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Have you ever been driving along a lonely highway in the middle of this great country when you came upon an impressive looking historical marker? You pull overand stop, get out of your car and walk over to the windswept marker and read: “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 hick town of Crimmonsboro, 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 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 allotted to you 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 I think we 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.
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 (bleep) 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 crazy college haunts that numb 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 often mentioned in those 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?
But he was president, he did live in Brunswick, he is part of the Maine experience and even scholars can't deny to Pierce that 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 a politician? you ask, sarcastically.
Charles Forster of Bangor was only the inventor of the wooden 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 produce.
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. Some might think I'm all wet on this, but I think he deserves a little recognition.
One of my favorite historic sites in Maine, of course, is the Dairy Queen in Topsham that has a sign right near the order window that says: “LBJ ate here!” The historic date was August 20, 1966.
John McDonald is a humorist and storyteller who performs regularly throughout
New England. Contact John at or 899-1868.
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