Notes from the Archives: A.W. Harmon, Blacksmith Poet

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I spent the past six months (off and on) cataloging broadsides. These treasures are now individually cataloged in our library catalog, Minerva (

At least fifteen of these broadsides are poems written by A. W. Harmon (1812 – 1901) of Scarborough. His subjects range from the great themes of the Civil War to his everyday life, including being laid up for three years due to injury.

The Civil War poems include “Columbia Mourns for Major Gen. Hiram G. Berry.” Hiram Gregory Berry, born in Rockland, was an American politician and general in the Army of the Potomac during the War. He was killed in Chancellorsville in 1863. Another Civil War casualty was Elmer Ephraim Ellsworth, whom Harmon writes about in “Death of Colonel Ellsworth.” Ellsworth was best known as the first conspicuous casualty of the Civil War, when he was killed in the process of removing a Confederate flag from the roof of a Virginia hotel. “Naval Expedition” is about the Battle of Port Royal, one of the earliest amphibious operations of the War.


Other subjects that inspired Harmon include the Great Fire of Portland in 1866 (“Great Conflagration in Portland, July 4, 1866”), Ireland and the Fenian Brotherhood (“Freedom for Ireland”), a shipwreck (“Loss of the Steamship Atlantic: from five to six hundred lives sacrificed”), an Indian massacre (“Sixty Families Massacred by the Blackfoot Indians”), and Bangor (“Things about Bangor”).

6676Harmon’s more personal writing includes poems about his religious conversion (“The Conversion of A. W. Harmon”), his eye surgery (“Verses composed by A. W. Harmon, concerning his sickness, caused by an operation in his eyes”), his brother’s drowning (“The death of William Harmon”), and my favorite: “Pity the sorrowful, composed by A. W. Harmon, concerning his sickness, caused by lifting, which injured his spine, affecting his head and eyesight badly, confining him to his bed and a dark room for three years.”

Good people all, I pray draw near
Attend awhile and you shall hear
What pain and anguish seized my head,
And threw me down on a sick bed.

Affecting thus my eyesight bad.
And causing me to feel quite sad;
Shut up in a dark room, and I
Could not behold the earth and sky.

While others could their friends behold,
And travel round from pole to pole;
Enjoy themselves from day to day,
In a dark room I had to lay.

I cannot see as others see,
One thing appears like two to me;
Had I ten thousand, with delight
I’d give it all for health and sight.

Engaged at Blacksmith’s work was I,
With eager hopes and spirits high;
Hopes, master of my trade to be,
But, ah, how soon my hopes did flee!

And I grew sick and had to leave,
Could work no more, which did me grieve;
My spine was injured, and my sight
Grew dimmer thro’ from morn to night.

Dreary and lonesome, every day
Distress and anguish on me lay;
One glimmering hope was left me still,
In life some place I yet should fill.

Was to my bed three years confined,
With inflammation on my spine.
Ah! Who my feelings can relate.
Or thus imagine my sad fate?

Six months in a dark room I lay,
My strength was wasting fast away;
Knew nothing what was going on,
My intellectual powers were gone.

Distress and anguish filled my breast,
I could obtain but little rest;
Affected badly was my sight,
Yet hope from me took not her flight.

Better to give than to withhold,
We in the Bible are so told.
God loves the give, the free man,
Who helps the needy when he can.

It makes one wonder how he and his family were able to survive while he was not able to work for this long period of time.


So who is this prolific blacksmith poet? Abner Warren Harmon, born in Bucksport,  was a carriage blacksmith in Scarborough.  He and his wife Lydia had 5 children: William, Cassie, Maria, Eldorah, and Velzorah (the latter two certainly sound like the names of a poet’s daughters). Unfortunately, we’ll probably never know any more about him, or how a blacksmith came to be a poet, including publishing his own poetry, often set to music, as broadsides. I am thankful that the broadsides survived, so we can enjoy them to this day.

See the Minerva records for these broadsides by A. W. Harmon.


On embracing Pokémon GO at Maine Historical Society


Maine Historical Society is embracing the Pokémon GO excitement around our fair city of Portland, Maine, and see it as a way to engage new audiences. We’re especially lucky to have many pokéstops nearby and a gym in the historic Monument Square across the street.


During the August 5 First Friday Art Walk, we’re hosting a special Pokémon GO meetup with lures, activities, a charging station, free wifi, themed snacks, and a chance for players to interact with our gallery exhibitions and to explore the Longfellow Garden. We’re asking guests to think about Maine’s history, our collection, and exhibitions while playing in their virtual reality, Which team might Henry Wadsworth Longfellow have been on and why? or  If Pokemon were around during the Great Portland Fire of 1866, which ones could have helped? We’re looking for players to relate the concepts of the game, like using water pokémon to battle against a fire pokémon, to themes in our history.


Pokémon have been spotted around our campus in our store, Longfellow garden, and galleries–they’re pretty adorable. Our marketing staff share in-game screen captures on Instagram and Facebook using the hashtags #makinghistory #shopandplay #historyisfun and of course #mainehistory and #pokemongo (we’re @mainehistory).

MHS_Store Paras

In order to best serve the needs of our community, we reached out to Pokémon GO Facebook groups and asked members: what would you like to see MHS do for you on our campus? One compelling response was that there are tons of Pokéstops at monuments, landmarks, and other historical points of interest but most people don’t get to learn any of the history as they’re playing, and that’s something we can provide. We can share that information in those groups and on our own social media pages Did you know the Pokéstop at the Time and Temperature building was built in 1924 as the Chapman Building, once the tallest in the city? It can be seen as part of the Portland’s skyline from as far as Peaks Island!, as illustrated handouts and person-to-person engagement at our events, and through targeting store marketing. The timing of a new book we’re carrying in our store about the history of Portland couldn’t have been better: we’re promoting Walking Through History: Portland, Maine on Foot as the perfect companion guide for Pokémon trainers in Portland to learn all about the city’s history with this brand new publication by Paul Ledman ($20, available in our store and online). Of course, we’re also pointing players in the direction of our Brown Library for more in-depth research!

MHS_Pidgey and Book

Pidgey’s favorite book is “Walking Through History”

While we know that this trend isn’t evergreen, we’re excited to lean into the unknown and try this out! We’re grateful to other cultural organizations for paving the way over the last two weeks and convincing us to join in the fun, and to Walter Chen at for helping us realize the biggest message: By providing a space of excitement today, we know we’ll be seeing the faces of our new audiences in days, weeks, and years to come.

-Dani Fazio, MHS Creative Manager • You can reach Dani at

Notes from the Archives: Mary E. Weston’s Children’s Books


By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

Over 25 years ago I was a children’s book cataloger at the American Antiquarian Society, my first job out of graduate school. This week brought back memories of my time there, as I was absorbed into cataloging the books that belonged to Mary E. Weston as a child.

Mary was the daughter of James Partelow Weston, a Universalist minister who graduated from Bowdoin College. She was born in 1849 in Gardiner, and later lived in Waterville until her family moved to Westbrook (now Portland), when her father became president of Westbrook Seminary around 1853.

Her books, mostly published in the 1850s and 1860s, accompany a large manuscript collection about the Weston and Woodman families (Mary later married her cousin Walter, the son of Cyrus Woodman, and the collection came to Maine Historical Society through descendants).

Many are beautifully illustrated and hand colored. Although most were published in New England and Philadelphia, several were published in the United Kingdom.

What kind of children’s books are they? Well, there are books of poetry, writing and drawing books, an alphabet book, and a riddle book. There are books about the kings and queens of England (from Boadicea to Queen Victoria with portraits and poetry), dolls (The Edinburgh Doll), birds (The Sick Robin and Little Henry and his Bird), fox and geese, and a book of cautionary tales (Little tales for little folks, or Juvenile accidents).

Untitled-4One of my favorites is A Bible picture letter by Catherine Sinclair, which has hand-colored hieroglyphics and rebuses. The last two pages are “A Christmas letter by Catherine Sinclair.” Pictures of eyes, ears, sun, human figures, animals, ships, etc. dot the book, which tells tales of Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, Daniel, Elijah, David, and other Biblical figures, as well as a Christmas letter and story about gifts given to the poor, a Christmas dinner of roast with plum sauce and mince pie, a fireplace adorned with holly, and a bonfire. Catherine Sinclair was a Scottish novelist and writer of children’s literature.

I also loved Fanny Gray: a history of her life, which was issued in a box with six paper-doll figures. It also includes a background card depicting Fanny’s residence. Apparently this was the first commercially-made American paper doll set.

So, what happened to Mary E. Weston? As mentioned earlier she married her second cousin, Walter Woodman, in 1883. Walter graduated Harvard Medical School, also in 1883. After practicing medicine for only one year in Alfred, he left the profession due to ill health. Walter and Mary had four children before Mary died in 1888. Perhaps Mary’s children, and her descendants, enjoyed these books, passed down through the generations.

For more information about the book collection search Minerva under author name: Woodman, Mary E. For more information on the Weston and Woodman collection see Coll. 2820. See below for samples of the collections:

Goody Two Shoes; The sick robin, Mary the maid of the inn
“A little Robin once fell sick, but none could tell for why…” Doctors Rooke and Owl try to take care of him but it is Miss Jenny Wren who really saved him … “They soon wed, and Jenny Wren became a faithful wife…”Untitled-1

Little tales for little folk, or, Juvenile accidents.
“A pretty Poll, who talk’d so plain
Would often little Mary name;
But naughty Mary oft would teaze,
Although mamma was much displeas’d;
One day she struck against the cage,
When Poll her finger bit with rage.
Those children who would act contrary,
Remember the sad plight of Mary.”

“Bird’s nesting.
George and Henry to the meadows went,
A bird’s next they did espy,
To climb the tree young Hal was bent,
George to persuade him not did try.
The next he gained  – the branch it broke,
When, falling to the ground,
He found if advice in time he’d took,
‘Twould have save’d him many a wound,”
How cruel the boy who deems it fun,
To rob the poor birds of their young.”

Untitled-7“The disobedient girl.
Young Emma was a pretty child,
Though careless, obstinate, and wild;
Upon the chair backs she would play,
Not minding what her Ma did say.
One day to reach some toast she tried,
And clinging to the table’s side,
Upset the urn – oh, sad disgrace –
She burnt and spoil’d her pretty face.
Children, whate’ver your parents say,
Be mindful always to obey.”
[note that Emma looks much like Pretty Poll in the first poem]

“Throwing stones.
Edward was always first at school,
To learn his task had made a rule;
While George would loiter on the way,
Throwing stones, in idle play.
He at length the old church windows broke,
Which for months his pocket-money took
To repair the damage he had done,
So thus he paid dear for his fun.
Boys should take care, in throwing stones,
Of damag’d heads, and broken bones.”

The large and small alphabet book.










Fanny Gray; : a history of her life / illustrated by six colored figures.

Fanny Gray

A Magical Day in History

What a fantastic day! Under sunny blue skies on Saturday, May 21 our second annual Magical History Tour gave over 700 history fans access to historical sites through Portland that are usually off limits to the public. Thank you so much to all of the wonderful sites and intrepid volunteers for helping us make our big event a huge success!

For those who weren’t able to join us, see below for a slideshow of fantastic photos submitted by tour-goers, and a description of what was on display at each site. Visit us on Facebook for photos from Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party.

We can’t wait for next year! Where do you think we should go? Let us know:

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A.B. Butler House (Frannie Peabody Home): 4 Walker St.
Guests stepped inside the former home of AIDS activist Frannie Peabody (1903-2001) and experienced firsthand its charming, historic elegance including spectacular trompe l’oeil painting and murals throughout the house. Built in 1868 for a prominent dry goods merchant, this house is a remarkable example of period architecture furnished with a contemporary aesthetic.

Abyssinian Meeting House: 75 Newbury St.
On view was the ongoing restoration of the third oldest African American meeting house in the nation after it sat vacant for many years. Built by free blacks between 1828-1831, this is the only officially recognized Underground Railroad site in Maine. Members and preachers included former enslaved people, leaders of the Underground Railroad movement, and advocates for the abolition of slavery. Learn more about this site.

Baxter Library / VIA Agency: 619 Congress St.
Completed in 1888, here was the home of the Portland Public Library until 1978, followed by Maine College of Art until 2010, and today is occupied by the VIA Agency. We discovered the modern twist a successful advertising and marketing company applies to this historic framework. Learn more about this site. Learn more about this site.

Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church: 133 Pleasant St.
Built by Methodists in 1828, the church was purchased by the Hellenic Orthodox Community of Portland in 1926. Tour-goers saw a remarkable ambience featuring dazzling décor, hand-crafted stained glass windows, exquisite Byzantine Orthodox icons, and one of only 13 Liberty Bells cast by the Paul Revere Foundry. Learn more about this site.

Mechanics Hall: 519 Congress St.
The Maine Charitable Mechanic Association was founded in 1815 to teach and promote excellence among Portland’s various mechanical and artistic trades. Its headquarters are Mechanics Hall, built by its members in 1859. We explored the top-floor dining hall used in 1861 as a mustering station for Civil War soldiers – normally closed to the public ­– as well as the historic library and grand ballroom. Learn more about this site.

MHS Collections Management Facility: 1000 Riverside St.
At Maine Historical Society’s new state-of-the-art collections management facility, guests saw amazing artifacts from massive electrical generators to ornate furniture, and learned about the process of housing thousands of delicate historical items from our nearly 200-year-old organization.

Portland Police Department: 109 Middle St.
Officers of the law had communication systems in place long before radios and walkie-talkies, including call boxes installed onto city sidewalks, one of which has been restored and is on view today. Participants didn’t let those unpaid parking tickets stop them from seeing and learning more about historical police work in Portland directly from the source.

Tate House: 1267 Westbrook St.
Built for Captain George Tate and his family in 1755, this was the largest and most elegant home in the Stroudwater section of what later became Portland. Tour-goers enjoyed a visit to the attic – usually closed to the public – unique Georgian architecture, 18th-century furnishings, and a contemporary plant sale. Learn more about this site.

U.S. Custom House: 312 Fore St.
Built between 1867 and 1872 to house offices of the U.S. Customs Service, here is a true testament to Portland’s maritime history. Exploring this three story edifice constructed of New Hampshire granite, we took in a gorgeous view of the Old Port from the cupola, and learned about the building’s rich history, unique purpose, and prominent occupants.

Westward Schooner (Portland Yacht Services): 100 West Commercial St.
Millionaire yachtsman Dayton Cochran of Long Island, NY had the Westward built in Germany in 1961. Cochran commissioned the 125-foot steel-hulled schooner as a private yacht for around-the world service. In 2003, the Ocean Classroom Foundation purchased the Westward for use as a training vessel for their students. When the nonprofit closed in 2014, Phineas Sprague assumed ownership of the yacht and has been lovingly restoring it ever since.

Woodfords Club: 179 Woodford St.
Organized in 1913, the clubhouse was expanded in 1923 to accommodate an increasing membership, originally comprised of traditional businessmen, and features entire rooms dedicated to cribbage, billiards and other games of leisure. Guests discovered the club’s unique antiques, and tried their hand at the early 20th-century candlepin bowling alley in the basement. Learn more about this site.

FALLEN HEROES: Maine’s Jewish Sailors and Soldier Boys

By Susan Cummings-Lawrence
Click here to learn & see more via a Maine Memory Network online exhibit

It seems almost too good to be true that I am going to take an active part in a big European war.[i] ~ H H Munro “Saki” 1870-1916

Thirty-four young Maine Jewish men died in the service of their country in the two World Wars. This project — including a Maine Memory Network exhibit  is meant to say a little something about some of them. More than just names on a public memorial marker or grave stone, these men were getting started in adult life. They had newly acquired high school and college diplomas. They had friends, families and communities who loved and valued them. They had goals and dreams. (SC-L)

In his introduction to Poetry of the World Wars,[ii] Michael Foss describes differences in the language of the Great War poets from that of their compatriots of World War II. WWI  rage, grief, disgust; WWII despair and futility. How our Fallen Heroes would have expressed their experiences, we probably will never know. We have some photographs and letters that give us hints of who these young men were, but it is impossible to say who they would have become. What memories, what proud stories, what haunted dreams would have informed their ordinary lives? It is tempting to acknowledge, and even indulge in, the horror and despair of these poets and pass over the enthusiasm of others who served. There were many men for whom nothing else in their long lives ever came close to their war experiences. In some cases, that was a curse, and in others a treasure.

Sad to say, the young men whose lives we attempt to glimpse in this project all died very young. Few marriages, very few children and no grandchildren, only budding careers — if any at all  no synagogue presidencies, no survivor’s poems. We have only a handful of letters that offer anything other than news attempting to cheer anxious parents and siblings. There are some, written on government letterhead, that describe the circumstances under which the son or brother was killed, or that detail efforts to relocate their bodies from far away to Maine Jewish cemeteries. Many of the photos show the men before they were old enough to leave on their final journey, or, in uniformed groups, taken from too great a distance, their faces mostly indistinguishable from their pals, leaving descendants to guess at their uncles’ or great grandfathers’ identities. Family stories are scarce.

Approximately forty years before the births of our earliest Fallen Heroes, and sixty years before the entry of the United States into WWI, an organization that became the Jewish War Veterans of the USA was formed. The story of its origin provides some understanding of the socio-political climate  then and now  affecting American Jews and military service. Local Posts were eventually created all over the country, including several in Maine. The story of Portland, Maine’s Jacob Cousins Post #99 does not necessarily help us understand those who were lost, but we can learn something about those who survived, and those who served in the military, both before and after them. Further, the formation of its parent, the national Hebrew Union Veterans, does bring to light an aspect of 19th century anti-Semitism that continues world-wide today.

For centuries, Jews have been regarded around the world as cowardly and disloyal to their countries of residence during and post-war. In the US, after the Civil War and continuing through the 20th century, an attempt to redefine public opinion arose. In History Lessons,[iii] Beth Wenger explores aspects of the self-construction of the new American Jew that took place in the 19th and 20th centuries. In the chapter, “War Stories: Jewish Patriotism on Parade,” she quotes various sources whose authors point out, for example, that Jews coming to the US from Europe had centuries of catastrophes weighing on their new lives,[iv] or perhaps in some cases a particular ardor for revenge against Spain, as motives for their participation in the Spanish-American War of 1898.[v] Moreover, those experiences, and more recent ones endured in European wars, such as attempts by Russia to convert Jews, through conscription, to Russian Orthodoxy,[vi] inspired many to endeavor to create an improved, “more masculine,” loyal Jewish male who would readily serve in his new country’s armed forces. Wenger’s assertion is that while certain aspects of these endeavors surely were defensive, mainly they were part of a broader campaign to construct the new Jewish American.[vii]  As will likely be obvious to anyone who reads the news in 2015, these efforts almost certainly did far more to further the creation of the new American Jewish image than they did to persuade detractors of Jewish loyalty.

Long after the early 20th century immigrant strivings at least to moderate this particular manifestation of anti-Semitism, it persists. The handy thing about a stereotype is that it can be reversed so as to double its utility; besides being condemned as disloyal, Jews have been criticized for being too loyal  to each other. More recently, they are viewed as being too loyal to Israel. This trope has surged world-wide in the past year, subsequent to the 2014 Israel–Gaza conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge.

Recently, the online news service, The Intercept, reported on a court ruling regarding US government surveillance of Muslim-Americans; it seems no one is exempt from this particular assigned status of political otherness. “In its ruling, the court (Third Circuit Court of Appeals) took pains to position the mass-surveillance of Muslim-Americans within a broader historical context of misguided suspicion and hostility towards minority communities in the United States. In a strongly worded opinion, the court wrote that, “We have been down similar roads before. Jewish-Americans during the Red Scare, African-Americans during the Civil Rights Movement, and Japanese-Americans during World War II.” Citing another decision, it added that “we are left to wonder why we cannot see with foresight what we see so clearly with hindsight — that ‘loyalty is a matter of the heart and mind, not race, creed, or color.’”[viii]

In an effort to combat such accusations of cowardice, loyalty and disloyalty, in 1896 “a group of Jewish Civil War veterans organized the Hebrew Union Veterans, an organization that was later to become the Jewish War Veterans of the USA (JWV-USA). The organization was founded as a direct result of slander that Jews had not participated in the military during the War Between the States. What concerned Jewish veterans then, and throughout America’s history, concerns Jewish veterans today. Jews must still defend themselves against the canards of anti-Semites who continue to declare that Jews have not served in the US Armed Forces.” [ix]

The JWV-USA, the oldest veterans’ organization in the US, currently has about 37,000 members. Its founding mission stresses the promise that Jews will demonstrate their sincere allegiance and Americanism, among other worthy correctives.

We, citizens of the United States of America, of the Jewish faith, who served in the Wars of the United States of America, in order that we may be of greater service to our country and to one another, associate ourselves together for the following purposes:

To maintain true allegiance to the United States of America; to foster and perpetuate true Americanism; to combat whatever tends to impair the efficiency and permanency of our free institutions; to uphold the fair name of the Jew and fight his or her battles wherever unjustly assailed; to encourage the doctrine of universal liberty, equal rights, and full justice to all men and women; to combat the powers of bigotry and darkness wherever originating and whatever their target; to preserve the spirit of comradeship by mutual helpfulness to comrades and their families; to cooperate with and support existing educational institutions and establish educational institutions, and to foster the education of ex-servicemen and ex-servicewomen, and our members in the ideals and principles of Americanism; to instill love of country and flag, and to promote sound minds and bodies in our members and our youth; to preserve the memories and records of patriotic service performed by the men and women of our faith; to honor their memory and shield from neglect the graves of our heroic dead.[x]

In September, 1935, the Jacob Cousins Post #99 of the JWV-USA, named for the first Jew in Portland killed in WWI, was dedicated in a ceremony on the Eastern Promenade, overlooking the islands of Casco Bay. Many dignitaries were present, including state representatives, Portland’s mayor and JWV national officers, as well as 2,000 other people.  The Portland Press Herald reported, “Colonel Mendelsohn, who lost an arm in the Spanish-American War, said that the patriotism is the guiding star of the American Hebrew. ‘In deeds of daring in the World War the Jewish soldier was second to none.’”[xi]

“’Jacob Cousins left a torch for us to carry.’ With these words, Jean Mathis of New York, one of the America’s outstanding World War heroes, epitomized the sentiment expressed by several speakers Sunday afternoon when more than 2,000 persons gathered on the Eastern Promenade esplanade to assist the Jacob Cousins Post, Jewish War Veterans, in the dedication of a memorial boulder. It was presented to David Sivovlos Commander of the Post. “ “‘Jacob Cousins gave his life to make the world safe for democracy and today we want no Nazism, no Fascism, no communism. We want pure Americanism.’” [xii]   Exemplifying American Jews’ desire to overcome doubt in their fellow citizens, Mathis took his final sentence directly from the JWV mission statement.

Cousins is one of five Jewish soldiers to have a veterans’ post named for him. The other posts are the Milton J. Ward Post JWV #484 in Auburn; the Osher-Edelstein JWV Post in Biddeford, in honor of Louis Osherowitz and Albert Edelstein; JWV Post #507 in Bangor; and, the Martin-Klein American Legion Post #133 in Fort Kent, which was named after Jewish soldier Kenneth Klein and Franco-American soldier George F. Martin. These young men were among the first to volunteer and the first two soldiers from the Ft. Kent area to be killed. They were members of Company D of the 103 Infantry and were killed May 10, 1918 on the Meuse Argonne Defensive sector. [xiii]

In Portland, charter members of the Jacob Cousins Post include Abraham Weisman, David Sivovlos, William Perlin, Leo Golodetz, Lewis Abramson, Harry Weinman, Sam Shrensker, Benjamin Troen, Louis Grinker, Manuel Berenson, Maurice Davis, Abraham Venner, Samuel Ross, Philip Gold, Philip Solomon, Abraham Bernstein, Louis Bernstein and Max Rice.[xiv] In May 1936, an auxiliary was formed; Mrs. Maurice Davis was its first president. Among other projects, the group developed an extensive hospital service for veterans at the Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Kittery and the Marine Hospital in Portland. [xv] Records detailing Post membership numbers over the years are not available from either Jacob Cousins or the National office. Currently, there are a handful of active members; the two other posts have long been decommissioned.

The activities of the Post focused on the Jewish community of the Greater Portland area. At the time the Post was most active, the community as a whole was most active.  Synagogues were full weekly, as well as for holidays and special events. The Jewish Community Center purchased its new building on Cumberland Avenue in 1938 and was buzzing with community and civic enterprises. After years of fundraising and planning by the Young Women’s Hebrew Association, the Jewish Home for Aged, now The Cedars, opened its doors in 1929. Zionist, civic and literary groups proliferated. After 1935, the Cousins Post was an integral part of the Portland Jewish community scene.  There were flag dedications, Memorial Day worship services and sponsorship of community events, such as Yom HaAtzmaut. In May, 1936, the Post sponsored the first memorial service for Jews who served in the Army and Navy. Attorney Jacob H. Berman spoke on behalf of the Post and Rabbi Mendel Lewittes was the officiant.[xvi]

The Post’s records contain a copy of a letter addressed to Esther Gerber, sister of Jacob Cousins, from Commander Solomon Crasnick, of Portland’s Harold T Andrews Post No. 17, American Legion, dated August 10, 1936. The letter describes the award of an engraved saber to Victor Lebednic, “in memory of Jacob Cousins, who gave his life for his country on the field of honor.” Lebednic was the outstanding Citizens Military Training Camp candidate for that year. [xvii]

In 1935, at the well-attended Post dedication on the Eastern Promenade, “State Rep. Udell Bramson, representing Gov. Louis J Brann declared that ‘the memory of this occasion will remain throughout the history of Maine.’” [xviii] This has, of course, proved not to be true. The aim of the Fallen Heroes project is to have us consider, even fleetingly, the men who founded the Jacob Cousins Post, its story, which is almost concluded, and those lost men whose youthful faces look out at us from faded photographs.

At least thirty-four Maine Jewish men were killed on active duty during WWI and WWII. Some were killed on the battlefield, one died of meningitis, one drowned at sea, one teenager was killed by a train while on guard duty, one or two died later of wounds. All of them were serving their country, regardless of the manner of death. It is good to remember that two thirds of the 750,000[xix] Civil War deaths were the result of disease.[xx] We have accepted in recent years that soldiers who kill themselves, either on duty or later in life, related to the trauma of their service, should also be considered fatalities. Many who served in the Vietnam era conflict have been dying for decades of illnesses associated with exposure to toxic herbicides, such as Agent Orange, that had been deployed as weapons.[xxi]  We know that chlorine, phosgene and mustard gasses caused illness and deaths not only on the battlefield; deaths occurred among both former soldiers and home front chemical workers after WWI. [xxii] And, of course, countless tales about some doomed soul with “shell shock” in books, films and hushed family whispers are woven throughout the history of US wars and conflicts. But we do not know how Maine Jewish soldiers were affected in these ways and so those stories will not appear.

In the instance of Jacob Cousins, as with many others of the thirty-four, descendants, personal stories, documents and photographs are “lost.” The Portland Press Herald article from 1935 cited above includes a number of photographs of the dedication event and of Cousins, but the original glass plate or other negatives cannot be traced. A portrait of Jacob is depicted on the memorial stone placed on Portland’s Eastern Promenade, and his military photo can be seen in the news article, so at least we know what he looked like. But no photos of Jacob Cousins are included in the Fallen Heroes exhibit. The same is true with Louis Osherowitz and Albert Edelstein. After their deaths they were important enough to have been memorialized in their communities by having a JWV Post named for them.  Unfortunately, images of them cannot be found and no other information was available.

From Ft. Kent and Van Buren to York County, and from the coast to the White Mountains, young Jewish men served in WWI and WWII. Nationally, 250,000 Jewish men enlisted in WWI. Although Jews were only 3% of the American population, they represented 5% of all those in the armed forces. [xxiii] During WWII, over 500,000 American Jews served.[xxiv] We know that Maine gave its share of Jewish soldiers; among our thirty-four casualties are two sets of brothers: the Solomon’s, Frank and Charles  David served and survived  and the Klein’s, Samuel and Kenneth, twins, who are buried together in a Bangor cemetery. Norway high school student, Peter Klain, was one of seven siblings, out of eleven, who served in WWI. Sam Citrin was an attorney, newly married, and stationed a mere five miles from his Portland home when he died. Another was graduated from Harvard, attended Harvard Business School, worked in his family business briefly and then enlisted.

Although these men left few mementoes of their too brief lives and of the contributions to their wars, that is all the more reason we think they deserve a memorial that is more than a name engraved on a stone. We want the general community to be made aware of  and given an additional opportunity to pay their respects to  these young men and their place in the history of both the United States and Maine.

“…My friend you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.”
Wilfred Owen (1893-1918)


[i] Cross, T. 1988. An International Anthology of Writers, Poets & Playwrights: The Lost Voices of World War I. University of Iowa Press, Iowa City.
[ii] Foss, M. Ed., 1990. Poetry of the World Wars. Peter Bedrick Books, New York.
[iii] Wenger, B. 2010. History Lessons: The Creation of American Jewish Heritage. Princeton University Press.
[iv] Ibid. p. 98
[v] Ibid. pp. 100-103
[vi] Ibid. p. 97
[vii] Ibid. p. 96
[viii] Hussein, M. The Intercept. October 13, 2015.
[ix]  Jewish War Veterans of the USA website.
[x] Ibid.
[xi] Portland Press Herald. Portland, Maine. 1935.
[xii] Ibid.
[xiv] Band, B. 1955.  Portland Jewry: Its Growth and Development. Portland, ME: Jewish Historical Society. p. 58.
[xv] Ibid., p. 56
[xvi] Lewiston Evening Journal, Lewiston, Maine. May 18, 1936.
[xvii] of the National Archives for more information about the Citizens Military Training Camp and many interesting photographs.
[xviii] Portland Press Herald. op cit. 1935.
[xix] Gugliotta, G.  4-2-2012. New Estimate Raises Civil War Death Toll. New York Times.
[xx] Burns, R. 2012. Death and the Civil War. PBS American Experience.
[xxi]  The Veterans Administration website lists 14 classes of presumptive diseases believed to be linked to Agent Orange and other herbicides.
[xxii] Fitzgerald, G. 2008. Chemical Warfare and Medical Response during World War I. Am J Public Health.  98(4): 611-625
[xxiii] Fredman and Falk. Jews in American Wars.  p.78. In Wenger.
[xxiv] Bureau of War Records of the Jewish Welfare Board. American Jews in World War II: The Story of 550,000 Fighters for Freedom. New York: Dial Press, 1947. In Wenger.

Magical History Tour 2016

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Maine Historical Society’s biggest event of the year is this weekend! Taking place Saturday, May 21 from 10am-4pm, the Magical History Tour is a self-guided exploration of historical places in Portland that are not usually open to the public, with access granted to a dozen little-known gems downtown and beyond that many have never seen, and maybe didn’t even know exist. The mystery sites will be revealed at Mr. Longfellow’s Cocktail Party on Friday, May 20 at the U.S. Custom House. Located adjacent to Portland’s waterfront, this historically rich and mysterious building is usually closed to the public, but not for our guests.

During the party, auctioneer Thomas Saturley, President of Tranzon Auction Properties, will preside over a live auction – see the list below so you can hit the ground bidding! Guests will also enjoy a silent auction featuring food, travel, games, and adventures. Get excited!

Isla Mujeres_1Week stay in Mexico house on Isla Mujeres (Value: $2,065)
Located on idyllic 4 1⁄2 mile long Isla Mujeres (Island of Women) and a quick 20-minute ferry ride from Cancun, Villa Adioso is a charming 2-bedroom 2-bath private home with complete kitchen, roof-top palapa (with 2 hammocks), enclosed green and lush courtyard with fountain, refreshing plunge pool, washer/dryer, and breathtaking views of the Caribbean Sea and The Bay of Mujeres (watch both the sunrise and sunset from the house). Rated one the 8 Best Islands in the World for Food by Islands Magazine in 2007 and it’s only gotten better since. Walking distance (12-15 minutes) from ferry, beaches, and downtown.

halloween-baptism-christmas-party-5423Greek Dinner for 12 (Value: $1,500)
Two Greek Gals (MHS Trustees Jean Gulliver and Penny Carson) invite you to enjoy Greek wine, food, dessert, and music in a Falmouth home.

Custom Chef’s Dinner For 8 (Value: $2,100)
Enjoy dinner prepared by Chef Candice Lee, a 2007 graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC having been taught by chefs such as Jacques Pepin and Andre Soltner, among many others. Choose from three menus comprised of four courses with wine pairings preceded by cocktails. The chic and comfortable setting leads to excellent conversation.

HomerforWeb5A Day in Prouts Neck (Value: $750)
Spend a day in Prouts Neck, a summer enclave for generations of families in Scarborough. Tour the historic studio and home of Winslow Homer. Take in the beautiful ocean views on the Cliff Walk, a one-mile rocky walk along the shoreline. Afterwards, walk down to the Black Point Inn for dinner.

L.L.Bean Manatee Kayak (Value: $580)
L.L.Bean’s bestselling Manatee kayak is a stable, comfortable recreational kayak for calm to lightly windy conditions, boasting features typically seen only on more expensive boats. A full 10 feet in length and with a sleek hull shape, its roomy cockpit accommodates paddlers of most sizes. The Manatee tracks better than similar kayaks without sacrificing stability and speed.

Sugarloaf Ski Vacation & Scenic Flight ($1,640)
Screen Shot 2016-05-18 at 11.33.57 AMEnjoy Maine’s premier ski resort for four days and three nights in December, January, February or March for the 2016-17 season. The ski-in/ski-out Commons II condo sleeps six people – two bedrooms with king beds and one room with two twin beds. This three-level vacation home also features a kitchen, living and dining spaces, two bathrooms, and a fireplace. Located in close proximity to the lifts and fitness center, and an easy walk to the base lodge. A great winter getaway for you and your friends or family! Mutually convenient dates to be arranged with the owner. PLUS! Enjoy a half-hour scenic flight from Sugarloaf Aviation giving you an opportunity to enjoy an unmatched perspective of this amazingly rugged part of Maine.

Notes from the Archives: Tales of the Titanic

By Nancy Noble, MHS Archivist/Cataloger

I recently came across a t.l.s (typed letter signed, to use manuscript-speak) tucked into the back pocket of a volume of the Somerset Railway records. While researching the author of the letter, I plunged down a rabbit hole of a tale that led me to a Titanic story involving a Maine family.

Titanic - Coll. S-7859The letterhead said “Mrs. Percival W. White, 275 Maine Street, Brunswick, Maine.” The letter was signed by Edith F. White, and written to “Edward,” dated January 14, 1930. Edith asks Edward for help figuring out her accounts, probably for her taxes. In the letter she mentions “the four children.”

Who was this Edith Frazar Wheeler White? She was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts in 1863. She married Percival Wayland White and had two children, Percival Jr. and Richard Frazar. Percival Sr. was a prominent and successful cotton manufacturer in Winchendon Springs, Massachusetts. Around 1908 the family moved to Brunswick, Maine, to a home called “The Pines,” while their son Richard attended Bowdoin College. To celebrate Richard’s graduation, Percival took him on a trip to England. Percival’s hobby was sailing on maiden voyages. Unfortunately he chose to sail home with Richard on the Titanic, never to be seen again.

But who were the four children that Edith mentions in her letter? This puzzled me. I discovered that Edith and Percival’s other son, Percival Jr., and his wife Mary Este Cliff had four children, the oldest of which was Matilda, who was living with Edith at the time of the sinking of the Titanic. When Mary died in 1926 Edith adopted all four of the children, even though Percival Jr. lived until 1972. Matilda went on to become a pioneering sociologist who was the first female full professor at Bowdoin College.

For more see this excellent story by Michele Albion, which originally appeared in Bowdoin, the Bowdoin College magazine, with photographs.

See the Minerva record describing the letter.