A Light in the Darkness

Guesses for today’s What-in-the-WORLD?-Wednesday artifact ranged from ink blotter, to salt shaker, to wax seal. Logical responses but nowhere near the mark.

Part of our massive Central Maine Power Collection, this strange-looking object is a blackout light bulb, circa 1941-1945. Used to provide low-level directional light during WWII blackout periods, the shape of the radio-tube bulb was unique to maker Wabash Lamp Works of Indiana (later known as Wabash Appliance Co.).

Artificial lights such as this and many others throughout history are the subject of our first “Extraordinary Histories of Ordinary Things” book discussion program on February 28. Jane Brox’s critically-acclaimed Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light kicks off the four-session series. For more information, and to sign up, visit the MHS Programs page.

The Mark of a Citizen Soldier

A few knowledgeable folks recognized yesterday’s What-in-the-WORLD?-Wednesday  artifact as representative of civil defense during World War II.

This armband belonged to Myer Minsky of Bangor. He wore it around 1943 as a Block Warden. Block Wardens were civilian soldiers charged with defending their towns and cities during the War. Each warden was assigned to a city block shortly after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. With their white helmets and armbands, they enforced Blackouts and Brownouts.

(If you click through to the full cataloging record on Maine Memory, you’ll see that the armband appears upside down because the image was uploaded that way. The correct presentation is as it appears here, with the peak of the triangle pointing upward.)

Days of Remembrance

This 1944 letter to Grace Hustus of South Portland explains that her son Walter is missing in action during World War II.

Today is National POW/MIA Recognition Day (always the third Friday in September). This is a national day of prayer and remembrance to honor the thousands of missing warriors who have not returned home.

The official White House proclamation for the day notes that “we will never give up the search for those who are held as prisoners of war or have gone missing under our country’s flag. We honor their sacrifice, and we must care for their families and pursue the fullest possible accounting for all missing members of our Armed Forces.”

Maine Civil War soldier Abner Small writes to his mother and sister about his experience as a prisoner of war in Virginia.

To give you some perspective, nearly 2,500 individuals were listed  as missing following Vietnam. To date, more than 700 have had their remains returned, but that still leaves roughly 1,800 that haven’t. Efforts continue for a full accounting.

A companion day falls on September 25: Gold Star Mother’s Day. The last Sunday in September is designated to honor all mothers (and families) who have lost a son or daughter in combat.

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.