Monday, December 6, 2010

Travel Piece: Summer Lodging Maine Style. Book Now.

Many of the day trippers from Portland disembark from the Casco Bay Line ferry on Peaks Island, Maine and make a bee line for one of the "happening" restaurants there. The first is a whopping 20 yards from the gangplank. They lose their inhibitions and sobriety downing margaritas to the tunes of (who else) Jimmy Buffett. Some will rent bikes and peddle the charming lanes for a few lazy hours. But there is another Peaks that is not so "happening," where you may have a hard time sifting out the past from the present.

Just past Long Point is the Eighth Maine Regiment Memorial, a lodge and Civil War museum. Come for a stay or for the tour alone. Either way you will have the treat of Mr. Dick Adams bending your ear on island lore. And he should know it too. He first came to the lodge as a baby in 1928, and he's been here ever since, save for a few years spent where Mainers call, "from away."

Mr. Adams started approached me for the tour in his friendly way. He wore a purple, green, and navy nylon slicker, faded black jeans, and a cap with a harness racer on it. He has a ruddy complexion and skin that draws around the cheeks, gill-like, when he smiles. His nose is as red as any drunkard's in a Peter Paul Rubens tavern picture. His days of being the manager of the lodge are behind him; his son took the mantle some years back.

Every so often Adams will tighten his neck muscles, purse his lips, and strain out a punch line. Sometimes it's not even a punch line, but some term he thinks might need a little emphasis: "pup tent," or "ping pong."

Before you get into the fun stuff, Mr. Adams will show you to the old double schoolmaster's desk that supports the guest register. You might think it's a relic for you to ogle at. It's actually a work in progress. You sign into the lodge just the way guests have since 1924. Somehow the past doesn't seem so distant.

It's a noble pedigree. The Eighth Regiment Maine Association started in 1872 for its soldiers to get together to commemorate their trials during the Civil War. Colonel William Macarthur led the men in the war's last year. He won $75,000 in the Louisiana lottery. When the wife of Captain Smith, provost of the regiment, told Macarthur the wives were tired of living in pup tents during reunions and that he should build a place, Macarthur built the lodge.

Some things have stayed pretty constant since those days. Each family still gets a little gas burner assigned for cooking their own meals. And they have this status system, being whoever sits closer to the window in the basement dining room, has the most status. One fellow made a reservation and said, "Put me by the window." Mr. Adams told him, "If you come for 40 years or 60 years, you may get there."

The window side table aside, every guest here has no problems with getting his share of the intangibles. You can see Whitehead, a prominence named after Chief Whitehead, and Graham Island Light from one of the many window banks. You can also see "The Witch's Cauldron," a little shoal off shore where Mr. Adams' father once slipped on the slime while fishing and had to be rescued by the fire boats. The only real danger now is to the kayakers who shoot its miniature rapid for a few seconds of thrill.

The Eighth is a hulking, brown structure with wraparound porch. Its weathered shingles cling to it like the scales of some fish that crawled onto land from the sea, some 40 yards from it, depending on the tides.

The summer breezes waft in and blow dappled sunlight around in swirling eddies. It’s hard to feel separate from the waves outside. Memories are arrayed on the walls. You can an etching of the Eighth at Hilton Head, South Carolina. The regiment took freed slaves to Jacksonville, so they could fight The South.

Mr. Adams' great-grandfather, George Cappers was in the regiment.
Adams can only show you the lithographs of Civil War days, but not so when it comes to another war. He is the living keeper of World War Two memories on the island.

He tells you how his grandmother, coming back for the summer on Peaks, couldn't accept that you couldn't drive around the island due to wartime restrictions. So she took a group of folks around on foot. She ignored the sign clearly saying, "military reservation. No trespassing," and got them all in a heap of trouble. A gal whose parents ran the lodge piped up, "Where are you going with my folks from the Eighth?" The officer said they were in serious trouble. This gal, Phoebe, said, "'Well so are you, 'cause if you don't take them back right now, you'll never have a date with me tonight or any other night,' " said Adams. He adds, "This fella she had in the afternoon. She might have had a different one at night."

Adams remembers how some boys his age found the charred bodies of three German U-boat sailors during the war. The cemetery board refused to bury them in the cemetery. There were also 3 live German sailors who made it in from Portland one blustery day in January. They were dressed like shipyard workers with coveralls they probably got from sympathizers, relates Adams. They bought food at the little store that's still there and made it out on a little rubber dingy to a waiting sub. Convoys of our ships used to assemble off the coast within sight of Peaks.

The blackout paper over the transom of one of the guest rooms is a reminder of those perilous days. The only danger around here now seems to be the treachery of "The Witch's Cauldron.

There is danger of another kind these days. Some island folks are losing their homes. Others help out. They want to stay due to a kind of love affair with the island only islanders can understand.

Adams shows you a painting on piece of the old pear tree that Col. Macarthur did not want to cut down when he bought the lot. Visitors used to get engaged under that tree. Love affair.

Adams also shows you a highchair his grandmother from up-country sat in as a kid. Now, all his grandkids and maybe a great grandchild will sit in it. It and that desk register keep the line between the past and present a little fuzzy.

Stuart Kurtz
July, 2009

Eighth Maine Regiment Memorial Association
13 Eighth Maine Ave.
Peaks Island, ME 04108

Tours of the lodge/Civil War museum are daily at noon and 3, closed Mondays. Suggested donation $5 per person. For large parties (over 6), please make a reservation, so we can accommodate you.

Casco Bay Lines
Commercial & Franklin Sts., Portland, Maine
FAX 207-774-7875
The ride is 17 minutes to Peaks. Digg Technorati Delicious StumbleUpon Reddit BlinkList Furl Mixx Facebook Google Bookmark Yahoo

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