Writing fiction

I didn’t get serious about writing fiction until pretty late in my life. I found a fiction writers group at my local library in Tarpon Springs, Fla. around 2015, dusted off an old novel I had started in the 1990s and, with the help of the writers in the group, finally got it finished.

coloradas coverMuch to my surprise, it won a Silver Award in the Florida Writers Association’s annual Royal Palm Literary Awards competition. “Nailing Coloradas” is now available on Amazon in Kindle format.

So I want the term “award-winning novelist” to appear prominently in my obit.

I did a few short stories to read to the writers group, and one of them has turned into another novel, “Bernie’s Shell,” which is about 80 percent complete and will hopefully be ready for the FWA competition this year.

In doing some genealogical work on my family, and having my DNA analyzed, I came across an unanticipated story that I hope will be novel #3. There’s no way I can uncover all the facts of the story since it happened 125 years ago, so I’m going to write it in fictional format. If you don’t have the facts, make ’em up!

Here’s the link to “Nailing Coloradas.”



My grandfather’s pocket watch

This was something I wrote without any real clear idea of where to publish it. I just ended up posting it here on my blog, and then on Facebook.


My grandfather was an engineer for the Boston & Albany Railroad. This was his pocket watch. It is a Ball Official Standard. I think it was made in the 1920s, but I’m not sure.

grampa's watchWatches were a big deal for railroad people back in the old days, because time was critical in the railroad business. Getting somewhere on schedule mattered, but it was more than that.

Maybe a freight train is coming from the opposite direction. Maybe you need to pull your train onto a siding to let it pass. If your watch is eight or nine minutes slow, and the other freight gets to the siding before you do, the trains could collide.

That’s what happened in Kipton, Ohio on April 18, 1891, in what came to be known as the Great Kipton Train Disaster. It was a train wreck that killed nine people, six of them postal clerks, and it changed time forever.

Here is what happened:

The fast mail train known as #14, with three mail cars and two parlor cars, was headed west at full speed on the Lake Shore & Michigan Southern Railroad tracks, about 40 miles west of Cleveland. Coming in the other direction, at much slower speed, was the Toledo Express, a train consisting of five coaches and two baggage cars.

great kipton

This is one of the engines involved in the 1893 Kipton train crash

At an earlier stop, the Toledo Express crew had been instructed to pull onto a siding up ahead at Kipton to let the mail train pass. And they would have done that, were it not for some issues involving the crew’s watches.

The conductor of the Toledo Express said later that he never looked at his watch, thinking that the engineer would look after the schedule. But a later investigation revealed that the engineer’s watch had stopped working for a critical four minutes before starting up again. A few miles out of Kipton, the engineer thought he had a comfortable seven minutes to get his train out of the way of the oncoming mail train, when he actually had just three.

The engineer of the mail train saw the Toledo Express on the tracks ahead and hurriedly applied the brakes, but it was too late. Here is what the Atlanta CONSTITUTION newspaper said of the crash:

“The engine of the Toledo Express was knocked squarely across the track, and that of the fast mail reared in the air, resting on the top of the other… The first and second mail cars were telescoped and smashed to kindling wood, and the third crashed into the first two and rolled over on the station platform, breaking the windows of the building.”

The crash was big news across the country, and it resulted in an investigation that found the Toledo Express crew to be at fault. The investigation also focused on the engineer’s faulty watch.

And this is where we get back around to Grandfather Frederick’s Ball Official Standard pocket watch.

After the crash, the Lake Shore and Michigan Southern Railroad appointed a Cleveland jeweler, Webster Ball, to investigate the railroad’s timekeeping issues. Ball found that railroad crews did not use any particular time or watch standards in their work. Two years after the crash, in 1893, Ball produced a new set of standards. From that time on, railroad pocket watches had to be accurate to within 30 seconds per week; have 15 jewels; and had to have a white face and black Arabic numerals. Since variances in temperature could cause watches to speed up or slow down, they also had to be temperature compensated.

Also, the standards required railroad engineers to have their watches inspected regularly. After each successful inspection, the engineers were handed certificates that guaranteed the watches’ reliability. Watch repairs had to be paid for by the engineers themselves, although they could get loaner watches from the jeweler while their own watch was being fixed.

So my grandfather had a Ball watch. So did everyone else in the railroad business at that time.

Ever heard the phrase, “on the ball?” It’s a phrase that relates to promptness and accuracy, and it traces back to Webster Ball.


BA engine

This is a locomotive that was operated by the Boston & Albany Railroad. This photo was taken in Springfield, Mass., my grandfather’s daily destination from Boston. It would be very cool if that was him hanging out of the window, but we’ll never know.

One day in, I think, 1951, my father took me to the Boston & Albany railroad yard in Boston, and we climbed up into my grandfather’s engine. I was 4. We hung on while he hooked up the cars, a process that involved getting the engine up to a little speed backwards and then banging it into some freight cars. I don’t remember much about that, except that it happened quite a few times, and the process involved a lot of banging and clanking and hanging on.

engineer capsA couple of years later, my grandmother and aunt drove me into Boston in my aunt’s blue Ford. We pulled off to the side of Storrow Drive near what is now Boston University, and waited near a railroad overpass. In a while, my grandfather’s train approached the overpass – right on time, I assume, because of his Ball Official Standard. He waved out the window, and blew the air horn. He was even wearing one of those blue-and-white striped engineer’s caps, which I just learned you can still buy at Wal-Mart for about 10 bucks.

My grandfather worked hard all his life, was lucky enough to have a good job through the Depression, and he was looking forward to retirement. But in 1956, at age 64 and just six months before collecting his good railroad pension, he walked home from the bus stop one night, climbed into bed, and died of a massive heart attack. The unfiltered Chesterfields he had smoked all his life finally caught up with him.

Many years later, when I was about 64, his daughter (my aunt) died, and I got my grandfather’s Ball Official Standard pocket watch. It was the only thing I wanted.



Writing for Facebook

This headline is somewhat misleading. If I were REALLY going to show an example of writing for Facebook (or any social media), I’d post something that would contain links and keywords and other little tidbits that are especially applicable to social media. But I posted this story and picture about my father on a recent Veteran’s Day (November 11, 2016) for a couple of reasons — it told a little about me and my family, and I knew that anything that relates to a holiday or other special day usually gets a good amount of attention. This story got around 75 “likes” and around 25 comments, so it was pretty well received.  This is typical of what I’m writing currently; I’m working on my second novel, writing some PR-related magazine articles and press releases for a Tampa-based agency, and posting a fair amount of social media words and pictures.


This is a picture of my father with just one leg under him, an observation that has more truth to it than you know. I’ve always been reluctant to share this picture, especially on a day like today. I didn’t want anyone to feel that I was being disrespectful by posting a picture of him in such a comic pose.

But I decided to go ahead and share it. It’s a story that is worth telling.

muleshit-pictureArthur (that was his name, the same as mine) quit high school in his junior year, and then bummed around for a number of years. He worked as a painter and paperhanger in Boston, then moved to Cleveland in pursuit of a woman. He worked there in a hotel kitchen, as assistant to the ice cream chef.

Nothing much happened in his life until he got his draft notice in 1942. He was 25.

He was inducted into the army, and was assigned to an artillery unit. U.S. Army artillery pieces were still being dragged around by mules at that time, and Arthur spent a number of months as a buck private, shoveling mule shit. This was duty that he did not like.

Paper hanger, then assistant ice cream maker, then shoveler of mule shit. He was in his mid-20s, not all that young. I think around this time he finally got the message that some changes had to be made; he applied for Officer Candidate School.

His Army aptitude tests showed he had an IQ of 135, and that’s what got him accepted. He spent the next 90 nights in the latrine, the only place he could study. With only a 10th grade education, he mastered trigonometry while sitting on a toilet.

Now he was a Second Lieutenant, an artillery officer. A year or so later, he landed on Utah Beach, marched across Europe as part of Patton’s Army, and fought in the Battle of the Bulge. He earned the Bronze Star and the Silver Star. The Boston Globe, his hometown newspaper, wrote a story about him.

He came home and got a good job with Standard Oil on the basis of his military rank and record. He believed that World War II was the best thing that had ever happened to him.

This story does not have a good ending. Arthur’s lifelong addiction to alcohol killed him at 54. He died pretty much alone, having lost his job, his family and friends many years earlier. He was a high school dropout at the beginning of his adult life, and an alcoholic at the end of it.

But in the middle of his life, between those two dark bookends, there was a shining moment. He did the right thing, he contributed something good to others, and he earned some respect. I bet it made him feel good. I believe the picture is of him during his Army training, sometime during his transition from muleshit-shoveler to leader of men.

It’s not easy for me to say anything good about Arthur; my memories of him are not good ones. But today I’m going to try to give him his due.

I guess this Veteran’s Day belongs to him as much as anyone.


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.”

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

The flight of L’Oiseau Blanc

Everyone remembers Charles Lindbergh and his flight from the US to Paris in 1927, in pursuit of history as well as a $25,000 prize. Not so well remembered, however, are Charles Nungesser and Francois Coli, two French aviators who disappeared just 12 days before Lindbergh’s flight, as they tried to make the same Atlantic crossing in reverse, from Paris to New York.

Some believe their big Lavasseur biplane, the L’Oiseau Blanc, or White Bird, crashed in Maine’s Washington County after they ran out of fuel in a heavy fog.

TIGHAR, a research group that specializes in historic aircraft recovery, came to Maine in April of 1987 to search the dense woods for L’Oiseau Blanc. I took part in that search and wrote about it.


MACHIAS, Maine (UPI) – If a certain theory is correct, the big white biplane was nearly out of fuel when it flew low over the Atlantic and skimmed over the eastern coast of Maine in chilly, foggy weather on May 9, 1927.

According to the hypothesis, the French pilot flew inland and peered down through the fog, looking for a place to land. He finally sighted a small lake and began to descend in a slow circle.

Perhaps the pilot did not see a ridge in front until it was too late, or perhaps the big Lavasseur biplane simply ran out of fuel.

Whatever, a fisherman casting for pickerel on Round Lake heard an engine, a ripping sound, a crash, and then, once again, silence.

No one knows for sure, but the fisherman, Anson Berry, may have heard the tragic end of an historic attempt to link France with New York by two of the world’s most famous fliers of the day, pilot Charles Nungesser and navigator Francois Coli.

Coli and Nungesser were trying for the prize that lured Charles Lindbergh to attempt the same flight from west to east, just 12 days after the French plane is believed to have crashed.

Now, 60 years later, searchers are getting ready to head into the dense Maine woods, about 50 miles east of Bangor, in hopes of untangling the mystery once and for all.

white bird airplaneRichard Gillespie, an aviation historian who is heading the search for the White Bird, said the chances of finding the plane’s wreckage are fairly good if his theory about the end of the flight proves true. Previous searches have narrowed the area to be covered, he said, and some sophisticated equipment will be used for the first time, which may make it possible to locate the plane from the air.

Gillespie’s group, The International Group for Historic Aircraft Recovery, or TIGHAR, plans to send a crew to Maine today to lay down search grids. On Saturday, ground crews will begin searching the woods for the remains of the plane.

“On the 30th of April, an Aerospatiale helicopter will arrive, equipped with a special forward-looking infrared turret installed for this search,” Gillespie said. “The aircraft has every remote sending device they know of, and we will use it for aerial searching April 30 through May 2.”

nungesser et coli 2

Nungesser and Coli

The search will continue through the weekend of May 9-10, and Gillespie hopes that will be enough time to find the wreckage.

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