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Have you ever been driving along a lonely road in the middle of nowhere when you come upon an impressive looking historical marker that reads something like: "It was on this spot in 1743 that Eli Crimmons -frontiersman and dufus - made camp one night near what would eventually become the town of Crimmonsburgh, a small backwater settlement that we're sure you've never heard of until now and we're equally sure you'll never hear of again."
You drive away from the historic spot feeling you’ve somehow 'connected ' with the area, like burrs ‘connect’ with your wool socks. You also feel you’ve learned a little more about this great country of ours.
Finally you realize that you've just wasted twenty precious minutes of the brief time you're allotted on this planet. I was thinking about such things the other day and concluded that we here in Maine don't have enough historic makers and time wasters cluttering up our roadsides and should do more - a lot more - to mark the memorable places throughout our state where something actually happened. Let natives and visitors alike know what - of a historic nature - went on where and when. Like what? You ask. O.K., good question. Where is the marker in Waterville to inform mirror buffs that it was in that river community that Mildred Dunham invented the 'Vu-Back mirror in 1936? "What the #&%@ is a Vu-Back mirror?" I hear some of the more cynical among you ask. The Vu-Back mirror happens to be a mirror specially made to hang around your neck, giving you free use of your hands. O.K., so the vu back mirror may not rival the discovery of penicillan or splitting the atom, but it's something and it happened right here in Maine. Come to think of it, the vu-back mirror probably isn't as important as the invention of the stick-um note, but, like I said, it's SOMETHING and it deserves a plaque of recognition. And another thing! Where are the historic markers in Brunswick telling visitors about when President Franklin Pierce - 14th president of these United States (1853-57) - lived there while a student at Bowdoin College and probably frequented many of the same crazy college-kid haunts that crazy college kids hang around today? "But, John," you say, "Franklin Pierce is considered one of our worst presidents and on the rare occasions when he is talked about by scholars the words 'weak' and 'vacillating' are mentioned often in the discussions. Why would we want to tell tourists about him and his association with our state?" Another good point. It's true that Pierce had a less than stellar presidency, so what else is new? True, he managed to make the division in his party - the Democrats - even worse than it was before they nominated him and he was even denied the nomination of his party at the convention of 1856 but, hey, he was president, he did live in Brunswick, he is part of the Maine experience and even scholars can't deny to Pierce the crowning achievement of his presidency - the Gadsden Purchase. Maybe other examples would demonstrate my point better. Where's the historic marker in Norway to show the exact spot where golf tees were first produced. And speaking of wooden things, are you aware of any official recognition given to Charles Forster of Bangor? “Was he wooden?” you ask, sarcastically. Charles Forster of Bangor was only the inventor of the toothpick and after he invented the ingenious little things he began making them in his shop soon after the Civil War. You'd think orthodontists would want to recognize Mr. Forster as a small way of thanking him for all the crooked front teeth his simple wooden invention helped create. It would also be nice to have a marker in Winthrop that tells people all about that town's famous native - Ezekiel J. Bailey. O.K., John, I'll bite again. Who was he? Ezekiel J. Bailey only built the nation's first oilcloth factory in his hometown of Winthrop in 1845. Many more oilcloth factories would soon follow, but Bailey was the first. Despite that fact that some might think I'm all wet here, I think Ezekiel deserves some long-overdue recognition. Come on, you folks in Winthrop! Where's Zeke's roadside marker?
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at mainestoryteller@yahoo.com or 899-1868.
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