Happy Birthday Henry and a Night for Poetry in Maine

By Steve Bromage, MHS Executive Director

Last week I had the chance to attend the reading by inaugural poet Richard Blanco at the Merrill Auditorium. Wow—it was an incredible evening.

Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald
Photo: Derek Davis, Staff Photographer, Portland Press Herald

It’s been quite something the past several weeks to hear from colleagues, friends, and other folks hustling to find a ticket to a poetry reading. (Or, more often, lamenting the fact that they had struck out.) Tickets were free but limited to the 1,800 person capacity of the Merrill. A big thanks goes out to Creative Portland and the Quimby Family Foundation for their generosity in conceiving and supporting this special event.

Prior to the reading there was a reception for the poet at City Hall during which Mayor Brennan gave Mr. Blanco a key to the city. Thanks to the generosity of State Historian Earle Shettleworth, Jr., I had the opportunity to present Mr. Blanco with a print of Longfellow in his Cambridge study—a gift to him from Earle’s personal collection. (Read more about the reception and reading in this Portland Press Herald article.)

How appropriate to welcome Richard Blanco to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Portland.

Longfellow—whose birthday was the day after the reading at Merrill—was deeply committed to the public role that poetry can play. Maine honors this tradition by appointing a Poet Laureate—the wonderful Wes McNair currently serves in that role, and he introduced last week’s reading. The tradition of asking a poet to commemorate the inauguration of the President by writing and reading a new poem for the occasion is actually relatively new. (Robert Frost, who recited “The Gift Outright” at JFK’s inauguration, was the first.)

Richard Blanco’s reading of his poem, One Today, at the inauguration in January has captivated many across the country. As Longfellow did in so much of his poetry, Mr. Blanco reminded us, as Americans, of our roots, and what we have in common. That seems to be something that many of us are hungry for these days.

It strikes me that one of the things that Richard Blanco has done is to spark new audiences to the pleasures of poetry. We are very lucky in in Maine: we’ve got incredible poets all around us. Go read one!


Crowd cycles in for John Calvin Stevens + Bicycle History talk and ride

June 14, 2011. Group Bicycle Tour

Walking past Maine Historical Society on Thursday afternoon (7/14) one may have thought we had turned into a bicycle museum. A high-wheel bicycle, along with other vintage and contemporary bikes, were lined up along the iron fences surrounding the Wadsworth-Longfellow House; riders were inside the lecture hall, listening to Sam Shupe give a talk. Shupe is a recent USM graduate, who wrote his history thesis on John Calvin Stevens and the art and history of bicycling in Maine. Under the wing of State Historian Earle Shettleworth, Jr., Shupe conducted his research across Maine- including at the Maine Historical Society library. He submitted his thesis for publication to the International Cycling History Conference, where it was accepted and in May he traveled to Paris, France to join their annual conference and present the paper. This fall Shupe will begin a PhD program in history at Boston University.

In a nearly full lecture hall, Shupe presented his paper once again to a lively crowd that included history buffs, cycling enthusiasts, and John Calvin Stevens admirers. His animated lecture, “I am an Old Wheelman”: John Calvin Stevens and the Art of Bicycling in Maine 1880-1900 kept the audience entertained as he displayed fascinating photographs and illustrations of bicycles, industry and shops, cycling clubs, John Calvin Stevens on bicycles along with sketches by the famed Portland architect.

After a brief Q&A, Shupe led 40 cyclists through the streets of Portland’s West End- stopping at points to discuss the architecture of several Stevens’ designed homes that were on the route map. The group of riders was diverse in age, interests, and choice of bicycle. Taking over the streets en masse, we rode leisurely under the warm afternoon sun, swapping stories of bicycle trips across Maine and Europe, discussing Steven’s architecture, and generally enjoying ourselves. Below are photos from the afternoon’s event.

Dani Fazio, Image Services Coordinator, Maine Historical Society

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This Week at MHS: Baxter B’Day, First Trans-Pacific Flight, and More

Last month, cake was served up for Longfellow’s 204th and now it’s time to celebrate another of Portland’s finest.

Among the highlights in This Week at MHS, you’ll find all the details on Wednesday’s 180th birthday party for civic father James Phinney Baxter.

Businessman, historian, and philanthropist, Baxter led efforts to create the Boulevard that bears his name, secure public lands, and build the original Baxter Library. He also served MHS as president during a period (1889-1921) of tremendous growth, overseeing the gift of the Longfellow House and the construction of the Library.

Join us from 5-7PM for Maine State historian Earle Shettleworth, Jr.’s illustrated introduction to Baxter’s life and work, followed by a reception featuring–what else–birthday cake!

Crew of Southern Cross, California, 1928

Also featured in this edition of our weekly e-newsletter:

  • An Old Sea Dog Takes to the Air,” a Maine Memory exhibit about Paris Hill resident Henry (Harry) Lyon, Jr., the navigator for the Southern Cross, which flew the first trans-Pacific flight from Oakland, California, to Sydney, Australia, with stops in Hawaii and Fiji, in 1928.
  • Details on the MHS “River Odyssey” trip from Barcelona, Spain, to Lisbon, Portugal in October.
  • April’s upcoming programs.