Hooked on History by Lucie Tardif

Who knew college could be so much fun? That has been a constant surprise to me these past few years. The current semester, though, has topped them all.

I had long wanted to take a class in Maine history, so I was ripe for History of Maine. (If you ever have a chance to take a course with Professor Libby Bischof, grab it and run! She’s fantastic!) Libby, though, makes it even more fun. One of our assignments is to make ten visits to historic sites in Maine (although there are plenty one can do here in the Portland area) and create a one-page journal entry for each via creation of a blog (and, no, this isn’t it), a handwritten notebook or a standard multi-page paper.

We were given a list of suggested sites, but I, personally, like to get off the beaten path and do things others might not do, which meant trucking off to my hometown of Winslow. I was nearly salivating at the prospect of these visits. I love this stuff, and I love playing tourist. Winter break was a perfect time to get going.

I had recently learned there was a marker on Lithgow Street in Winslow, commemorating where Benedict Arnold and his 1100 men disembarked from the Kennebec on their expedition to Quebec. I had long known Arnold had stopped at Fort Halifax nearby, but I had never known about this rock. I lived in Winslow from age 4 to 27 – 23 years. How had I missed that? Though Lithgow Street is not especially close to the house where I grew up, I spent many hours there at the Public Library. Back then, the river side of the street was lined with homes, but all but one of them (further up and on higher ground) were wiped out in the flood of 1987. (Fort Halifax went for a swim, too, but was retrieved and rebuilt.)

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I figured the rock may be small and covered in snow at this point, but it was worth a shot. As I rounded the bend at the beginning of the street, I could see the rock at the other end – completely bare of snow. It’s larger than I expected (about the same size Plymouth Rock is now), and on it is a plaque indicating Benedict Arnold had landed there in 1775. Amazing!

I also visited Railroad Square Cinema in Waterville. One might argue, “How is that historic?” Believe me, it is (and my instructor’s personal interest in history lies in the arts)! Railroad Square Cinema, by virtue of its founders, has put Maine on the film industry map with the creation of the Maine International Film Festival. The likes of actors Peter Fonda (sister of Jane, son of Henry), Sissy Spacek, Karen Black, Ed Harris; director Jonathan Demme; and Martin Scorsese’s film editor, Thelma Schoonmaker, have graced Waterville with their presence during the festival. I was charmed by the facility, its former owners (who have sold to the newly-established Maine Film Center) and wish I’d had some popcorn – made on premises and smells divine! (You can’t get popcorn like that at the movies anymore.)

The very next day I headed up to Skowhegan and the Margaret Chase Smith Library. That is an amazing place honoring an amazing woman! I didn’t realize she had represented Maine (in either the House or Senate) for 32 years and through six presidencies (FDR through Nixon). The walls to the right as you enter begin to chronicle her life and political service, year by year from when she was born in 1897 to when she died in 1995 at age 97 (on Memorial Day, no less – how appropriate for a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee).

By the time I left over an hour later, I was in total awe of Margaret Chase Smith. I only regret I never got to meet her. (I did once meet her Democratic peer in the Senate, Edmund Muskie.) I watched a 20-minute video of her life and service and commented afterward that our entire current Congress should see that video!

This class, too, has had an interesting domino effect on my life and quite possibly my prospective life’s work. I joined the Maine Historical Society soon after the semester began and started receiving e-mail updates from them. I discovered the Portland History Docent (yes, PHD) training program. Since our course required a final project, I figured chronicling that program in some way would make a great one. My instructor agreed. I am now in docent training. (Great way to get site visits in for my other assignment, too!)

That led to an interesting connection. I am taking Photojournalism this semester, too, and one way to get extra credit (which I will go for every chance I get) is to snap a picture that gets published in a legit newspaper, magazine or website. I learned Greater Portland Landmarks publishes a quarterly newspaper for its members. I wondered if they needed any pictures of buildings for what was likely to be an upcoming issue. The first person I contacted seemed to think I couldn’t get anything in the next edition, coming right up, but she forwarded my message to the responsible person. That woman said they were “desperate” for pictures of two buildings to accompany an article going in the spring issue. I was out the door with my camera, and they were thrilled with the shots. I’ll get my extra credit, and Greater Portland Landmarks is eager to have me take more. (They are working on a list.) I am just as eager to do it!

Now, I wonder how I might combine degrees in Media Studies and English and a minor in history into a job? The more history I’m exposed to, the more I want to work in it!

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One response

  1. This sounds like a fascinating topic of study. How cool that you got to take some photos too, for extra credit. This was a fun posting to read. Thanks for posting it!

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