Literary Maine: Who Knew?  

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10/25/2005 9:52 pm

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3/5/2006 9:27 pm

Literary Maine: Who Knew?


Literary Maine: A reader's pilgrimage

From Longfellow to Stephen King
CAMDEN, Maine (AP) -- Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote a poem that would bring her fame, "Renascence," about the view from Mount Battie in Camden. Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" in 1850 while living in a house near Bowdoin College. And tiny Bucks Harbor, in South Brooksville, still looks a lot like the drawings in Robert McCloskey's beloved 1952 children's book, "One Morning in Maine."
Literary pilgrims can find these and many other places associated with famous writers all over Maine, from Portland, birthplace of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, to Bangor, home of Stephen King. Here are some details to help you plan a trip.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Drive to the top of Mount Battie in Camden Hills State Park and you'll find a plaque bearing the words to "Renascence." The verse describes the view:
"All I could see from where I stood,
"Was three long mountains and a wood.
"I turned and looked another way,
"And saw three islands in a bay."
Nearby, Camden's Whitehall Inn maintains a room dedicated to Millay, with photos and other memorabilia on display. Millay's sister worked at the hotel and invited her to attend a party there one night in 1912. She read her poem "Renascence" to the guests, and one of them became her patron. Millay went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry and was a huge celebrity in her day.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Longfellow turned American history into legend, with poems like "The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere" and "Hiawatha" that remain well-known today.
But visitors who tour the brick house in Portland where he grew up -- now a National Historic Landmark -- may find they know more Longfellow quotations than they realized. The home was built in 1786 by his grandfather, a Revolutionary War general whose war stories may have led Longfellow to pen the observation that great men leave "footprints in the sands of time." And as the poet mourned his first wife's death, he composed the line, "Into each life some rain must fall."
Upstairs, look for his portable writing desk, a wood and brass case with receptacles for papers and pens that was the laptop of its day.

Stephen King
The "Tommyknockers & More Bus Tour" of Bangor may well be the most entertaining two hours you ever spend on a bus, whether you're a die-hard Stephen King fan or are only barely familiar with King classics like "Carrie" and "The Shining."
Many of King's stories are set in a fictionalized version of Bangor called Derry, and the bus will take you to see the ominous standpipe from "It" along with the manhole where a murderous clown emerges in the same tale.
But the tour is far more than a trip to every local landmark that ever turned up in King's work. It also tells the fascinating and increasingly rare story of a regular guy who became enormously successful, then set out to help the place that inspired him.
The tour will take you past the coin-operated laundry where King worked for $1.60 an hour; he based the character of the mother from "Carrie" on a woman he met there, according to the tour. You'll drive past the rundown house where he lived when he got a telegram that his work had been accepted by a publisher; he was too poor to have a phone.
The bus tour also includes stops at the many municipal improvements he's helped pay for, like a community swimming pool and baseball field. But the highlight for King fans is a stop outside his red-and-cream Italianate-style mansion, where the wrought-iron gates have a spider-web design and decorations like a black bat and a three-headed Hydra.

Robert McCloskey
If you loved McCloskey's "One Morning in Maine" as a child, or if your own child loves it now, visiting Bucks Harbor will be like walking into a full-color, three-dimensional version of the story.
Bucks Harbor is located in a peaceful cove lined with tall evergreens in South Brooksville. Small boats are tied up at the dock. On the main street, you'll find Bucks Harbor Market and Condon's Garage.
The scenery looks remarkably like the simple drawings in the book, which tells the story of a father rowing his little girls across the water to have ice cream at the market and to get his boat's motor repaired.
Literary pilgrims will want to get lunch at the market, sit on the dock, and take some pictures to match the book.

Harriet Beecher Stowe
It's sometimes said that the town of Brunswick was responsible for the beginning and end of the Civil War. It was here that Stowe wrote "Uncle Tom's Cabin" while her husband taught at Bowdoin College. President Lincoln reputedly said upon meeting her, "You're the little lady who started this great war."
Another Bowdoin professor, Joshua Chamberlain, commanded the Union troops that formally accepted the surrender of the South.
Stowe lived in a white house with black trim at 63 Federal St. Nearby is the First Parish Church, United Church of Christ, where she had a vision that inspired her to write the famous book. Chamberlain worshipped there as well and visitors can see where they sat. The church is across from the Bowdoin campus, where Longfellow and another famous writer, Nathaniel Hawthorne, were classmates.

Henry David Thoreau
In "The Maine Woods," Thoreau describes his 1857 trip to Greenville, where he hired an Indian guide to help him cross Moosehead Lake in a "little eggshell" of a boat, an 18-foot-long birch canoe.
Visitors to Moosehead today have more options. Take a comfortable cruise from Greenville on a boat called the Katahdin; rent a kayak or canoe; try a moose-watching cruise from The Birches lodge in Rockwood; or hop on the Kineo Shuttle, a small boat that runs hourly in July and August from Rockwood to Kineo Island, where you can hike or golf.

Edwin Arlington Robinson
Robinson's fame has dimmed, but he won the Pulitzer for poetry three times. His tragicomic portrait of a New Englander who feels that life has passed him by was widely taught to 20th century schoolchildren:
"Miniver Cheevy, born too late,
"Scratched his head and kept on thinking;
"Miniver coughed, and called it fate,
"And kept on drinking."
You'll find a monument to Robinson on the Gardiner town common; nearby is his childhood home, at 67 Lincoln Ave., an Italianate-style house on the National Register of Historic Places, now privately owned.

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