Journalism as history

Stories like this were always hard for me to resist — some bit of offbeat or unexpected history discovered in our backyard.  Perhaps something dug out of the ground, or tidbits discovered in some museum archive. In this case, it was an expert trying to interpret something that had been found on the ocean floor. Phoenicians off the coast of Maine  in 500 BC? Well, it COULD have happened. And if someone with credentials said it was possible, it was worth writing about. This Maine story got in papers around the country, including the Boston Sunday GLOBE.

Ancient  jugs found off Maine coast



CASTINE, Maine (UPI) – The two jugs are white, or off-white, and had rested on the ocean floor not far from Castine for many years before a diver found them a few years ago.

How long did they lie submerged? Scientists have theories that run from around the time of the American Revolution back to hundreds of years before Christ.

Warships weren’t uncommon in Maine waters during the Revolution 200 years ago. Several American ships were scuttled not far from where the jugs were found. They could have been thrown overboard by a sailor. Or, they could have been moved by currents from the nearby wreckage of the sunken ships.

But Dr. Barry Fell has another theory.

Fell is head of the Department of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, and a master of ancient languages. He believes the jugs could have come from Phoenician sailing vessels, which he thinks may have visited the coast of Maine centuries before Christ lived.

In a recent book, Fell contends that parts of North America were settled by Celts from Portugal perhaps 500 years before Christ.  He based his theory on the discovery of inscriptions found in dank stone caves that dot portions of New England.

The inscriptions, he said, are Ogam, a form of writing invented by Phoenicians and adopted by Celts from Iberia and North Africa.

“I first heard about it (the jugs) when two members of the Maine Archeological Society told me divers had found amphoras, which were containers used for oil and wine,” Fell said.

Fell was most excited to learn the containers were found near where he had predicted Phoenician artifacts might be discovered.

Fell had interpreted rock carvings on nearby Monhegan Island to read “Long ships of Phoenicia; cargo lots landing-quay.” He said the inscriptions could mean Phoenician sailors had traded along the coast hundreds of years ago.

Besides the containers and the Monhegan Island rock inscriptions, there are other possible signs that Phoenicians came to the region.

It has been rumored for several months that the remains of several ancient ships were found off the cast near Kittery by divers searching for the wreckage of Revolutionary War ships. John Hallett, director of the Kittery Museum, confirmed wreckage had been found, but declined to pinpoint the location.

Fell said Hallett “visited me, and asked if I had ideas that Phoenicians may have visited North America because his divers had seen what seemed to be hulls of ancient ship son the ocean floor.”

“What we have,” fell said, is this very tantalizing report, and we don’t know whether it’s true or not.”

Political writing: Shadowing the candidates II

It was standard practice to cover top-of-the-ticket political campaigns in part by spending some time on the campaign trail with the candidate. In 1976 in Maine, the U.S. Senate race was between incumbent Senator Edmund S. Muskie and Republican challenger Robert A.G. Monks. I spent a day with each of the candidates and turned out these stories. Looking back, I’m not sure how much such stories added to the quality of the campaigns. But it was Standard Operating Procedure, so that’s what we did.

 EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert A.G. Monks thinks he can beat Sen, Edmund S. Muskie, D-Maine, this November because of voters’ disenchantment with the Washington establishment. UPI recently spent a day with both Monks and Muskie. Monks campaign style is examined in this, the second part of two parts.

Monks campaigns shaking hands in many places


FREEPORT, Maine (UPI) – Robert A.G. Monks started his day as he has started many others during his campaign against Sen. Edmund S. Muskie; he shook hands with people at their place of employment.

This time it was at L.L. Bean’s in Freeport. The handshaking took up most of the morning, and he stopped off at a lunch program for the elderly and at the local police and fire stations before he took a rare lunch break to talk about his campaign.

Monks is getting around in the same wine-red International Scout he used during the primary, and he’s still usually accompanied by John Miller, who was a graduate student at the University of Maine at Orono before getting involved in Monks’ campaign last April.

The Scout looks the same except for an antenna sprouting from the roof.

“It’s a telephone,” Miller said. “We just put it in. It’s the only way we can keep in touch with the office.”

Monks’ campaign style has some definite patterns. He likes mill gates, country stores, programs for the elderly and fire stations. He claims to have campaigned at more than 70 mill gates and more than 40 programs for the elderly, and he usually stops to talk to the firemen whenever he can.

There was only one fireman on duty at the Freeport Fire Station when Monks arrived, a man perhaps a little taller than Monks, who is six-foot-six-inches.

“You,” Monks told the man, “may be the first person I’ve met during the campaign I can look in the eye.”

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Political writing: Shadowing the candidates l

Part of our campaign coverage, at least in top-of-the-ticket campaigns, was to spend a day with each candidate and then report on campaign styles. Looking back, I’m not sure this contributed much of value to the election process – there was no discussion of issues, for example. It was really a look at style rather than substance. Still, it’s what we did, and I remember these days spent with the candidates as fun and a good excuse to get a day away from the office grind. This story was one that I wrote about Ed Muskie; the next one looks at his Republican challenger, Robert A.G. Monks. 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The elections are less than two months away. Sen. Edmund S. Muskie and his Republican opponent, Robert Monks, are campaigning hard. UPI spent a day with each of the candidates, and their campaign styles are examined in this, the first of a two-part series.


BANGOR, Maine (UPI) — Sen. Edmund S. Muskie, D-Maine, and his Republican opponent, Robert A.G. Monks, have little in common except their neckties.

Like most Maine politicians, Muskie and Monks share an affection for the Maine necktie, something which has become essential to a political campaign.

Sen. William D. Hathaway, D-Maine, is generally credited with starting the necktie binge. He owns no fewer than 12 lobster ties, including a specially-made bow tie.

Hathaway wore a pine-tree-and-potato to the Democratic National Convention in tribute to Jimmy Carter. He said the potatoes looked a great deal like peanuts.

Muskie began a day of campaigning in the Bangor area last week with a news conference at a local television studio. He wore a blue tie speckled with little white lobsters. Monks campaigned early this week in Freeport, first touring the L.L. Bean Co. facilities. Monks’ tie was also blue, and it sported little miniature outlines of the state Maine.

Muskie is 62 and the son of a tailor. He has been in public life ling enough to develop what supporters call dignity and what his detractors see as stuffiness.

Monks is 20 years younger, and lived in Massachusetts until a few years ago. He is wealthy, wealthy enough to list his occupation as “fiduciary.”

Muskie approaches people confidently, and speaks off the cuff. Monks often says the same thing: “I’d like to introduce myself. I’m Bob Monks. I’m running for the United States Senate, and I wanted to pay my respects.”

Muskie’s recent morning began with a news conference at a Bangor television station. Then he went to the local GTE Sylvania plant and shook hands with the workers. He spent more time there than he thought he would.

“There’s people working there from as far away as Millinocket,” Muskie said as he walked form the plant to the car. “I don’t think I met two people from the same town, and that’s why I stayed there so long. They all go back home at night and talk to their friends.”

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Economic development writing: The story of Eastport, Maine

There are a couple of things about this story that are worth mentioning: First of all, it was always exciting to get one of my Maine stories published in a big-city newspaper somewhere. Getting one of those stories into a Boston newspaper was good, but getting something printed in a big paper in some more distant locale was cool indeed.  This story was carried by the New York Daily News, and that didn’t happen every day. Second, it’s a story about Eastport, Maine, just about the most distant and remote community in the entire state. Go north along the U.S. coast, and just about the last U.S. town you will pass near is Eastport (okay, okay, to be perfectly accurate, the actual border crossing is in Calais, a few miles away). Back in the 70s, a large corporation (the Pittston Co.) decided it wanted to build an oil refinery there.  Eastport had a deep-water harbor that could handle oil supertankers. The refinery never happened because of environmental concerns. I covered a number of hearings in Eastport about this refinery project, and it was a l-o-n-g drive from home.



EASTPORT, Maine (UPI) – This easternmost city in the nation and former sardine capital of the world is dying. The rotting piers and empty storefronts are conspicuous testimony to that.

But a new chapter in Eastport’s history is about to be written. A New York oil company wants to develop an oil refinery on Moose Island, just outside the downtown area.

Eastport has one huge, underdeveloped natural resource. That is a beautiful, sheltered harbor three by five miles wide and between 90 and 385 feet deep. The harbor, big enough to handle the biggest supertankers, is often called one of the three best deep-water harbors on the East Coast.

The Pittston Oil Co. of New York has announced plans for a $350 million, 650-acre refinery that would produce 250,000 barrels of heating oil and industrial fuel per day.

Some Eastport people are thrilled. Some are not.

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The governor’s Lincoln

I remember feeling a huge sense of delight over this story about Maine Gov. James Longley’s Lincoln Continental. Why? Because reporters love to catch politicians in this sort of delicious paradox. Here’s the back story: Longley ran as an independent and said throughout his campaign that the state spent way too much money on just about everything. But Longley also loved his wealth and his privileges, both as a businessman and later as governor.  And he REALLY wanted this Lincoln. But he didn’t know how to get it without appearing to violate his pledges of state cost-cutting. That’s why he put a “hold” on this Lincoln contract rather than simply cancelling it. Ultimately, once attention to all this died down, he got his Lincoln.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) — Gov.-elect James B. Longley may be driven around the state during his term in a brand-new Lincoln Continental Mark IV.

A lease contract has been signed for the luxury car, but it was learned Monday that Longley has ordered a hold in the contract “until we can review the lease,” according to Col. Donald Nichols, chief of the state police.

Longley aide Jim McGregor at first said he didn’t know of any contract for a Lincoln, and said a decision on a new executive car might not be made for up to 90 days. Later, however, he said he had been the one to tell Nichols to hold up on the Lincoln contract.

“We haven’t reached a decision on a state car,” McGregor said early Monday.

“We might not decide for 30, 60 or 90 days. think a recommendation was made on a Lincoln by Col. Nichols, but I’m not sure of the particulars. We’re not sure now so we are not committing ourselves.”

76cont[1]Nichols said he had urged Longley to trade the Plymouth now used by Gov. Kenneth Curtis for a Lincoln.

“About a month ago he asked me for a recommendation, and I recommended that he get a heavier car,”Nichols said. “I’m familiar with the operation of the governor’s office, so I recommended a Lincoln.”

“As of this time, we’re holding on it to determine how the cost compares with that of the present car that’s under lease to Curtis, a Plymouth Fury,” he said. “On the surface, it appears that the Lincoln would be more expensive, but after checking it seems the Lincoln lease provides more.”

Nichols said the basic lease price would be $2,000 per year. “That seems to be a good deal for the taxpayers,” he said.

Nichols said Lincoln gives a low lease to many government officials, and said the Lincoln would be a safer car for the governor.

“I recommended that he get away from the lighter car,” Nichols said. “It’s going to be doing a lot of traveling and it makes sense from a safety standpoint.”

Later, McGregor said he knew that Nichols had recommended the Continental, and said he had been the one, at Longley’s direction, to tell Nichols to put a hold on the lease contract.

The contract had been signed by state purchasing agent Linwood Rods.

McGregor added that Longley would only use one state car, instead of the present two. One car is now used by Gov. Curtis, and a three-year-old Plymouth is kept at the Blaine House for use by the governor’s family.


Bill riding the Dragon in North Carolina

Bill riding the Dragon in Tennessee

FULL DISCLOSURE DEPT.: I did not take this picture of myself. It was taken by a roadside commercial photographer as I rode past him last fall (2013) on the Dragon at Deal’s Gap, a stretch of roadway popular with motorcyclists that has 318 curves in 11 miles. I’ve posted so many motorcycle-related stories here that I thought this picture would make a nice complement to them.