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


Frank Anicetti; A man with Moxie

There’s plenty of characters in Maine, and Frank Anicetti was certainly one of them. For reasons that were not completely clear to me, the variety store owner developed a real passion for Moxie, the soft drink, and that passion led to one of Maine’s most unusual summer festivals, Moxie Days. I spent an afternoon with Frank at his store, Kennebec Fruit, back in the late 1980s, and this story resulted.


LISBON FALLS, Maine (UPI) — It’s easy to see that Frank Anicetti has plenty of Moxie. It’s stuck to the ashtrays, sewn on the stocking caps and printed on the t-shirts that crowd his tiny variety store in a tired old mill town.

Anicetti, 46, may be the world’s biggest drum-beater for Moxie, the slightly bitter soft drink that has been a New England institution for more than 100 years. His Kennebec Fruit Store is lined with memorabilia, Moxie displays and Moxie signs from previous eras.

Even the modern political signs in the in the windows have a decidedly Moxie influence.

MoxieAd1“Vote for Jim Tierney,” begs one hand-lettered sign in a side window. “He’s got Moxie!”

Being the only Moxie booster in Lisbon Falls may be a lonely mission. But all that changes next weekend, when Moxie madcaps from all over converge on the town for the annual Moxie Days celebration, a series of barbecues, parades, beauty pageants and other summer goings-on.

Several hundred Moxie guzzlers showed up last year to bask in the glow of their favorite beverage, and Anicetti thinks this year’s celebration will be bigger than ever.

The festival owes it all to Anicetti and to Moxie, a soft drink that was not inspired, invented or bottled in Lisbon Falls.

If that doesn’t seem logical, it all makes perfect sense to Anicetti. Moxie needed a place for a festival, he realized, while Lisbon Falls needed an excuse for one.

“Old home days come and go,” Anicetti said, “but Moxie has staying power.”

The festival’s beginnings were humble enough. In 1981, Anicetti hosted an autograph party for Frank Potter, another Moxie fanatic who had written a book about the soft drink’s history.

“In 1984, when moxie was 100 years old, I called Potter and said, ‘Let’s have a birthday party for Moxie,’” Anicetti said. They’ve hosted one each year since.

moxieAnicetti claims 30 percent of Lisbon Falls’ 11,000 residents drink Moxie regularly. And he said the townspeople are excited about this year’s Moxie Days, July 12-13.

“They’re pitching right in now,” he said. “The Fire Department has got a fireman’s muster planned, and we’re expecting fire departments from all over Maine and even outside the state to come in.”

“And it looks like the parade is going to be about two hours long, much bigger than last year,” he said.

Anicetti has only fuzzy memories of the beginnings of the Moxie influence at his store, which was founded by his grandfather in 1914. But Moxie has been a big item for as long as he can remember.

“I’ve always enjoyed it, we always drank it and we always had a clientele who came through who like it, too,” Anicetti said.

The worst days for Moxie, he said, were in the late 1950s and early 1960s, when Moxie decided to change its formula to make the beverage more appealing to a bigger market.

The move was a disaster, Anicetti said. New drinkers didn’t like it any better than the original, and the small but loyal Moxie vanguard couldn’t stand the new sweet taste.

But even through the darkest days, Kennebec Fruit remained loyal.

“Even when Moxie was dying during the 1950s and 1960s, we still kept it going,” Anicetti said. “Two years later they went back to the old formula.”

Perhaps the strangest part of Anicetti’s love affair with an obscure soft drink is that he’s never been to a bottling plant, and the Moxie company has never acknowledged, or even contacted, the Kennebec Fruit Store.

Georgiana Taylor, head of franchise sales for Monarch Co. of Atlanta, owner of Moxie, said she had never heard of Anicetti or the Moxie Days festival.

“I’m not familiar with it, I don’t know anything about it,” she said. “But people up there really do get into Moxie.”

Should conservative Christian group participate in high school program about gay awareness?

The more I delve back into the stories I wrote 25 or 35 years ago, the more I find parallels to today’s issues. In this case, the very conservative Christian Civic League of Maine was up in arms about a gay awareness program that was being sponsored by a rural Maine high school. Much of this story from around 1990 seems to reflect the conservative positions and concerns that we see today.  I must say that Civic League President Jasper Wyman and his predecessor, Rev. Benjamin Bubar, were in my office frequently about one issue or another, and they were always friendly and polite while fighting their battles, which were often very uphill to say the least.


READFIELD, Maine (UPI) – The conservative Christian Civic League of Maine wants equal time at a local high school’s “Teen Issues Week” because of fears that an appearance by a group of homosexuals might be seen by students as an endorsement of a gay lifestyle.

For the second year in a row, Maranacook Community High School has incorporated a visit by a group of young gays, who are slated to speak March 20 about homophobia, a hatred or fear of homosexuals, and about the problems faced by young gay people.

The gay teenagers are members of Outright, a support group for gay and lesbian adolescents in Portland, Maine’s largest city, situated about 75 miles south of the rural community of Readfield.

christian civic leagueThis year, for the first time, The Christian Civic League of Maine is demanding a chance to talk to students to combat what the group views as an endorsement of the gay lifestyle.

Jasper Wyman, head of the 93-year-old conservative organization, said students should have an opportunity to hear from people who believe that homosexuality is wrong. Wyman said he hoped a league representative would be allowed to take part in the program to explain the group’s belief that homosexuality is not an acceptable lifestyle.

But so far, Principal Ronald D. Jenkins has refused to invite Wyman to attend the event.

Wyman said the Christian Civic League had no objection to teaching students about homosexuality.

“We talked to Mr. Jenkins and we said we appreciated the idea of Teen Awareness Week, but we told him that it appeared to us that it could turn into a forum for the promotion of the social and political and ethical acceptance of the homosexual lifestyle,” said Wyman, whose group represents 440 Maine families and 230 churches in the state.

Wyman claims even the title of the workshop, “Homophobia and Sexual Bias,” implies that people who object to homosexuality might be labeled homophobes. Jenkins, he said, tried to assure him that the program did not endorse homosexuality.

“I said it seemed (central) to the whole argument that homosexuality should be accepted by society as morally neutral and simply a matter of personal preference, like one selects a preference for colors or flavors, and that there is no ethical or moral or cultural implications,” Wyman said. “It seems what they are saying is that it should be accepted, and that those who do not accept it are engaged in homophobia because they are bigoted. This, I think, promotes acceptance (of homosexuality).”

gay rainbowJenkins, who said he generally holds conservative views, attended last year’s session and came to believe strongly that the program has value, especially for teens who may be questioning their own sexuality.

“Personally, my own neck is pretty red,” Jenkins said. “But I came out of that session last year feeling pretty sad. Not sad because the kids were gay. I just hope in the 17 years that I taught math that I never treated anyone the way some of those kids described how teachers had treated them.”

“We are not promoting anything,” said Jenkins. “We are not trying to enter into a debate on whether being homosexual is good or bad. We are simply having young people present what it is like to be a homosexual in a heterosexual world.”

Wyman criticizes the program for failing to treat homosexuality as a moral issue.

“We are concerned that this (homosexuality) will be discussed with a pro perspective, and we feel that is biased and unhealthy and plain old wrong,” Wyman said. “I know that is old-fashioned, but we still use (those words) and believe in them. If someone is going to come in and say there is nothing wrong with (homosexuality), then someone else ought to be invited in to say that it is wrong, and why we think it is wrong.”

Shelly Chasse, a Readfield resident and mother of four young children, was one of several Christian Civic League members to bring the Maranacook program to Wyman’s attention.  Although she does not have children at the high school, she said she objected to the program, and felt that townspeople and parents had not been given a chance to comment on the plans.

“I think it is a bad example when we bring (homosexuals) in there,” Chasse said. “It is like having the parents say that we accept this lifestyle.”

But Diane Elze, an adult advisor to the Outright group, said the program is really only about helping children and adolescents get through a difficult time, and help them deal with their feelings about their own sexuality.

“People who work with young people are hungry for this information,” she said. “They are working with young people who have questions about their sexuality and their sexual orientation, and they want to do what is best for the kids. This is not an easy topic to talk about, but the bottom line is what do we need to do for kids to have them grow up healthy, happy and whole.”

Halloween cats

Back in 1993 I was working for the St. Petersburg TIMES, and I recall spending one October day looking around for a Halloween story. I finally called Rick Chaboudy, who was the director of the Humane Society of North Pinellas. Rick was a very media-savvy guy who could usually be counted on to come up with a good story.  I was thinking about whether black cats were more in demand for adoption around Halloween, but he had a much better idea — a story about people who wanted to rent black cats for Halloween parties. So that’s how this story came to be.


Pet adoptions have been a little slow at the Humane Society of North Pinellas, but the phone has been ringing off the hook with calls from people who want to rent cats for Halloween parties.
humane society     But even though the Humane Society has about 50 cats, none of them are for rent, not now and not ever, according to Rick Chaboudy, the Humane Society’s director.
“I think people are getting into more elaborate Halloween parties and they try to think of everything,” Chaboudy said. “We try to explain we don’t do things like that – it would be a tremendous amount of stress on the cat, plus we don’t want to give the impression we approve of activities like that.
“We are here to find permanent homes for our cats, not to rent them out as decorations.”
The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals of St. Petersburg in Largo has not received any requests for renting cats.
“But we do put restrictions on the adoption of black cats during that week,” said shelter director Beth Lockwood. “We don’t let black cats out the week before Halloween.”

black cat     The interest in using the Humane Society of North Pinellas in Clearwater as a sort of Rent-A-Cat agency is a fairly new twist, Chaboudy said.
But calls inquiring about renting cats have been steadily increasing during the past few Octobers. About a half-dozen such calls have come into the Humane Society during the past week, he said.
“It has to be black, and they seem to think if they call early enough they can reserve one,” he said. “And it’s funny – some people feel a little foolish after we turn them down, but others act put out that we won’t accommodate them. They say things like, `Well, we aren’t going to hurt it’ or `We’ll bring it back afterward’ – like we’re wrong in not letting this happen.”
Even if the Humane Society did rent cats, Halloween party-givers probably would be a little disappointed at the present selection. Chaboudy said of the 50 or so cats, none are completely black.
“We do have a few black-and-white cats, but that’s as close as they come,” he said. “If we did have black cats right now, we might not put them out for adoption until Halloween was over.”
Actually, there is a single black cat at the Humane Society, 3040 State Road 590, but she isn’t available for adoption.
“That’s Bonnie, the office cat,” Chaboudy said. “We couldn’t allow her to be adopted. She’s one of our public relations people. Bonnie works for a living.”

A battle over a church pew

A couple of stories down, I wrote about a court case in Maine’s York County from the 1700s, a story that came to me courtesy of the Maine State Archives. This story also came from the Archives,and  also happened in York County in the mid-1700s. Yes, people were arguing over petty BS 300 years ago, just as they do now.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – The church in what is now Falmouth was only 13 years old, but it was already overcrowded with local worshippers on Sunday mornings, and the church elders realized that something had to be done.

Although it was more than 20 years before the start of the American Revolution, the church leaders dealt with the overcrowding in the same way that a modern church might be expected to handle a similar problem; they formed a committee to study the overcrowding, and to recommend solutions.

The committee looked over the building, and talked to people in the community who wanted to join the church, which then was known simply as a “meeting house for public worship.” The members decided to recommend that an addition be built, and that 28 new pews be added for additional parishioners.

church pews 2That seemingly simple decision threw the congregation into a bitter dispute that was not settled by the early courts of York County until more than seven years later.

The records of that case, heard more than 200 years ago in York County’s Inferior Court of Common Pleas, were uncovered recently by researchers at the Maine State Archives, who have been sifting through ancient records from York County’s courts.

The records indicate that the people who built the public meeting house in 1740 were given the right to build their own pews, and to have them permanently placed inside the building.

One of the builders had been Jeremiah Riggs. And for more than 15 years, Jeremiah and his family had spent part of each Sunday in the six-foot pew that he had built and placed inside the meeting house. Joseph Cox sat up front, and Joshua Freeman and his family sat behind.

The Meeting House Committee decided the new parishioners would build an addition to the building and, like the original, would be allowed to build their own pews. The original pews would be moved to the new section of the meeting house, and the new pews would be placed where the old pews had once stood.

falmouth signThe original members would sit in their pews in the new location, the committee members decided. If they didn’t like the new spot, the members would have the option of taking over the new pew in the old location.

No one seemed to mind that plan. No one, that is, except Jeremiah Riggs.

The new addition was completed in 1759, and the pews were set up in their new locations. But Riggs didn’t like his new spot. It was cold and drafty, he complained. But he also didn’t want to give up the old pew, which he had built with his own hands years earlier.

He complained and argued, but the church leaders stuck to their decision.

When words did not work, Riggs broke into the meeting house when no one was around one November day, perhaps to try to forcibly move the new pew from his pew’s former location. He was found in the meeting house, however, and the congregation brought trespassing charges against him.

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Public Enemy #1 Al Brady dies on the streets of Bangor, Maine

Crime stories weren’t exactly common in Maine. But back in the late 1930s, Public Enemy #1 Al Brady came to Maine to hide out. And he might never have been found had it not been for his longing for the true badge of an American gangster of the time, a Thompson submachine gun. When he tried to pick one up at a Bangor gun shop, the FBI was waiting. He died in a shootout that was so bloody that the Fire Department had to be summoned to wash the blood from Central Street.


BANGOR, Maine (UPI) – The stolen eight-cylinder Buick glided to a stop outside Dakin’s Sporting Goods store. Alfred Brady, the FBI’s Public Enemy Number One, slouched in the back seat while another man went in to see if the Thompson submachine gun they had on order had come in.

It was Oct. 12, 1937. Brady’s blood was about to be splashed over Central Street, and the story was about to be splashed across the front pages of newspapers around the world.

buick brochure pic

A 1937 Buick Roadmaster

It was the most exciting thing to ever happen in Bangor. Now, 50 years later, the Bangor Daily News hopes to raise enough money to buy a small granite marker to memorialize the gunfight between the Brady Gang and the FBI.

“We’ve put out an appeal to raise $650 for a marker to commemorate the spot,” said Richard Shaw, a Daily News copy editor and amateur history buff who is involved in the project. “So far we have raised about $100, and the readers are really responding.”

The heat was on for the Brady Gang in 1937. Brady and his two henchmen had begun their crime careers in Indiana, and had robbed a string of banks and jewelry stores, killing three people along the way. J. Edgar Hoover’s FBI had launched one of its famous manhunts for the trio, and had named Brady Public Enemy Number One.

The gang found a place to hang out in Connecticut, and began to put together an arsenal.

al brady image

Al Brady

Brady thought that Maine would be a great place to buy guns. It was fall, and hunting season was about to start. People buying guns shouldn’t raise an eyebrow in Maine, Brady reasoned.

The gang made several trips to Maine in the shiny Buick they had stolen earlier in Baltimore. On one trip they bought a number of handguns, and an obliging merchant at Hussey Hardware in Augusta innocently wrote a letter of introduction to the owner of a hardware store in Bangor when he couldn’t provide the guns the gang had asked for.

Even though Brady had accumulated a number of pistols and rifles, he dreamed about obtaining the true badge of the 1930s gangster, a Thompson submachine gun. When the gang got to Bangor, they went to the hardware store and then to Dakin’s, and Brady asked a clerk about the prospects for obtaining one of the weapons.

The store clerk, Shep Hurd, apparently realized a Thomason submachine gun was not the weapon of choice for most deer hunters. His suspicions aroused, he told Brady he might know where to get a submachine gun, although delivery would take a week.

When the gang members left the store, Hurd went to the police.

Brady and the other two men hung around Bangor for a week, waiting for the gun to arrive. At midday on Oct. 12, they drove back downtown and parked on Central Street near Dakin’s.


A stone marker placed in the sidewalk near where Al Brady was gunned down by FBI agents

The gang didn’t know it, but downtown Bangor was crawling with FBI agents. Hurd, the store clerk, had been replaced by an agent. FBI sharpshooters were at the second floor windows of the buildings across the street. Others were stationed at other strategic spots along the street.

One of the gangsters, James Dalhover, got out of the Buick and entered the store. Brady and Clarence Shaffer Jr. stayed in the car.

Dalhover asked about the Thompson submachine gun and was immediately arrested. Shaffer finally left the car to see what was taking so long, and saw through the window that Dalhover was being handcuffed. He opened fire and was immediately hit with 25 rounds from FBI guns from inside the store and from across the street.

“That was when the FBI opened fire, and hit him with about 25 bullets,” Shaw said. “He twisted around like a top and collapsed in the street.”

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Old Sam Cole beats the rap

I got to know Jim Henderson when he served in the Maine Legislature. Later, he became Secretary of State and then State Archivist (if I remember correctly, Jim had a PhD in history).

As state archivist, Jim would occasionally call me to tell me about some interesting thing they had found while shuffling through old state records. In this case, he called me to tell me about a curious poem that had been found on the back of some papers from the York County Court of General Sessions, dated October 1734.

I love history and I absolutely loved this story. Unfortunately, UPI was on its last legs in the late 1980s and I’m not sure if this story was ever published.


AUGUSTA, Maine (UPI) – It wasn’t much of a crime, not even for the town of Biddeford in 1734. Old Sam Cole got drunk one warm summer’s night and beat up his son, Sam. Jr.

Two days later, Cole was drunk again. And once again, Sam. Jr. was the object of his father’s rage. This time, Old Sam didn’t beat up his son; instead, he just threatened to shoot him dead.

All of this earned the elder Cole a Grand Jury indictment, and a visit to the Court of General Sessions in York.

sam cole paperwork 1

The actual court papers that contained the Sam Cole poem

Just as it wasn’t a big crime, it also wasn’t a big court case. The prosecutor looked over the charges, decided that a lot of people got belligerent when they drank too much, and asked that the charges be dismissed.

The court agreed, and Old Sam was off the hook.

sam cole paperwork 2

The actual court records containing the Sam Cole poem

Normally, the case of Sam Cole wouldn’t have created much interest among researchers at the Maine State Archives, where ancient court records from York County have been under review for the past two years.

What has the researchers wondering is the poem that someone scratched out on the back of Sam Cole’s court papers.

“The jurors of our lords the king
       On oath present, and here they bring
       Into this honorable court,
       This lamentable sad report.”

 If there was a closet poet in York’s Court of General Sessions in the 1730s, he or she apparently only struck once, at least publicly. And no one can figure why the routine assault case of an old, drunken millwright moved the poet to describe the case in verse. Continue reading