North by East
A Kittery home seller makes a Marilyn Monroe sales pitch, Tiny owls take over Isle au Haut, and more.
Cartoon by David Jacobson
Marilyn Monroe Didn’t Sleep Here
A sex symbol’s souvenirs are attracting potential buyers to a Kittery house.
When there are more homes on the market than there are buyers, a seller may need to get a little creative to attract attention. That’s the strategy Joel Gravallese adopted this winter when he set up an exhibit of Marilyn Monroe memorabilia in the living room of his childhood home in Kittery and advertised an open house. “A lot of people came,” he reports. “It was a shocker. I was very pleased.”
The interest, we should note, is all the more remarkable because the glamorous actress never lived in the house — we’re not even sure she ever set foot in Maine — and Gravallese, who was only nine years old when she died, wasn’t a fan, never mind a friend. He did, however, make the acquaintance of her first husband, the late James Dougherty, a retired Los Angeles policeman who spent much of the later part of his life in Sabbatus.
The men met in 2002, when Gravallese sought Dougherty’s opinion about the originality of a photograph of the actress. “A few weeks later he called me and asked if he could do a book signing at my shop,” says Gravallese, the owner of Dunn’s Watch & Clock Repair in Kittery. Dougherty went on to autograph copies of To Norma Jeane, With Love, Jimmie, a memoir of his four-year marriage to Monroe before she changed her name and became a star, at the shop twice more over the next three years. He expressed his gratitude to Gravallese by giving him some of his Monroe keepsakes — enough items, Gravallese says, to fill an entire gallery.
Only a fraction of these items — photographs, books, and tokens of Hollywood that Monroe occasionally sent to her former husband — are on display in the Rogers Road house, which is an attraction in its own right. The Italianate-style mansion was built in 1876 for sea captain Augustus O. Goodsoe, the “richest man in Kittery” at the time, according to real estate agent Wanda Syphers. It boasts a large foyer, front and back staircases, parquet floors, and landscaped grounds. Last we checked, it was still for sale, but the Marilyn Monroe memorabilia is not. “They’re personal items,” Gravallese says. “Jim said if I ever wanted to get rid of them, I might want to put them in a museum. It wouldn’t be right to sell them. They were a gift.”
Fly By Night
Observations on a Maine island shed new light on the habits of a tiny owl.
Scientists from the BioDiversity Research Institute (BRI) initially ventured out to Isle au Haut to study diurnal raptors, but it’s what they learned about some creatures of the night that now has them singing.
Northern saw-whet owls, they discovered, migrate at night between Maine’s coastal islands, an “amazing” observation that is “quite new,” says Kate Williams, a wildlife research biologist with the Gorham-based nonprofit organization. “For the most part, the saw-whet researchers we talked to didn’t think saw-whets migrated over large bodies of water. We found quite the opposite: They have a significant migration route off the Maine coast and the offshore islands, in addition to migrating in large numbers over land.”
The information could prove helpful in determining where to site developments such as wind farms. “It’s been shown in Europe and at terrestrial sites in the United States that the key to minimizing wildlife mortalities is in siting wind farms away from migration routes and other areas where birds concentrate,” Williams says.
BRI’s researchers went to Isle au Haut, located in Penobscot Bay about seven miles south of Deer Isle, in the fall of 2009 to study the daytime migration patterns of falcons and songbirds. Curiosity prompted them to set up their mist nets — twelve-meter-long sheets of black nylon mesh strung between poles — in the evening and use audio lures to attract saw-whet owls. “We caught over thirty in just a couple of nights, which was a much higher number than we were expecting,” Williams says. As a result, she and her colleagues returned this past fall specifically to study the brown-and-white streaked birds. Weighing less than three ounces, saw-whets are among the smallest owls in North America, which makes tracking their movements especially challenging because they can’t be outfitted with satellite transmitters. “Our information primarily comes from recapturing birds that have been banded,” Williams says. Besides netting birds they had banded themselves the year before, the researchers captured saw-whets that had been banded in Poughkeepsie, New York, and Quebec.
While BRI’s studies shed some new light on the movements of saw-whet owls, an explanation for another aspect of their behavior remains elusive: Why a disproportionate number of the owls captured are female. In the Isle au Haut project, 60 percent of the netted birds were female and just 13 percent were male (the gender of the remaining 27 percent couldn’t be determined). “It’s a very skewed sex ratio, which is common for saw-whets,” Williams says. “One suggestion is that the males don’t migrate — that they stay behind to protect the nest cavity until the next breeding season. Another suggestion is that they fly at different heights. There’s something going on, and we’re still trying to figure it out.”
Maine’s early season cyclists — and drivers near them — have to watch out for beachy road conditions.
They’re almost as predictable as pussy willows. With the advent of warmer spring weather come clusters of bicyclists, their brightly colored Lycra clashing with their blue skin as they brave still-brisk temperatures to get in the first rides of the season. “March is good for two reasons,” explains Nancy Grant, the executive director of the Bicycle Coalition of Maine. “It does seem to be the month that bike clubs start organizing their rides, but also the light starts cooperating, so you can actually sneak in a ride after work.” Grant’s hometown club, the newly formed Portland Velo Club for Women, organizes up to three rides per week for its fifty-three paying members.
But while the going of the snow reveals more pavement for two-wheelers, it also exposes whatever the winter leaves behind, and that includes plenty of road sand. Experienced riders, which comprise the largest group heading out in early spring, have little problem negotiating the highway sand-traps, but sometimes avoiding a crash means slipping left into the travel lane more than usual. Maine’s so-called “three-foot law” requires cars to stay three feet away from bicyclists, but it also gives those riders the right to avoid any hazards, including road sand. That means that at this time of year drivers need to be ready for bicyclists to be a tad erratic in their course corrections. They might be avoiding an impromptu sand dune that has formed on the highway.
A Clubhouse Fit for a Book Club
Opening the door on one of Auburn’s finest mansions for women artists.
While poking around Auburn recently, we happened upon an impressive mansion on Elm Street, just a few blocks from the city center. Its stucco siding and ceramic tile roof are eye-catching in a state whose historic architecture tends toward clapboards, brick, and slate, but what further piqued our interest was the sign out front: Woman’s Literary Union. Had we stumbled upon a private library of rare and fine books, we wondered, or a salon for Maine’s brainiest women writers, artists, and scholars?
Not exactly, it turns out, although the Woman’s Literary Union (WLU) of Androscoggin County does indeed trace its roots to a national movement to provide women with opportunities for intellectual, scientific, cultural, and social exchange in the late nineteenth century. “Women would get together to talk about politics and other subjects that their husbands wouldn’t permit at home,” says WLU president Kirsten Larsson-Turley. “They started doing good works for the community, too. The idea caught on rapidly and it ultimately came to Maine.”
Most of these groups became affiliated as members of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs (GFWC), which still has chapters throughout the country, including twenty-six in Maine. The WLU no longer is one of them, its members having decided years ago to meet according to their own rules and keep the dues at home. Today the club holds educational programs for its members and performs community services, such as donating more than one thousand disposable diapers to a local charity serving poor families.
Federated or not, active women’s organizations identifying themselves as literary unions or clubs are uncommon. The name survives on some auditoriums and reception halls, but the social groups that once met there dissolved long ago. Three carry on in Maine: the Women’s Literary Club of Dexter, which is a GFWC chapter; the independent Portland Literary Union; and the WLU. All provide scholarships to students of literature and the arts; the Portland group also sponsors a creative writing program for high-school juniors.
What sets the Woman’s Literary Union of Androscoggin County apart are its fabulous digs. The Lewiston architectural firm of Gibbs and Pulsifer designed the Spanish-influenced Federal revival-style mansion in 1914 for Horatio G. Foss, one of Auburn’s prominent shoe magnates (the city used to be known as “the shoe city”).
“One pretty young woman who worked in his factory, Ella, caught his eye and they married,” Larsson-Turley says. “They never had children, so they agreed that whoever died last would will the home to his or her favorite club.” Ella, a WLU member, outlasted her husband. The house, which she bequeathed to the union with $25,000 in 1941, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
Once five hundred members strong, the WLU’s enrollment has dwindled to about one hundred women, and its
struggle to attract new members while honoring beloved traditions echoes those of organizations like the Masons and the Grange. “A lot of our members are in their eighties and as a result the club is very conservative,” Larsson-Turley says. “We don’t allow liquor on the premises, for example, but we do give the most proper tea in the state, I’m sure.”
Maine fishermen don’t have to wait till April to wet a line.
It used to be that Maine fly anglers always circled April 1 on the calendar, and not because they were planning any elaborate April Fools’ jokes. Traditionally, the first day of April has marked the start of open water fishing season in Maine, and woe be to the fishermen who wet a line before that very important date.
This year, however, cabin-crazy anglers are in luck. In 2010 the state changed its fishing rules to allow year-round open-water fishing on most of Maine’s more than six thousand lakes and ponds and 32,000 miles of rivers and streams, meaning that as soon as the ice breaks up — something that is happening earlier each year, according to the U.S. Geological Survey — fishermen can try their luck without checking the calendar.
“Fifteen years ago, while working on a project in Montana, I noticed people on ski/fish vacations. But even the suggestion that we might fish in the fall brought a ton of opposition from IF&W biologists and anglers,” says George Smith, formerly the executive director of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine and himself a long-time fly-fisherman. “In the last two years, though, IF&W has really stepped up to create year-round open water fishing opportunities. Today, there’s no such thing as ice-out spring fishing. We can fish open water, whenever and wherever we find it!”
And while all Maine fishermen can enjoy such freedom this spring, fly-fishermen have the most water to choose from. The state’s more than two hundred fly-fishing only waters include some of the most prized trophy rivers this side of the Rockies, from the Kennebago and Magalloway rivers near Rangeley to Grand Lake Stream in Washington County. In fact, Smith says Maine is believed to have more water restricted to fly-fishing than anywhere else in the country, a fact that could end up being far more important than the size of a single lunker.
“Fly fishing brings big bucks to states that promote it, and Maine’s large number of fly-fishing only waters can deliver a lot more economic wallop with better marketing of these opportunities,” Smith says.
That sounds like a fish tale we’re all willing to believe.