Notes from the Archives: The Friendship of Robert P. Tristram Coffin and Samuel Appleton Ladd Jr.

by Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I love presentation copies. I also love Maine authors. A recent donation from  Samuel Appleton Ladd III of books owned by his father, Samuel Appleton Ladd, Jr., combines two of my favorite things in the collections of the Maine Historical Society, as well as incorporating other themes such as friendship, the bond of fraternal brothers, and artwork/illustration.

Samuel Appleton Ladd and author, poet, and Bowdoin professor, Robert P. Tristram Coffin were longtime friends. They were also members of the same fraternity at Bowdoin College, Zeta Psi, although at different times. Samuel Ladd was born in 1906, and Robert P. Tristram Coffin was born in 1892, and graduated from Bowdoin in 1915.

Evidence of this friendship is in this wonderful collection of books and their inscriptions, including some with drawings, from Coffin to Ladd, and his wife Estelle (“Dolly“). “Primer for America” is inscribed: “For Sam Ladd, who spends most of his money buying my books, and may he keep up the good works! With best wishes, in Tau Kappa Phi as brother in fraternity and life.”

Apparently “Tau Kappa Phi” is the greeting of those in the Zeta Psi fraternity. This inscription includes a charming picture drawn by Coffin of a coastal scene, complete with house on the shore (with smoke billowing out of the chimney), dory on the beach, a lighthouse, and lots of seagulls (seemingly birds are Coffin’s trademarks).

Another inscription in “Maine ballads” says: “for my friend and brother in Tau Kappa Phi and fellow Brunswickian, Sam Ladd Jr. with all neighborly wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.”

In “Kennebec, Cradle of Americans” Coffin writes: “Inscribed for Samuel Appleton Ladd who has a good Bowdoin name, is a Bowdoin man, a brother [?], and now my friend, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.”

In Coffin’s “Collected Poems” he writes, “For Sam Ladd who reads my books as much as I do, friend and brother in TKØ, with best wishes Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” This inscription also includes a drawing by Coffin of a house with smoke rising from the chimney, and flanked with pine trees on either side.

In “Captain Abby and Captain John: An Around-the-World-Biography” the inscription says: “For Sam and Dolly Ladd who live around the corner and are my good friends, with best wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” The drawing underneath shows a bunny and tracks in between two pine trees.

Even Dolly, Sam’s wife, has her own inscription in Coffin’s “Mainstays of Maine”, a cookbook: “For Dolly Ladd who is a New England artist and cookery and doesn’t own this book, but I am glad she has it so I can put my name on it and good wishes, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” The drawing under this inscription shows a bird carrying off an envelope.

Also in the collection is a book “Inscribed for Harry Oakes, Fellow in Bowdoin at whose home I spent a lovely Californian evening talking about Maine, with best wishes in Tau Kappa Phi, Robert P. Tristram Coffin.” This is an intriguing tale, if indeed it is inscribed to Sir Harry Oakes, the gold mine owner, entrepreneur, investor, and philanthropist. Oakes was born in Sangerville, Maine, and graduated from Bowdoin College in 1896. He earned his fortune in Canada, and in the 1930s moved to the Bahamas for tax purposes, where he was murdered in 1943 in notorious circumstances.

This inscription has a date of February 19, 1948, but it looks like it could have been written at a different time. In any case, obviously Oakes was dead by then, but his daughter, Nancy, later lived in California – perhaps this is when the book was signed. There is a bust on their mantelpiece of the Zeta Phi House at Bowdoin College of Sir Harry Oakes, so this may have been the same Harry Oakes in the inscription. Underneath this inscription is a drawing of three birds flying.

Samuel Appleton Ladd, Jr. was on the Bowdoin College faculty for many years. During that time, he became the elder person at the Zeta Phi fraternity to keep order, good food, and be financially secure. Sam co-edited “An informal history of the Lamda Chapter of Zeta Psi at Bowdoin College, 1867-1967” (Brunswick Publishing Company, ca. 1967). Bowdoin later eliminated fraternities and turned them into housing places for students. All living members on the fraternities voted to re-name the houses and get rid of the Greek names. The Zeta Psi house, by popular vote, was named the Ladd House. It still stands today on College Street in Brunswick. (Information from the donor, Samuel Appleton Ladd III).

All together, these presentation copies, as well as other books which were part of the library of Samuel Appleton Ladd, give us a charming picture into long friendships and connections within the Bowdoin College family.

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons Photograph Collection

By Judith Wentzell, MHS Volunteer

Chansonetta Stanley Emmons (left) sits next to her daughter Dorothy Stanley Emmons, Kingfield, Maine 1907. Photographic print by the artist.  MMN #26179.

What good fortune I have, as a part-time volunteer in the Brown Research Library at Maine Historical Society, to prepare the photographs of Chansonetta Stanley Emmons for all to see on Maine Memory Network.  Born in Kingfield, Maine in 1858, Chansonetta was an adventurous woman of the late 19th and early 20th century with stamina, perseverance, skill, a point of view, and an artist’s eye.

Her surviving photographs, taken primarily between 1900 and 1930, range from staged scenes with friends and relatives reflecting an earlier lifestyle to photographs taken in Europe and Canada. There are scenes of Maine farmers at work, portraits of homes and villages in rural Maine, trips to coastal towns in New England and a set of well over 100 hand-colored glass lantern slides. These were taken in 1926 on a trip to South Carolina where she photographed Charleston architecture, public gardens, and tenant farmers. Finding a very few photographs of a trip she took to Colorado is a reminder that we know many of her photographs were destroyed.

Hazel True feeding the hens, New Portland, ca. 1910. Handcolored lantern slide by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102400

The collection is in a number of formats.  There are 5”x 7” glass plate negatives, prints developed on Velox paper, mounted prints, and the lantern slides. Some images were taken with a roll film camera. Regardless of format, Chansonetta was adept at standing in just the right place to take a photograph. Her images are clear and sensitive to her subjects.  She had no artificial light source, so therefore became skilled in determining exposure with only natural light. She developed and processed all her work.

Uncle Tristam at the well, Kingfield, ca. 1900 by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102516

Chansonetta (as I am on a first-name basis with her after these many months) was born to a farm family, the only daughter of seven children. Her twin brothers Freelan Oscar and Francis Edgar went on to considerable success as inventors of the Stanley Dry Plate photographic process and the Stanley Steamer automobile.  From them she was introduced to photography.

However, she had already started on her path for a career in the arts while attending Western State Normal School in Farmington. She enrolled planning to become a teacher and graduated having decided to be artist.  Chansonetta moved to Boston to further her career.  In 1887 she was married. Her daughter, Dorothy, was born in 1891. It was after the death of her husband seven years later that Chansonetta focused more on photography and in 1904 bought her Century camera.  She was fortunate to have brothers who could support her in a comfortable manner for the rest of her life as they provided her with an apartment and automobiles. She did not have to work although she earned some income from her photography.

A cooling draft, ca. 1910. Handcolored lantern slide by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102407

Chansonetta had a lifelong partner in her travels with her daughter, Dorothy, who grew into the role of assistant and chauffeur.  They traveled together to all the locations of her photographs including almost every summer back to friends and family in Kingfield.  When Chansonetta died in 1937, Dorothy kept close watch on her mother’s legacy.

Scituate at high tide, Scituate, Massachusetts, ca.1910 by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102606

I have seen and processed over 500 photographs, with perhaps that same number to go.  This may not seem like many in an age of digital cameras.  Now the average person has a small camera or a cell phone. There is no need to purchase film or have film processed and printed.  Chansonetta lugged around a heavy view camera with tripod and a glass plate for most every photograph she took.  Wearing dresses of the time, she must have had some hiking skills to walk to many of her locations!

Little red school house, Stowe, Vermont, ca. 1910 by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102455

Along with discovering beautiful and surprising images as I open each envelope, last summer I walked in the photographer’s footsteps at Wohelo Camps on the shores of Sebago Lake.  In the camp records Mrs. Chansonetta Emmons and Dorothy Emmons are listed as being campers for the 1918 season.

Not all Chansonetta’s photographs are precisely captioned. Luckily, a few photographs of a dramatic performance in a woodsy area and photographs of women lounging on the rocky shore of a lake were labelled “Wohelo.” A brief search on the Internet led me to Mark Van Winkle, the fourth-generation owner/director of this iconic and historic Maine camp for girls. On a glorious summer day in July of 2018, I was given not only a tour and a delicious lunch with campers but also a chance to view hundreds of Chansonetta’s glass plate and celluloid negatives, all taken at the camp between 1918 and 1923.  Perhaps she was a friend of the illustrious founders/owners, Dr. Luther and Charlotte Gulick or perhaps it was employment – we do not know.

Sebago Wohelo, Raymond, ca. 1918. Handcolored lantern slide by Chansonetta Stanley Emmons. MMN #102381

Most of what we do know now about Chansonetta comes from Marius B. Peladeau, who has been a force in Maine art and historic circles for many years. It was Peladeau who purchased the collection of Chansonetta’s photographs, cataloged them and assured that they ultimately went to the Stanley Museum.  It is this collection that now finds a home for safe keeping at the Maine Historical Society. In 1977 Peladeau published “Chansonetta: The Life and Photographs of Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, 1858 – 1937.”  I and many others first learned about her from this book as well as from exhibits held at the same time.

My personal adventure with Chansonetta is not soon to end – there are still many boxes to open, explore, and catalog.  I look forward to seeing lives and locales she captured that are now lost to us a century later.  I hope my work with her photographs will play at least a small role in bringing a widespread appreciation and enjoyment of Chansonetta Stanley Emmons and her work.

For more of her photographs, be sure to browse now and periodically on Maine Memory Network. More photographs will continually be added to the database.

The Crosby Farm on the Maine Turnpike

By Bjorn Swenson, MHS Guide

You may have noticed this old farmhouse beside the Maine Turnpike in South Portland. It stands out in a landscape dominated by shopping plazas and parking lots. A sign at the foot of the driveway reads “Maine Turnpike Crosby Farm Maintenance Area.” The site is across from Maine Mall Road and near Long Creek.

The Crosby farmhouse is one of the few vestiges of the agrarian neighborhood that preceded the Maine Mall, an area called Crockett’s Corner. The Maine Turnpike Authority purchased the property from the Crosby family just months before the opening of the turnpike in 1947. But the Crosbys were actually the fourth family to own it. The Second Empire farmhouse with its mansard roof was built by the Trickey family, who were the first to cultivate the land around it.

Current Crosby Farm Maintenance facility. Photo: Kathy Amoroso

Although the exact year of construction remains unknown — a search of historic maps, the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds, obituaries, conversation with former state historian Earle Shettleworth, and resources on — helped to reveal stories of the previous owners of the property, a history that stretches back to the early 18th century. The house looks like it was built around 1860-80.

1733 deed shows that Lt. Zebulon Trickey purchased 50 acres of land “on each Side the Mast Road leading to Dunston” in (then) Falmouth from Samuel Waldo and Thomas Westbrook, and purchased an additional fifty acres adjoining this land from the same men two years later. Westbrook was a colonial Mast Agent and businessman for whom the City of Westbrook is named, and Waldo was a wealthy Boston land speculator and soldier who bought and sold lots of property in the area during this time period. Waldo County is named for him.

Trickey (c. 1705-1744) and his wife Eleanor (Libby) were from Kittery and had recently settled in Scarborough. They bought and sold other properties in Scarborough and Falmouth as well, and it appears that they did not reside on this land near Long Creek, but in another part of Falmouth which later became Deering. It was their son, also named Zebulon (born 1736) who decided to move to the Long Creek property and start improving the land, probably by the late 1760s. Zebulon, Jr. had already married Rebecca Skillings and started a family by this time. He purchased additional land to add to his farm from Eleazer Strout in 1766 and from the York family in 1789. The original deed from the Yorks is included in the Trickey Family Papers which were given to Maine Historical Society. This collection of documents is almost entirely comprised of deeds which demonstrate the family’s investment in real estate throughout Maine over time.

In addition to running the farm, Zebulon, Jr. bought property and mill rights at Great Falls in Windham, laying the groundwork for the industrial community that grew up there. The area is now the Great Falls Historic District.  His son John took over operation of the Trickey mill. Zebulon and Rebecca raised at least seven children on their farm at Long Creek, and their oldest son, yet another Zebulon, eventually inherited the property.

Zebulon Trickey III (1767-1847) married Lucy Mitchell Skillin in 1799. In addition to running his family farm, he invested in the lumber industry by partnering with Thomas Seal and Archelaus Lewis of Westbrook, as agreed to in an 1822 deed. The couple raised seven children on the Trickey farm. Of the six who survived into adulthood, only one left home: Edward married when he was 59 and settled on his own farm in Westbrook.

Trickey Family monument in Evergreen Cemetery

The other five Trickey siblings lived together, all unmarried, well into old age: Samuel, John, James, Edward, Robert, and Lucy. It was likely during this period when the siblings were running the farm, and after their parents had died, that the current farmhouse was built, or perhaps they modified an older structure. In addition to farming, James served four terms in the Maine legislature. Robert was eventually the last surviving member of his family on the farm, and his biography was included in a book of prominent men in Cumberland County a few years before his death in 1899. He was buried alongside his siblings and parents at Evergreen Cemetery  in Portland.

Portraits from the Biographical Review Publishing Company, 1896

After 166 years in the Trickey family, the farm was purchased by Wilbur F. Dresser, a successful real estate agent with offices on Exchange Street in Portland’s Old Port. Blogger Scott Leonard has written about the Dresser family on his genealogy blog Old Blue Genes. Dresser lived at the farm with his wife Sarah and their five children for twenty years until he sold the property to Carroll and Elizabeth Gleason. After only one year, the Gleasons sold the 120-acre property to Willie E. Crosby and his wife Lillian in October 1920.

William Elwyn Crosby was born on April 11, 1873 in Hampden, Maine, the fourth generation of his family to live there. He moved as a young man to Bridgton, where he appears on the 1900 census as a merchant, working at a music store and living in a small boarding house. He married Lillian Whitney in 1901. Lillian was born in 1871 in Gorham, and living with her parents in Bridgton at the time of her marriage. Willie Crosby was still working as a merchant on the 1910 census for Bridgton, this time for the box company there, and he and his wife were raising three young children: Mary, Calvin, and Rodney. He had switched to farming by the time he registered for the World War I draft, and the whole family moved to South Portland around 1920 when Willie and Lillian bought the old Trickey farm to run as a dairy.

The Crosbys’ daughter Mary (1903-1998) married Victor Tribuson and she eventually moved to California. Calvin “Joe” Crosby (1905-1986) pursued a career as a carpenter, raising four children, and retired with his wife Emily in Casco. Rodney (1909-1995) carried on the Crosby Dairy Farm business after their father Willie died in 1938. He and his wife Irene tended a herd of about one hundred cows by the time the Maine Turnpike Authority came knocking in the late ’40s. Planning for the turnpike began in earnest in 1941, and the proposed route cut directly through the Crosby’s farm, splitting the old farmhouse from their pastures on the other side of Payne Road (now Maine Mall Road). After contemplating whether they should try to keep part of the farm, the Crosbys signed the paperwork selling 223 Payne Road in its entirety to the Maine Turnpike Authority on May 6, 1947. Rodney and his family were allowed to stay in the farmhouse until August 1st of that year.

Crosby Farm, Payne Road, South Portland, ca. 1947

After the Turnpike Authority turned the Crosby farm into a maintenance facility for the highway, the Crosbys moved to Westbrook where Rodney worked in the finishing department at the S. D. Warren paper mill. He and Irene raised two children. Rodney, his brother, and their parents were all laid to rest in Westbrook’s Woodlawn Cemetery.

payne rd pole135_sphistoricalsociety
Payne Road and the Crosby Farm in 1967. Courtesy South Portland Historical Society

Time marches on, and the neighborhood around the Trickey / Crosby farm continued to change. The nearby Portland-Westbrook Municipal airport (now Portland International Jetport) developed into a much larger facility. Then came the Maine Mall and all the shopping plazas, starting in 1969 with the opening of Jordan Marsh department store. Troop G of the Maine State Police, the unit that patrols the turnpike between Kittery and Augusta, also used Crosby Farm as their headquarters between 1986 and 2009.

Tall case clock made for Zebulon Trickey. Photo: Kathy Amoroso.

Other than a few old homes on Westbrook Street, and two small graveyards, the house at the Crosby Farm Maintenance Facility is the most visible reminder of the people who went before us in this once close-knit neighborhood.

Antique doorknob. Photo: Kathy Amoroso
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Fireplace and old measuring wheel. Photo: Kathy Amoroso

I want to thank Kathryn DiPhilippo, Executive Director at the South Portland Historical Society, for providing obituaries for the Crosby family, and Kathy Amoroso, Director of Digital Engagement at Maine Historical Society, for posing the question of this house’s history and helping with the research.

About the Blogger: Bjorn Swenson leads tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House at Maine Historical Society.


Maine Historical Society Introduces New Genealogy Experience

In June, Maine Historical Society kicked off a weekly guided introduction to genealogical research: Find Your Place in History.


On Thursday afternoons from June to October 2018, small groups gather in MHS’s renowned Brown Research Library and embark on the Find Your Place in History program from 4:00 to 5:30pm. During the program, participants explore history on all levels: from the history of their own family to artifacts that help tell the story of western civilization.

“Genealogy is one of the most popular hobbies in the United States, and many of our visitors to the Brown Research Library are genealogists doing research” says Nan Cumming, Director of Advancement and creator of the Find Your Place in History program. “But we have heard from a number of patrons that there is really no guided introduction to genealogy except reading a book or watching a couple of YouTube videos. We have the expertise, the information, and the collections here – this is certainly a gap in the market we can fill!”

During their afternoon session, Find Your Place in History participants dig into their own family story with the guidance of Maine Historical Society staff. In addition, they view artifacts from the collections of the Maine Historical Society and put on the white gloves and explore Maine Historical Society’s archives—off limits to regular visitors. After their work in the library, the participants gather in the Wadsworth-Longfellow House garden to enjoy refreshments.

“We’re delighted to kick off the Find Your Place in History program and to welcome those who have always had an interest in genealogy, but frankly didn’t know where to start!” said Cumming.

Find Your Place in History: A Maine Historical Society Genealogy Experience is offered Thursdays from June to October, from 4:00pm to 5:30pm. Check-in at the MHS Museum Store at 489 Congress Street.

This is a guided introduction to genealogical research—not for experienced genealogists. To ensure you have the most fascinating experience, bring the names and birthdates of a few relatives to your session.

Ticket Price: $75 each. There is a maximum of 6 people per tour. The deadline to register for each event is the Monday prior to the event. Available by advance registration online at or by phone at 207-774-1822 ext. 216

The Waterhouse Family of Kennebunk

By Tessa Surette, MHS Volunteer

full family

The Waterhouse family of Kennebunk has found a new home in the Maine Historical Society archives! This collection of archival material primarily focuses on Homer T. Waterhouse, his wife Bessie (Harmon), and their three children.

Homer T. Waterhouse (1873-1948) was born in Kennebunkport to J. Taylor and Rebecca (Tarbox) Waterhouse. After graduating from Colby College in 1895, he pursued successful legal, business and political careers. He married Bessie Harmon in 1911, and they had three children; Lois (1912-2007), Homer (1914-2003) and Christine (1916-2004).


Of all the Waterhouse family members, Lois is the most prominently featured in the collection. Lois graduated as valedictorian from Kennebunk High School in 1930. She attended Mount Holyoke College where she majored in mathematics and graduated summa cum laude in 1934. She married Asa Foster Kinney in 1938 and they had two daughters. Lois’s papers and correspondence cover her childhood in Maine, her time at Mount Holyoke, a European tour in 1934, her wedding and her life in Massachusetts with her husband and children.

Homer attended Hebron Academy and graduated as valedictorian in 1932. He attended Bowdoin College and then earned a law degree from Harvard Law School in 1939. During World War II, he served in the U.S. Navy Bureau of Ordnance as Lieutenant Commander. Following the war, Homer continued his successful legal and business career. He married Geraldine Keating and was stepfather to her two children.

Christine followed her sister to Mount Holyoke (class of 1938) and later graduated from Columbia University School of Medicine. Following medical school, she was the director of a clinical research center, a professor of medicine and in 1979 she returned to Maine and opened a practice in Biddeford. She married John Raines III and had two daughters.

One of our favorite parts of the collection is four photo albums that contain wonderful candid photographs of the Waterhouse family during Lois, Homer and Christine’s childhoods. There are photos of the family at the beach, digging for clams and Lois and Homer outside after, what appears to be, a significant snowstorm. These albums are a nice change of pace from the usual staged portraits of the early 20th century and allow the personalities of the Waterhouse family to shine through.

Another gem from the collection is a letter seven-year-old Lois wrote to Santa Claus in 1919. Her gift requests were very modest by today’s standards. She asked for a box of candy, a new hair ribbon and something to embroider. Lois was also concerned about the logistics of Santa’s arrival. “Are you coming by airship or reindeer sleigh? Don’t forget our chimney please.”

The Waterhouse family collection (Coll. 2980) was donated by Lois’s daughter Carolyn and contains correspondence, photographs, photo albums, newspaper clippings, postcards, deeds, scrapbooks, diplomas, invoices/receipts and genealogical information.

Support MHS with a Gift to the Annual Fund

MHS collects stories that tell the history of Maine, connecting our future with our past, creating understanding between generations and between people of different backgrounds.

We are so lucky to do this important work, which we cannot do without your support! As the year comes to a close, we hope you will consider supporting Maine Historical Society!

Click here to support the Annual Fund.

From the Archives: The Walter and Laura O’Brien collection

By Jane Cullen, MHS volunteer

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.

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Julia O’Brien-Merrill and Jane Cullen (MHS volunteer)
Jane with book
Jane Cullen, our volunteer who processed the collection, standing next to the collection and holding Julia O’Brien-Merrill’s book “Charlie on the M.T.A.: Did he Ever Return?”

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!