The man who invented earmuffs


FARMINGTON, Maine (UPI) — Townsfolk are warming up for their annual Chester Greenwood Day, a festival dedicated to a local boy who turned an inventive mind and a pair of cold ears into a lifetime career by inventing the earmuff.

And while the people of Farmington slap earmuffs on everything from local police cruisers to neighborhood dogs for the Dec. 21 parade marking the first day of winter, there are signs the earmuff industry nationwide is riding a modest revival.

chester greenwood

Chester Greenwood, sporting a pair of his earmuffs

Chester Greenwood wasn’t thinking about business during that cold Farmington winter more than 100 years ago; he simply wanted to do something that would keep his ears warm when he skated.

When he returned home from a local pond one day, the 15-year-old Chester rummaged around in a shed and came up with a piece of stiff wire. He bent the wire so that it would fit over his head, and asked his grandmother to sew some cloth covers at either end.

The invention worked. Chester’s ears were no longer cold, and the young man managed to make a comfortable living throughout his life by manufacturing and selling Greenwood’s Champion Ear Protectors.

Greenwood died in 1937, and the company that once employed as many as 50 people in the central Maine town is no more.

But the industry spawned by Greenwood’s invention is still churning out earmuffs, and signs indicate the domestic earmuff business, moribund for years due to foreign imports, is ready for a modest comeback.

Marilyn Becker, managing director of L&G Manufacturing Co. of Boston, a leading earmuff maker, said business is better this year after several years of being battered by the cheap imports.

Becker said the company her father founded 55 years ago will turn out about 50,000 earmuffs this year, up considerably from the production of the past five years when the company was buffeted by earmuffs from Asia.

‘For several years it was rather slow, but this year has been good,’ Becker said. ‘I think there is not quite so much from Taiwan this year, and the dollar is not quite so strong now.’

Business has also been helped by the fact that earmuffs have remained in fashion through the 1980s.

‘They have been in fashion the last seven or eight years,’ Becker said. ‘When you walk around the streets of New York on a windy day, it seems that everyone is wearing earmuffs.’

The owner of another earmuff company, Nathan Hanover of The Earmuff Shop of New York City, said sales ‘go up and they go down.’

He said the earmuff market has shifted many times during the 20 years he has made them, adding, ‘There are now a lot of imports from Korea and Hong Kong.’

When Greenwood died at age 79, he held more than 100 patents including one for the earmuff. The Smithsonian Institution once named Greenwood one of America’s 15 outstanding inventors.

But in spite of Greenwood’s successes, the people of Farmington had pretty much forgotten him until the 1970s, when the owner of a local magazine shop decided that Greenwood’s life should be memorialized.

Mike Maguire took his idea to his local legislators, who sponsored a bill making Dec. 21 Chester Greenwood Day in Maine. The bill sparked spirited debate, with one representative calling the idea ‘an unfortunate misuse of the legislative process.’

But in 1977, the measure finally passed, and Chester Greenwood Day was born in the sleepy town of 6,700 people. Since then, an annual parade has been held in Farmington, and some occasionally daffy events have been held as well.

There was the Greenwood Derby, a reverse-dogsled race in which teams of children pulled sleds which carried local dogs as passengers.

Then there was the contest in which children tried to sculpt likenesses of Greenwood out of soft ice cream.

And last year witnessed an unsuccessful attempt to get into the Guinness Book of World Records, when 350 earmuff-clad local residents showed up at the Town Square in hopes of setting a record for the most people to wear earmuffs in the same place at the same time.

Guinness officials said thanks, but no thanks.

Soviet TV reporter baptized in Maine’s Russian community

In 1990, a group of about 20 Russians came to Maine for a tour. One of the places they wanted to visit was the town of Richmond, a Russian enclave that had attracted Russians from New York and the West Coast.  I accompanied them for several days. Another thing they wanted to see was a U.S. supermarket. They were taken to a store in Portland. Many of them refused to believe it was anything more that some sort of display store — they couldn’t believe that everyday Americans actually shopped in such a place. One thing that really amazed them was the dog and cat food aisle.

RICHMOND, Maine (UPI) — Serguey Souponev lives in Moscow, but he found a spiritual home in Maine when he was baptized earlier this week in a Russian Orthodox Church in a community of Russian immigrants.

Souponev, 27, a reporter with the General Department of Children’s Television, is in Maine taping a documentary on the Samantha Smith Center’s World Peace Camp in Poland Spring. He said Wednesday he was baptized Sunday while visiting St. Alexander Nevsky Church, one of Richmond’s two Russian Orthodox churches.

st alexander nevsky church

Richmond, Maine’s St. Alexander Nevsky Church

The ceremony was conducted by Father Chad Williams, a Russian Orthodox priest, and was witnessed by a few Soviet companions and by members of the local Russian community. His producer, Mikhail Shilov, served as godfather, and a local woman, Galena Frish, agreed to act as godmother.

‘I dreamed about it for three years, and now my dream is fulfilled,’ Souponev said Tuesday.

Souponev said he asked about baptism on the spur of the moment, and was worried the ceremony might not be possible because of his age.

‘I asked if it was possible and they say, ‘Why not?” he said. ‘I say I am pretty old, but they say it can be done.’

Souponev said he was moved by the Russian residents of Richmond, a colony that is rapidly aging and dying out. About 500 families moved to Richmond in the 1950s and 1960s, attracted by ads in Russian-language newspapers in New York and San Francisco, but the colony is now down to fewer than 200 people.

St. Alexander Nevsky Church, sided with grey asphalt shingles and topped with a tin roof, was converted from a barn years ago. But Souponev described the baptism as warm and colorful.

‘It took two hours and a half, and it was fantastic,’ he said. ‘There were thousands of candles, and I was (immersed) three times in a great (baptistery), and there were I believe 500 liters of very cold water. When it was done the first time, I gasped.’

Several elderly women from the town sang orthodox hymns during the ceremony, he said, and their presence meant that Souponev had to keep his trousers on during the immersion.

I didn’t want to offend them, and then I realized that I had nothing dry to put on,’ he said. ‘One of the women went to her house and brought me dry clothing that belonged to her son. I put them on and everything was alright.’

Baptism in the Soviet Union is possible, he said, especially in recent times, but he said it is still not easy to accomplish.

‘It is not impossible, but it is still difficult,’ Souponev said. ‘But my people want to do it because of (the) lack of faith (among the Soviets.) (They need) something to believe in (now that things) are getting more normal.’

While religion has been frowned upon in his native land — Souponev has never formally practiced a religion — he said he still holds a strong belief in God.

‘I believe in something that runs everything,’ he said.

Vehicles that went through the ice

I always enjoyed stories about Maine’s outdoors, the more offbeat the better. I saw a story in one of the local Maine papers about a fisherman’s car going through the ice on a local lake, and I got to wondering: How many cars go through the ice every winter? How many get recovered, and how many stay on the bottom?  This story was the result.


AUGUSTA, Maine — John Curtis hasn’t seen his 1973 Plymouth since one frigid day in January 1983 when he decided to drive it across the ice on Swan Lake. The ice broke, and Curtis jumped out just as the vehicle sank to the bottom.

Curtis’s Plymouth has remained on the bottom of the lake ever since. Divers tried to locate the car for several months but were never able to pinpoint its location in Swan Lake, which is more than 100 feet deep in some spots.

‘We never did get that one out,’ said Henry Hilton, a wildlife biologist for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife who keeps track of such things. ‘A diver went down on several different days in the summer and fall, but after about 30 hours of game warden time we discontinued our efforts.’

Curtis’s misfortune notwithstanding, state wardens have an excellent record when it comes to hauling up the vehicles that crash through the ice on Maine’s lakes and ponds every winter.

russia iceHilton said it seems more and more vehicles have plunged through thin ice in recent years — 15 in 1989 and 17 in 1988. Some belong to ice fishermen, who like to drive out to their favorite spots, and others to people who enjoy cruising on the ice just for fun.

Six vehicles sank to the bottom of Maine lakes and ponds in 1985 and in 1986, and only two were reported in 1987.

Another ‘three or four’ vehicles have already met the same fate since the start of 1990, he said.

The state Legislature passed a law three years ago giving the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife responsibility for making sure the vehicles are removed from the water.

Hilton said his department urges owners to get the vehicles out of the water as soon as possible. But he said extra pressure is applied when vehicles end up in a lake that is used as a source of drinking water.

‘Many lakes which are used in the winter (for recreation) are the water supplies for surrounding areas,’ Hilton said. ‘It stands to reason that lakes that are water supplies are often located near large populations of people and those are the lakes that are often heavily used for recreation.’

One such case involves a 1977 Jeep pickup that plunged through the ice on Jordan Pond at Acadia National Park on Mount Desert Island in mid-March, while Aaron Higgins of Hancock was driving it across the ice.

Higgins managed to get out, but the truck sank in 120 feet of water at the north end of the pond, an area that serves as the drinking water supply for the town of Seal Harbor.

Because the water is too deep for divers using scuba equipment, the truck will remain on the bottom until state officials figure out a way to reach it, perhaps using divers with hard-hat equipment.

The routine for removing submerged vehicles is fairly simple. Divers go down with large air bags, or with inner tubes from large trucks or other commercial vehicles. The bags or tubes are attached to the vehicles and then inflated with an air line.

‘They inflate those inner tubes and the cars just pop right to the surface,’ Hilton explained.

Cars and trucks are not the only items that end up in the state’s lakes and ponds. A number of snowmobiles crash through the ice every year as well, officials said.

‘We suspect that a lot of them aren’t even reported, and many of them are retrieved and we are never informed,’ said Gary Anderson, head of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife’s Safety Division.

As many as 35 snowmobiles may have ended up in the water this past year, Anderson estimated, but most of them have been successfully recovered.

The wooden fishing shacks that shelter ice fishermen are supposed to be removed from the ice by spring. But many of the small shelters end up bobbing in the water after the ice melts. The shacks are an annoyance, but they don’t usually cause any serious pollution problems, Anderson said.

‘Many times they end up floating and they come ashore, and they get left for some poor camp owner to clean up,’ Anderson said.

Wardens and divers at Schoodic Lake north of Bangor have a more gruesome task before them during this year’s annual lake search. They will be looking for the bodies of two fishermen, who apparently drowned in the lake last September.

Glen Patterson, 31, and Jeffrey Hall, 33, both of Hampden, went out fishing in a small boat and never returned home. The boat was found overturned the next day.

Divers searched for several days, but cold weather caused the lake to freeze over before the bodies could be found.

Officials said the bodies may surface this spring once the ice melts. Otherwise, they could remain in the cold depths of Schoodic Lake forever.

‘Periodically we lose somebody in the water, and the depth and the water temperatures keep them from ever coming up,’ Anderson said. ‘There are several bodies in Sebago Lake that never floated back up over the years