School in Portland.
I came away from the project wondering how more than 1600 participants could write so legibly in cursive.“
Below is a slideshow of photos of The Big Bible.
You are welcome to come and visit The Big Bible and use it for research. To do so, you can look it up on our Minerva library catalog (Coll. 2951), and call our library to make an appointment to see this special treasure.
For additional reading on The Big Bible, here is a Memories of Maine article about the Bible published in the spring of 2011 by writer Bonnie Smith.
Recently, I have been processing a collection regarding one Maine family’s travels aboard a Downeaster ship in the late 19th century. The family was the Athertons and the ship the C.F. Sargent.
To provide some background, David Hooper Atherton was captain of the Yarmouth-built ship, C.F. Sargent (circa 1883-1886). He married Cecelia (Celia) McDermott in 1856 and had four children: George, Frank, Carrie, and Cecelia. Celia, the matriarch, passed away in May 1881 while her husband David and son Frank were at sea. For a short time, oldest brother George and his wife Daisy cared for the two youngest girls, Carrie and two-year-old Cecelia, until they were able to join their father and brother in Liverpool.
This collection largely deals with Carrie and Cecelia’s voyages aboard the C.F. Sargent between 1883-86. Maine Historical Society was also gifted the narrative East with the Wind, written in the late 20th century by Cecelia’s daughter Hazel Hammond. The narrative is based on a 1932 typescript by Carrie Atherton. The typescripts, along with some corresponding photographs, have made this collection a joy to process! I was tickled to read these similar, yet differing in a way that only a large age gap can bring, accounts of Carrie and Cecelia’s time at a Governor’s Ball thrown by the American consul in Hong Kong.
According to Cecelia:
“In [Hong] Kong on the 22nd of February the American consul always gave a ball to which the captains and their families were invited. One voyage we were there. As my father had to chaperone my sister to any social event I went to because there was no one with whom I could be left. That was when Colonel John F. Mosby was consul, and he invited sister to be his partner to lead the grand march. There were many young men there than young women so when the young men were without a partner for dancing they devoted themselves to me, and taught me to dance. I must have been about five years old. I had a wonderful time and danced until five o’clock in the morning. The last dance was the Virginia Reel, which I danced with my father. I was so small that when we formed the arch at the end the other couples had to almost crawl on their hands and knees to pass under, even though my father held my hands as high as he could. Sister had not told anyone until everyone was ready to go home that it was her birthday, when she told Colonel Mosby. He clapped his hands to call everyone’s attention and told everyone. That was how I learned to dance.”
Carrie notes more specifically:
“Papa had made several trips to Hong Kong and this was our (Celia and I) second trip so we had several friends looking for us… I think it was this trip an Italian Opera Co. were playing. Papa got tickets for the season. It was my first opera hearing. Celia always went and kept her little eyes wide open all the time. We were as a rule on shore to dinner, entertained by friends. This would mean dinner at 7 o’clock till 9 o’clock. Portuguese musicians were ready to play and we would dance till midnight or past. Celia would enjoy this as well as I, as the young men seemed happy to teach her little steps and dance with her. She was always full of life, happy and wide awake, until we would get on board Ship. There she would insist she was not sleepy and wouldn’t go to bed, then there was a cry when she had to. She was so tired she would be asleep almost before I got her into bed. This was the trip too that I went to the Governor’s Ball with Colonel Mosby… [he] was ‘Mosby the Gorilla’ of the Civil War.
Bust of Colonel Mosby
He was a Southern Gentleman. Very quiet but known as a man of honesty and integrity. He held the respect of our governments’ representatives for himself and his government as but few consuls commanded. Papa said he was the most sober, not intoxicated, and honest consul he had ever dealt with.”
Here are a few of my favorite photographs from the sisters’ time in Hong Kong. Though the photographer(s) are unknown, these were all found in Carrie Atherton’s photo album.
City of Victoria and Hong Kong Harbor from Carrie G Atherton’s album (photographer unknown)
A wonderful new collection is available for researchers: The Walter Alphonsus, Jr. and Laura Mae Manchester O’Brien collection (Coll. 2962). Given to us by Julia O’Brien-Merrill, the daughter of Walter and Laura O’Brien, this collection contains the manuscript papers, business records, printed materials, FBI record, books, correspondence, photographs, genealogical research, newspaper articles, sound recordings, and several objects that tell the story of Walter and Laura O’Brien.
Walter Alphonsus O’Brien, Jr. was born in 1914, the fourth child of Walter A. O’Brien from Portland and Susan Ann Crosby (born in Cambridgeport, Massachusetts and raised in Portland, Maine), who were both third generation Irish Americans. Walter had one brother, Francis Massey O’Brien (b. 1908) and three sisters, Mary Louise O’Brien O’Connor (b. 1910), Anna Kathleen O’Brien Gardenier (b. 1912), and Dorothy Elizabeth O’Brien Picard (b. 1921). Walter was raised in Portland Maine, graduated from Portland High School, and Gorham Normal School (later Gorham State Teachers College and today University of Southern Maine) at the age of 20.
Instead of taking a teaching job, Walter went to sea in the mid-1930s performing various radio and communications jobs. It was while at sea that O’Brien discovered a taste and talent for politics and became a union organizer.
In 1939, he married Laura Mae Manchester, who was born in Bridgton, Maine in 1920 but raised in Portland, Maine. Laura’s parents were Donald Baxter Manchester and Ethel Lillian Pendexter, both of longtime Maine families. Laura had two siblings, Melvin Lyle (b. 1921) and Juanita Ann Manchester (b. 1926); all graduating from Deering High School.
Walter joined the Merchant Marines and served during World War II. After the war, the O’Briens moved to Boston and Walter took a position as port agent with the American Communications Association, a union affiliated with the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO). Walter and Laura plunged into politics in Boston and joined the Massachusetts Chapter of the Progressive Party (founded in Boston April 1948). The Progressive Party’s candidate for the 1948 presidential election was Henry A. Wallace of Iowa. He was an inventor and publisher who had served as FDR’s Secretary of Agriculture and Secretary of Commerce.
Walter A. O’Brien was drafted as a 1948 Congressional candidate from both the Progressive Party and the Democratic Party in Massachusetts. O’Brien ran against Christian Herter, a Republican incumbent and future governor of Massachusetts. The O’Briens worked tirelessly to elect Wallace however he received less than 2% of the Massachusetts vote and only 2.4% of the national vote.
O’Brien fared better than Wallace, capitalizing on his Irish surname and the fact that he also ran on the combined Democratic and Progressive Parties ticket; however, he lost to Herter by a 2 to 1 margin. In 1949, Walter O’Brien ran for mayor of Boston on the platform that the Boston Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) not raise their rates to bail out stockholders of the privately-owned transit company. Campaign slogans and songs were popular then, and O’Brien partnered with The Boston Peoples Artists, also like-minded Progressives, and the M.T.A. song was written after the current mayor increased the MTA fares by 50%. Public outrage followed and the M.T.A. song was a big hit and campaign boost to O’Brien. O’Brien lost the Boston Mayoral race to John B. Hynes, finishing last with barely 1% of the vote. Laura O’Brien, also active in the Progressive Party, ran for Boston City Council in 1951. Both remained Progressive Party members who were passionate about their political candidates.
Despite the demise of the Progressive Party in Massachusetts and nationally in the early 1950s, the O’Brien’s continued to pursue their liberal ideology. The 1950s fostered in an era of the “Red Scare” and nationally the House Committee on Un-American Activities, led by Joseph McCarthy from Wisconsin, was “going strong,” blacklisting Hollywood actors, screenwriters and directors and working to execute the Rosenbergs. Massachusetts had its own Commission of Communism and this committee held more than 50 public hearings and private executive sessions calling scores of witnesses to testify.
Both Walter and Laura O’Brien, along with their good friend Florence Hope Luscomb, all three members of the Progressive Party, were questioned by this Commission and refused to answer sensitive questions. As a result, 85 people in Massachusetts were named “Communists or followers of the Communist Party Line” in an official published report. The O’Briens, with many others, rejected this report and vowed to “continue to fight for the rights of labor and civil liberties” guaranteed in the United States Constitution. McCarthyism in the 1950s resulted in the O’Briens being followed by the FBI and essentially blacklisted by the Commission.
Unable to get jobs, Walter and Laura O’Brien and their two children, Julia Massey O’Brien and Kathleen Manchester O’Brien, moved to Gray, Maine in 1956, together with Laura’s sister Juanita and her husband Chuck Wojchowski and their two young children Rachel and Don. In 1960, they all settled in Portland, Maine and lived there for ten years. Walter sold cars and then became a librarian while Laura, at the age of 37, started college and completed a teaching degree at Gorham State College. She went on to obtain a graduate degree in the mid-1960s and became a Reading Specialist in the Gray public schools. Walter and Laura had a third daughter, Amy Pendexter O’Brien, born in 1964.
In the late 1950s the Kingston Trio discovered the M.T.A. song that Walter’s campaign had used, changed some wording, and released their own version on their second album in June 1959. The Kingston Trio dropped the name Walter A. O’Brien and replaced it with George O’Brien. The song became a hit and for a time Walter and Laura were thrown into the spotlight. Walter enjoyed this attention; Laura, not so much.
In the 1960s, Walter pursued his Master’s Degree and became prominent on the State of Maine Library Commission for a number of years. He served as librarian for Lewiston Public Library, University of Southern Maine Library, and Westbrook High School Library. In retirement, from 1980 to 1990, Walter and Laura owned a small bookstore in Cundys Harbor, Maine, called “The Book Peddlers.” The business, also called “Parnassus on Wheels,” was open “only in the summer, by chance.” Walter specialized in Maine books and Laura in children’s books.
Walter A. O’Brien died in Maine in 1998 at the age of 83. Laura died two years later at the age of 79. Both died in Cundys Harbor, Maine.
The Walter A. Jr. and Laura M. O’Brien Collection contains limited information about Walter’s brother, Francis M. O’Brien, who in his own right was known for his love of books and his Antiquarian Bookstores in the Portland area. The collection also contains information about Florence Hope Luscomb, a close friend of Walter and Laura O’Brien. Florence was a fellow member of the Progressive Party; was one of the first women graduates of MIT in 1909 and a lifelong activist for women’s rights, civil rights, labor rights and civil liberties. In 1998, with the help of Walter and Laura O’Brien, Florence Luscomb was honored by the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women. A bust of Florence Luscomb, along with other prominent women in Massachusetts history, now hangs in the State House honoring their many and varied contributions.
In 2017, Julia M. O’Brien-Merrill, Walter and Laura’s middle daughter, honored her father’s legacy by writing and publishing a children’s book entitled Charlie on the M.T.A. Did He Ever Return? The book, published by Applewood Books, Commonwealth Editions, in Carlisle, Massachusetts, includes actual historical facts and a timeline in addition to the lyrics of the original campaign song. It is illustrated by Caitlin Marquis. The book is included in the collection.
We are thrilled to have this collection here at Maine Historical Society, and especially delighted that Julia O’Brien will be sharing her children’s book with us on November 11th!