New Exhibition Open!

June 27, 2014

HOME: The Longfellow House and the Emergence of Portland opened last night to a crowd of MHS members and friends, all eager to see the much-anticipated new show that explores the evolution of the Longfellow House and our beloved city.

This exhibition uses the House as a prism to explore how Portland has grown and changed over more than 230 years. When Peleg Wadsworth built the House on Back Street in 1785, it was on the rural outskirts of Portland. By the early 1800s, the House was at the center of a bustling, modern New England city. Since then, Portland has boomed, burned, boomed again, busted, and reemerged as a vibrant, forward-looking city. Through it all, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House has been a constant, and witness to the life of an emerging community.

Here are some images from the opening, taken by MHS Creative Manager Dani Fazio:

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Learn how you can participate in the display “Your Home, Past & Present” here.

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Kids in the Hall

There’s nothing like delighted children to kick up a room’s energy level a notch (or two). And so the MHS lecture hall was a happy, hopping place on the evening of April 27.

That was the night of our spring Local History Local Schools celebration. Roughly 140 students from two Portland elementary schools–4th and 5th graders from Hall School and 3rd graders from Ocean Avenue School–joined with teachers, parents, grandparents, and MHS staff to celebrate their great work based on our ZOOM IN: New Approaches to Maine History exhibit.

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Of course there are as many charming stories of the students’ projects–now on display in the hallway off our lecture hall through the first week in June–as there are students. But we’ll share just one as an example.

Much of the focus of the students’ work was on learning about primary and secondary sources and then interpreting their knowledge through projects. In one of the classes, students created their own primary sources through interviews conducted with family members. One young man chose to interview his artistic grandfather because, as the student wrote in his narrative included in the exhibit, “I wanted to know how he got interested in art, and what it was like in his childhood.”

Fittingly, the grandfather provided his grandson with a primary source from that childhood to include in the exhibit, something he’s kept all these years, and something that relates to the activity he so enjoys. His grandson explains in his narrative: “When he was going to high school, he was given a pencil every semester to use throughout the year. The pencils he got did not have an eraser so he had to use a handheld one instead.”

That pencil is lovingly featured in our student exhibit hallway right now, through early June. (And if you have eagle eyes — you can see a photo of it in the slideshow above, as well as the young man standing between his grandfather and grandmother.) Don’t miss it–or any of the other wonderful works on display. We guarantee you will be amazed.

Finally, an extra special thanks goes to all the teachers for their commitment and dedication to their students and this program. We certainly couldn’t do it without you!

May Basket Full of Treasures in This Month’s e-Connection

May basket made by Sarah Owen of Cape Porpoise, ca. 1980. Owen made these for neighborhood children.

The old-time tradition of leaving treasure-filled baskets on doorknobs or doorsteps on the first of May is the subject of both “Stories from Maine Memory Network” and “From the Collections” in this month’s e-Connection. Among other things, learn how World War I-era Biddeford children earned themselves a party after initially being chased away during their May basket reverie.

Speaking of treasures, the newsletter also announces the first round of Community Mobilization Grants–the new Maine Memory Network (MMN) program made possible by funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services. Open up e-Connection and discover the nine organizations and communities who made the cut! Then hop on over to our “Living History” blog, which shares MMN project work, and read in detail about their plans.

A lush spot by the Longfellow Garden fountain.

May baskets should include something from the garden, and we’ve got that in spades in this month’s newsletter. On May 19, the annual Olmstead lecture focuses on “The Longfellow Gardens: The Evolution of Two Landmarks.” (Yes, there is another Longfellow Garden, here.)

Plus, the Longfellow House and Garden are now open to the public for the season. (At long last… it seemed like that winter would never end!) Check out the tour details and times and come on in.

We’ve even got a way to get you intimately involved with the Garden–right down into the dirt, in fact. May’s e-Connection features a call for volunteers to weed and prune this spring. Check out the details and the dates, and sign up to become one with the soil.

Rounding out the surprises “in store” for you: A seasonally-apt Portland Sea Dogs book coupon good in the museum shop or online.

So now that we’ve left this virtual basket full goodies on your electronic doorstep… won’t you open it? You’ll be glad you did!

WPA Treasures

Longfellow House poster created by the WPA Maine Art Project, ca. 1935

April 8, 1935, was a great day for historical societies and museums everywhere. That was the day Congress passed FDR’s Emergency Relief Appropriation Act, which included the Works Progress Administration (“Progress” was later changed to “Projects”), or WPA.

Regardless of how you feel about the New Deal, the WPA left generations to come a wealth of material that captured the people, places, events, and attitudes of the era. It also funded special projects and public works that otherwise may never have gotten off the ground.

Still from model airplane flying competition film at Portland Municipal Airport, ca. 1940

An expanded Portland airport, for example. Then known as the Portland Municipal Airport, it was but an airstrip until WPA funds built the first real terminal in 1940. Perhaps that’s why these model plane builders–scads of them–held their competition there that same year. (For a real treat, don’t miss the short film clip from which this still image is taken.)

Fifth Street Junior High School, Bangor, ca. 1940

Entire schools were built, like Fifth Street Junior High School in Bangor (now the James F. Doughty School), one of two new junior highs in the city in 1940 that the WPA paid for in full to the tune of $740,000. (Students from the Doughty School participated in last year’s Maine Community Heritage Project and scanned and cataloged this very postcard for Bangor’s MCHP website.) One wonders what the condition of the buildings the students were in beforehand were like. Without the WPA, who knows when those schools would have been built?

National Youth Administration, Quoddy Village Pageant, 1937

Whether the greatest legacy of the WPA is its physical imprint of buildings and bridges, or its memorable and unique arts- and humanities-based efforts, is up for debate. But few can argue that the resulting photographs, oral histories, newspaper clippings, broadsides, films, manuscripts, artifacts, and other ephemera are a phenomenal national treasure for us all.

Even Prime Ministers are in Maine Memory Network

With nearly 20,000 primary sources in Maine Memory Network, there’s something to please almost everyone. Still, there are some keywords and proper names you don’t expect to result in much, if anything, when you type them into the search box. And yet, you type them anyway, just for the heck of it. And sometimes you get lucky.

Capt. Mattie Pinette, Eisenhower's Secretary, Washington, D.C., 1944 (seated at left)

That happened this week while trolling for “this day in history” ephemera. It so happens that April 5, 1955 is the day Prime Minister Winston Churchill resigned from his post after a series of strokes. But Winston Churchill? In Maine Memory? What did he ever have to do with the Pine Tree State?

Well, nothing. (At least as far as we know.) But lo and behold–he IS in the database thanks to a Maine woman named Mattie Pinette, or, rather, Captain Mattie Pinette. A distinguished veteran of World War II, Mattie grew up in Aroostook County, but her parents lived for years in Guilford and she listed the town as her residence while she was in the service. The town created a loving tribute to her on their Maine Community Heritage Project website last year.

Captain Pinette's dog tag

She was in that photo above because she was then-General Eisenhower’s personal secretary–at his side during the planning for Operation Overlord, otherwise known as the D-Day landing at Normandy. The photo with Churchill was taken sometime during the 10-month period she served Eisenhower.

That was but a small part of her decorated career, for which she was awarded a number of medals and commendations. She rose to the rank of Lt. Colonel before her retirement in 1962. Mattie Pinette died in 1999 at the age of 96 and is buried in Dover-Foxcroft.

So, try out the Maine Memory Network search field today. Be creative. Be bold. Be willing to put in a word or name you think couldn’t possibly be in there. You never know what hidden gems you may uncover when you do.

Good Things Spring Forth from April’s e-Connection

"Nest, Nook & Cranny," by Susan Blackaby; 20% off this month at MHS

After what seems like one of the longest winters on record here in Maine, the robins have finally landed! And so has this month’s e-Connection, just as chock full as those fat little birds now hopping around on your lawn.

To celebrate, we have a 20% off coupon in the newsletter good toward ANY poetry book from the MHS museum store (or shop online). Why? Because despite T. S. Eliot’s claim that April is “the cruelest month,” it also happens to be National Poetry Month.

Something Fishy: One of the last cans of sardines to be packed at the last U.S. sardine cannery is a recent addition to the MHS collection.

April may well stand as the cruelest month for the U.S. sardine industry. The Prospect Harbor Cannery closed its doors on April 18, 2010, ending a 135-year history of canning on the coast of Maine. This can of sardines, from the last batch, is now in our permanent  collection. (An unscientific internet search suggests that 2-3 years might be the shelf-life of an unopened can. Will it start to become, er, aromatic at that point? Hmmm…)

Nothing fishy–except maybe some smoked salmon appetizers–will be served up on May 7 at the Woodlands in Falmouth. That’s the date of our annual gala, the Mad Hatter Affair. For full details on the shindig, see our post Get Your Hat On.

The Mad Hatter is a lot of work behind the scenes and we all pitch in, but much of it is done by MHS “events guru” (translation: Marketing & PR Manager) Elizabeth Nash.

Marketing & PR Manager Elizabeth Nash

Fittingly, she’s profiled in this month’s e-Connection under our Spotlight section. The words “panache,” and “pizazz” are included, as might be expected in a write-up about an events guru. (MHS Factoid: Did you know that there are three Bates College alums working at MHS? Elizabeth is one of them. We’ll let you ferret out the other two.)

If that’s not enough to whet your April e-Connection appetite:

To name a locker in the MHS Library, call Development Director Deborah Tillman Stone at 774-1822 ext 231.

  • there’s a link to a Maine Memory exhibit on Hannah Pierce, another woman with her own sense of self, albeit in the 19th century;
  • an opportunity to name one of the MHS library lockers;
  • a busted myth about the Dutch once ruling Maine;
  • a feature on Downeast Magazine’s recent use of several Maine Memory images;
  • upcoming April programs;
  • and an announcement about a delightful new MHS blog (hmmm… sounds strangely familiar…).

If you don’t want to miss all this goodness in the future, sign up for the monthly e-Connection (and our in-between weeklies, “This Week at MHS”) here–sent right to your email IN-box. You’ll be glad you did!

This Week at MHS: Lubec’s Community Website

In the latest This Week at MHS, journey to the far reaches of Downeast Maine with a feature on Lubec, the Canadian border town shaped by the sea, via the community website several partnering organizations built on Maine Memory Network in 2008-09 as part of our Maine Community Heritage Project. Lubec celebrates its bicentennial this year.

Sardine packers, Lubec, ca. 1976

An in-depth narrative history of the community and no fewer than 12 exhibits on specific topics–with titles like “Canning Sardines in Lubec: Technology, the Syndicate and Labor,” and “SS Cumberland: Steamer Brought Passengers and Prosperity to Lubec But Met Tragic End”–give readers a detailed look at this eastern Maine outpost.

Partners on the project include the Lubec Historical Society, Lubec Memorial Library, Lubec Landmarks, and Lubec Consolidated School.

MHS Annual Trip--a cruise from Spain to Portugal

Also in the current issue of our weekly e-newsletter: the week’s programs–including the 2nd Jewish History Conference at Colby College on Saturday–and information about the MHS Annual Trip, “Amazing Ocean to River Odyssey.” Interested? Book before April 30 to save some bucks!