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 Inc.com 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 dfazio@mainehistory.org


Become a Portland History Docent!

Screen Shot 2014-06-02 at 1.07.54 PM

The Portland’s History Docents Program (PHD) is celebrating it’s 20th anniversary this year! Please join us for this special year, and receive knowledge, experience, and friendships that last a lifetime.

The PHD program is a collaborative effort by:

Each spring, these organizations join forces to provide a nine-week training program for new prospective volunteer guides at each organization’s respective museum site. Several weeks of lively and informative talks and presentations take place at MHS, combined with site visits to each partnering organization.

Upon graduation, PHD participants become eligible to volunteer at the site(s) of their choice, and training at those sites is scheduled on an individual basis. Graduates are asked to commit to a year of volunteer time. At MHS, docents provide tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, conduct the Old Port Walking Tour, assist with school groups, and work in other aspects of MHS operations.

When: Every Thursday mornings from 9:00am  – 12:00pm; March 5 – April 30, 2015.

Cost: $30, or $20 with a valid student I.D.
Download the application now.

For more information on the PHD program contact MHS’s Kathleen Neumann, Manager of School and Interpretive Programs at 207-774-1822 ext. 214, or email  kneumann@mainehistory.org. For information on the application process specifically, email volunteer@portlandlandmarks.org.

Save the Date: Magical History Tour, May 1-2, 2015

52057_Press HotelOn Saturday, May 2, 2015 join us for a tour of some fascinating historic sites in Portland that you have never seen—and maybe didn’t even know existed! We’ve gained access to some very special places that will delight and amaze both adults and kids. The mystery sites will be revealed at a cocktail party we’re hosting on Friday, May 1—and the even the location of the party is part of the fun. Our event will be one of the first held in the new Press Hotel. Located in the former Portland Press Herald building, the new hotel embraces its history and celebrates the newspaper theme throughout. You’ll get a sneak peek just weeks before the hotel’s grand opening!


For more information, stay tuned on our Facebook page or join our e-mail list.


Image: Press Herald Building at 119 Exchange/ 175-179 Federal Street, Portland, 1924. Portland Tax Record, Item #52057.

Photos from the Maine History Maker Award

On September 30, 2014, Maine Historical Society hosted our annual Maine History Maker Award celebration at the Brown Library. More that 100 guests attended the event where Vincent Veroneau, President and CEO of J.B. Brown & Sons, was honored as this year’s recipient of this prestigious award.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Photos by MHS staff.

P.S. The Portland Press Herald’s Society Notebook covered the event and their story includes many photos of the event. View it online here.

Notes from the Archives: Grants Department Store

By Emily Gendrolis, MHS Volunteer

A new collection (Coll. 2725) is a trip down memory lane for anyone who remembers the old W. T. Grant Department Store in Portland, located on Congress Street, or for anyone who remembers department stores in any downtown location.

W.T. Grant Department Store, Congress Street, Portland

W.T. Grant Department Store, commonly known as Grants, was founded by William T. Grant as a 25-cent store. Grant opened the first in Massachusetts in 1906, and by his death in 1972 his department store chain had multiplied to 1200 stores in forty-one states. In 1936, Grants annual sales had reached nearly $100 million; that year also saw the founding of William T. Grant’s humanitarian project, the W.T. Grant Foundation, which is still in operation today, funding research whose aim is to improve the lives of young people throughout the United States.

William T. Grant

The Grants stores were divided into a diverse array of departments, including women’s apparel, toys, books, furniture, records and electronics, and gardening and lawn care supplies, much like modern department stores today such as Sears and Macy’s. In addition, Grants was also equipped with lunch counters, where customers could enjoy snacks – like a frankfurter for fifteen cents – and beverages – just ten cents for a whippy, “the drink you can eat” – while taking a break from their shopping.

There were twenty-eight Grants stores in Maine, but this collection focuses on the department store located on Congress Street in Portland. Over two hundred photos of this location show off the numerous departments and selection of items offered by Grants. Other photographs show satisfied customers dressed for a day of shopping – men in fedoras and women in fur-trimmed coats; children being given popcorn by an employee in a clown costume; and two cheerful employees modeling wedding dresses for a captivated crowd of customers.

Modeling Wedding Gowns at W.T. Grants

The department store chain went bankrupt in 1976. In a prophetic memorandum – included in this collection – a directive sent out to the New England region store managers in December of 1974 warns that the “Grant Company is in very serious financial trouble” and that “overspending…can break us.” Sadly, this call to desist from overspending was not enough to save the company. The magic of Grants department store can still be felt in the photographs housed in this collection.

For more information see Coll. 2725 in the Minerva catalog.


Interior of W.T. Grant Department Store
Grant’s Civil War Centennial Window Display

Bill’s Mythbusters: Portland Tunnels

Beginning in 1923 work began on a new intake and conduit system at Sebago Lake to convey water to the transmission mains, thereby increasing the amount of water available to Portland area residents.

The Portland tunnels myth is one of the most frequent inquiries we receive at the MHS Library, and cannot be easily answered.  Last month, we asked you to send us your stories of tunnels running beneath our beloved city streets to help us uncover the myth of the Portland tunnels once and for all! We received several myths from our readers and friends, who shared stories about alleged underground activity throughout the peninsula. Some of the stories were believable (such as passages used by shop owners whose buildings were across from one another on Congress St.) and others were fantastical (tunnels built “to the future”). Michelle Souliere, of Strange Maine, began researching the supposed tunnels in 2005, and gained great response to her October 26, 2005 blog post.

We thought if we started with the source for information about the city’s streets and utilities, Portland’s Department of Public Works GIS maps, we would get a quick and easy answer. We were proved wrong. A call to the Public Works Department informed us that the city’s archivist (and keeper of the GIS maps) has retired. In the interim, Michelle Sweeney at City Hall has assumed the task, and we connected with her. We e-mailed back and forth regarding an alleged subway system, hidden rooms, liquor passages and even the “tunnel to the future.” Sweeney confirmed the tunnel between the old Press Herald Building at 119 Exchange Street and its printing facility across Congress Street.

October 1966 Portland Press Herald article about their new tunnel

As we investigated tunnel myths, we opened a can of worms with yet another myth of an unfinished subway system. We heard from locals who went into the tunnels to see where the subway would have been. (I should point out that until I walk through a tunnel, I won’t believe or confirm it exists). Sweeney suggests that a 1904 city “Plan of Underground Structures” which shows the usual sewage and utility lines and vaults,  may be the genesis of the subway myth. Trolley tracks indicated on the surface may have been interpreted  by some as “underground structures” which they were not. There was never a subway in Portland. In the 1980s, Portland School of Art instructor Barbara Best drew up an elaborate set of blueprints for a mythical subway between the Mother of Victory and Longfellow Monuments which strengthened the legend.

While we would like to put a lid on this pandora’s box of tunnels, we can’t just yet. As mentioned in this blog, we are confirming one single tunnel at the old Portland Press Herald printing facility, and until I can walk through a tunnel myself, I won’t validate any of the claims made thus far. So, if you are a shop owner, or someone with secret building access, by all means invite me for a tour of your basements and tunnels. If you have blueprints or photos of substructures, feel free to swing by MHS and show us.

Unloading a cache of liquor from a ship in Portland during prohibition in 1920.

Can the utility passages be considered tunnels? I have to say not really, or at least in the way that our inquirers suggest, because the city installs these underground spaces for our sewers, power and gas lines, not for transporting booze from the wharfs into town during prohibition (or other non-utility activities). So, while you may see a vaulted door that seems perpetually locked in the basement of your building, it’s not necessarily a door to a tunnel that will reveal a bizarro Portland underground. A true tunnel would be one that was built with a purpose, such as to transport goods between buildings easily and with access to freight elevators. The Rines Family, who owned the Congress Building (State Theater) and the Eastland Park Hotel, reportedly had a tunnel for just those reasons. This is another tunnel that I’ve heard of and would like to believe existed (or exists) but until I walk through a tapestry of cobwebs and feel the cool, damp air that I imagine this sub-High street passage to have, I (as so many of us will) continue to spin yarns about tunnels in Portland.

-Bill Barry

William David Barry is an author, historian and MHS reference librarian. He can be reached at rdesk@mainehistory.org. 

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.