I contemplated writing a post called “The Death Rattle of the Worumbo Mill” today. I even took a hack at it last night before falling asleep; I cobbled together 180 words, more or less. Then I settled my week’s weary head on the pillow and reflected on my late afternoon visit to the Lisbon Historical Society. Pushing aside the mental cement dust and collective grieving, I read over my hand-written notes from today’s research.
“I have a good reputation of never knowing much, but the luck of knowing where to find it.”
John Gould, Maine writer and former Lisbon Falls resident, had a camp near Kennebago Lake, north of Rangeley. In his later years, he and his wife moved to Friendship, Maine. I like to imagine that one day in the 1980’s, he was passing through Farmington, presumably on his way ‘upta camp. He may have stopped into the University of Maine at Farmington’s Mantor Library. Or maybe he knew Shirley Martin, the reference librarian. She was originally from our town, too.
So began a correspondence between Gould and Martin which would span nearly 20 years. Shirley Martin donated these letters to the Lisbon Historical Society in a shoe box several years ago and they’ve been sitting on top of a shelf, waiting for me to read and catalog them.
The letters are funny and fascinating and I wonder how many other men and women were lucky enough to be John Gould’s correspondents? I’m enjoying this glimpse into his life and it’s also a look into Shirley Martin’s life as a research librarian in the days prior to the internet. I’ll want to interview her about the letters at some point, too, because talking to living people is part of understanding historical information.
John Gould is not my muse and writing about his life and work is not my destiny. What I enjoy most about this project, though, is that it gives me an excuse to pause at “the archives” once a week. I’m also doing this research as “practice” for a different project I’ve started. I’m sorry to be all mysterious; it’s just that it’s my own intellectual property right now and until I’m sure I can pull it off, only my “inner circle” of friends and family know about it.
The Lisbon Historical Society’s “archives” are open every Thursday afternoon from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. On the second Wednesday evening of every month, the Society’s members host a talk. The topics covered are diverse; as I mentioned last week, I recently gave a talk about our town’s long history of festivals.
On August 10, 2016, my brother, Jim Baumer, is giving a talk at the Lisbon Historical Society about Maine writer John Gould. I don’t know what he’s going to discuss, but my brother is a talented speaker and he’s also a good researcher. I’m looking forward to it; the talk begins at 7:00 p.m.
I’m off to pick some peas for tonight’s “Tuna Wiggle” on toast points. It’s a classic “Maine” recipe, according to an old cookbook I have. I’m sure John Gould would have something funny to say about it, too, somewhere in time and somewhere in Friendship, Maine.
I appreciate the mention of my talk on August 10, about John Gould. And thanks to the good folks at organizations like the Lisbon Historical Society, there are still non-digital repositories connecting us to the past.
Having spent my share of Thursday afternoons sifting through the archives about Lisbon and Lisbon Falls, I know what a treasure this place can be.
Good luck on your own research. May you continue to find nuggets of gold.
While you’re meandering through the correspondence files, keep an eye out for whatever happened to the Germans of Lisbon Falls. I cannot think of a single German name in the Falls other than Baumer, but we know that your grandfather had a lot of family precede him to Lisbon Falls, and that was because the late Worumbo dye system was German in origin (Germans were the ones who cracked the code on using petroleum to generate color-fast dyes, in colors beyond the range available through natural sources). We know the Worumbo imported Germans to set up the dye system, and your family followed in their wake.
So where did they all go? If I had to guess, census records would show them disappearing between the 1910 and the 1920 census, and court records (not in the Lisbon archive, of course) would show a lot of names being changed to nice, safe English names. The virulent persecution of Germans 1915-1919, tied to convincing an unwilling American people to go to war against the Germans, is the most likely suspect. It’s worth recognizing that your grandfather’s family (or his relatives) never changed their name to Woodman or Forester in the face of that.
I also note, upon closer inspection, that Androscoggin “county” did not exist.
One of the things that John Gould was often in search of was old maps. On September 28, 1989, he writes to reference librarian Shirley G. Martin:
“Now comes a letter from my editor at W.W. Norton, asking for a map of Maine…He says he would like a map showing Maine in the beginning, and another showing how the state turned out.” This was for his book “There Goes Maine.”
Thank you, as always, for your insightful comments, LP.