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Have you ever been driving along a lonely highway in the middle of the country someplace when you came upon an impressive looking historical marker that read something like: It was on this spot in 1793 that Eli Crimmons - a frontiersman and 18th Century 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 it again."
You drive away from the historic spot feeling somehow that you've 'connected ' with the area and learned a little more about this great country of ours. You also realize that you've just wasted twenty precious minutes of the time you're alotted 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 and 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 cynics 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 it may not be a good example. Granted, the invention of the Vu-Back mirror may not rival the discovery of penicillin or the invention of the Stick-Um Note but it's SOMETHING and it deserves some kind 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 zany college 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 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 and despite that fact that some might think I'm all wet, I think he deserves a little recognition.
Contact John at: storytellers@maine.com or write:
John McDonald, Storyteller Central, P.O. Box 301, South Paris, ME 04281
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