Rags to RichesIt turns out Maine mummy paper is more than an old wive's tale.
It's one of the more bizarre legends of the Maine paper industry: in the latter half of the nineteenth century mills in Gardiner and Westbrook imported Egyptian mummies and used their linen wrappings to make paper. Some stories said the bodies were burned for fuel, others that the wrappings caused a cholera epidemic. Now it turns out that some of the tales are true.
"Gardiner was a hotbed of mummy paper production," says S.J. Wolfe, a senior cataloger for the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Massachusetts. "So was Westbrook. It really did exist."
There have been several attempts in recent decades to disprove or discredit old stories of mummies in Maine, but Wolfe says new evidence surfaced when she was working on a bibliography of nineteenth-century paper industry literature. "We came across all kinds of references to mummy wrappings and the paper industry in Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, and New York," she explains. "Three years ago I put out a question on a library listserv [a specialized Internet discussion site] looking for any ephemeral information on mummy paper and mummies in New England."
The first proof came from the Brown University library, which reported that it had a broadside printed on mummy paper in its collection. Then a book printed for the Norwich, Connecticut, jubilee surfaced that pronounced itself printed on mummy paper. After that, newspaper accounts of bales of mummy wrappings being unloaded at docks in Portland and New York City turned up. Wolfe even found an old sermon referring to the phenomenon that ended with the statement that it was written on paper made from mummy linen.
Contrary to popular belief, the paper industry didn't gain a foothold in Maine because of its forests, but because of its rivers, which provided power for the mills. Until the late 1800s paper was made from linen rags that were pulped and processed to meet a demand so great that ships commonly brought in hundreds of tons of rags from places as distant as Havana and Rome.
The demand for linen grew to the point that newspapers routinely published appeals for rags from their readers and some cities appointed officials to oversee rag collections, according to Wolfe's research. In the early 1850s an adventurer and chemist named Isaiah Deck visited Egypt searching for lost gem mines and came back with images of turning linen mummy rags into riches. Mummification was so popular in ancient Egypt, Deck reported in his lectures and written accounts, that he found acres upon acres of mummies poking up through desert sands — not just humans but also cats, dogs, crocodiles, and other animals, each wrapped in upwards of thirty pounds on linen. He calculated that the mummies of Egypt could supply America's eight hundred paper mills with all the linen they needed for at least fourteen years.
Wolfe says Isaac Augustus Stanwood, of Gardiner, first imported mummy linen during the Civil War, when domestic rags were in especially short supply. Although some accounts claim Stanwood brought in whole mummies, Wolfe discounts the stories as illogical. "That would have been too much weight," she reasons. But there are credible reports of bales of mummy rags being shipped out of Alexandria, Egypt, bound for Maine, and other reports of the bales landing in Portland for transport to Gardiner and Westbrook, where the Warren family's Cumberland Mill used them.
Barring the discovery of new evidence, Wolfe found little beyond hearsay to support the stories of mummy-caused disease outbreaks or other tales.
The practice of using mummy linen died out in the late 1800s when researchers developed better methods of manufacturing paper from wood pulp. Little solid evidence of mummy paper production has survived, Wolfe says, because paper mills of the time routinely pulped their own old records, and rags weren't included in official port reports because there was no import duty on them. Still, based on Wolfe's research, it's good to know that the Maine mummy paper stories are more than just dust in the wind.Husbandry 101A Maine author's spouse-training tips have created a stir both at home and away.
When Portland author (and Down East contributor) Amy Sutherland began promoting her recent book, Kicked, Bitten, and Scratched: Life and Lessons at the Premier School for Exotic Animal Trainers, she figured she'd spend lots of time talking about animal behavior. Instead, she's done countless interviews with reporters from across the world discussing human behavior — specifically, the behavior of her husband, Scott. Sutherland trained him out of such annoying habits as leaving dirty laundry on the floor using the techniques she observed trainers at the California school employing as they taught a baboon to skateboard, or hyenas to pirouette.
Sutherland wrote a tongue-in-cheek piece about using tactics such as the least reinforcing syndrome — conditioning an animal to stop an undesirable behavior by giving it absolutely no attention — on her husband for the Style section of the New York Times, hoping the story would draw attention to her book. While it did so, the column also became a media sensation in its own right, topping the Times' most-e-mailed list for weeks and landing Sutherland interviews with reporters from Australia to Belgium to Turkey, not to mention a pending deal to expand the column into a full-length book.
Why did the story create so much buzz? "It was something everyone can relate to — these small annoyances between couples," says Sutherland. "I just didn't realize that it was a global phenomenon."
Of course, there's been some backlash from readers who missed the piece's humor or overlooked its conclusion, in which Sutherland realizes that her husband is training her right back. One particularly harsh letter to the Times concluded, "One can only hope that the hapless male who has the misfortune of being married to her will find the mental and emotional strength to find his freedom."
Like the student of behavior modification she is, though, Sutherland says she tried to avoid reading such comments. "I'm all about the positive reinforcement," she says with a chuckle.College CommunicationUMaine is looking to the past for its future phones.
Back in the Stoned Age, when Jimi still lived and "Born to Be Wild" was an anthem, not a tattoo, student dormitory dwellers at the University of Maine in Orono communicated with the outside world through a communal pay phone at the end of each floor. Incoming calls were, if you were lucky, answered by whoever was passing by. If you were even luckier, the passerby would take a message or go in search of you. The installation of individual room phones in the early 1990s was considered the dawning of a New Age.
Now the old is about to become new again. Les Shaw, UMaine's information technology guru, says dorm-room telephones are becoming obsolete at many colleges. So many students use cellular telephones and the Internet for communication that the in-house phones see very little use. Some schools are already taking them out and replacing them with — you guessed it — a single phone at each end of the floor.
Shaw sees room phones fading into history at UMaine within the next five years. "Taking out room phones is the new wave across the United States," he explains. "Everybody has a cell phone." He adds that the trend could be delayed at Orono only because "we don't have the cell phone coverage up here that people expect to find in, say, Boston."
Shaw, 57, remembers that when he started college it was a big deal to bring a clock-radio or a record player. "You go into a dorm room today, and students have flat-screen TVs, microwaves, refrigerators, computers, DVDs, you name it," he says, "all in a room that was built back in the 1950s or 1960s with nothing more than a clock-radio in mind. The world has changed a lot since then."
Obviously, but the phone at the end of the hall will apparently see a new life.Com
e to think of it, Jimi's enjoying a new popularity lately, too.Unwanted HonorThe turnpike tries to duck a new title.
Mainers take a good deal of pride in the Maine Turnpike, famed for its high standards of maintenance and all-weather travel, but some honors the tollway can do without. The Federal Highway Administration wants to list the turnpike's northern section, between Portland and Augusta, on the National Register of Historic Places. That's nice, says the Maine Turnpike Authority, but why?
"We didn't ask for it, and we don't qualify for it, and we really don't want it," says turnpike spokesman Dan Paradee. "The southern section of the turnpike might have [qualified], but we completely rebuilt it when we added the third lane a few years ago." Paradee says turnpike officials fear the historic label would add red tape and delays to construction projects, in particular plans to add a third lane through Portland within the next few years.
The proposed historic protection is apparently linked to the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Interstate Highway System in 1956. The Federal Highway Administration included the stretch between Mile 50 and Mile 102 on a list of proposed National Register landmarks with a note pointing out that the Maine Turnpike is the nation's second oldest, after the Pennsylvania Turnpike — but that distinction refers to the southern portion, built in 1947, which doesn't really exist in its original form anymore after decades of reconstruction.
Representatives of both the Maine Department of Transportation and the Maine Historic Preservation Commission disclaim any role in the proposal. "This is not something our staff recommended," insists Kirk Mohney, assistant director at the commission. Two other highways in Maine that the commission did recommend didn't make the cut. "The Federal Highway Administration decided they didn't meet its criteria," Mohney explains.
Turnpike officials have organized a letter-writing campaign among municipal and state officials to win removal from the historic designation list. The Federal Highway Administration — which hasn't commented on how or why the pike made the list in the first place — is expected to make its decision soon. "Once you're on the list, it's tough to get off the list," Paradee sighs. "Right now all we can do is wait."Full MontyA movable moose takes on the roaming gnome.
If the television is any indication, the world is being taken over by cheesy ceramic gnomes. The online travel service Travelocity seems to have the pointed-hat fellows popping up all over the globe. Now the folks at Bangor International Airport (BIA) have come up with a similar but far more stately promotion involving denizens of the North Woods.
Coming in at just a couple of inches tall at the shoulder, the stuffed Monty the Moose easily fits into a carry-on bag and has proven a big hit at trade shows and with a few lucky people who have been handed him while passing through the airport. Monty's portability has helped him find his way to such exotic locations as the top of the Eiffel Tower, London's Big Ben, and the Golden Gate Bridge, with e-mailed photographs providing proof of the peripatetic moose's travels. "He's sort of become the airport mascot," says BIA Director Rebecca Huff. "Our idea is to help people have a personal connection to the airport, and this allows people to take a piece of the airport with them." Huff says the six dollars that BIA spends on each Monty is actually a bargain compared with traditional advertising methods.
While it's a stretch to make a direct connection with Monty, Huff says the airport has grown 25 percent during the past five years in terms of passenger counts, compared to a 4 percent increase seen nationally. It now serves eight airline hubs, up from just three a few years ago. And while no one is willing to give Monty all the credit for the airport's rise, Huff and others have seen what the roaming gnome has done for Travelocity. "We have had the comparison made [between Monty and the roaming gnome], but we think Monty is much cuter," she says.Costly CanvasesArtists seeking the best look to a woodshop in Lincolnville.
Jamie Wyeth won't just set his paintbrush on any old canvas. Neither will Alex Katz, Richard Estes, or about a thousand other top-notch artists who rely on the canvases and aspen frames produced by the two-man team of Chris Polson and Joe Calderwood. Polson, a former licensed forester, says their business is unique because they select the aspen logs themselves, dry the lumber in their own kiln, and then finish the frames — they call them "stretchers" because of the way they hold the canvases taut — at their forty-by-sixty-foot woodshop in Lincolnville. "I don't believe there's another stretcher manufacturer that does their own drying," explains Polson. "It's a great little niche that we have going here, and it's been supporting two families for quite a while now."
Since 1992, to be specific. That's when the late Neil Welliver, who lived nearby, suggested to Polson that there was a demand for high-quality canvases and frames. Since then Polson and Calderwood have shipped their products to artists across the country and around the globe. The two men produce everything from lightweight frames that sell for just a few dollars to intricate canvases that can easily run into the thousands. The largest project they have worked on so far was a massive twenty-four-by-twelve-foot canvas the team erected for a mural in Manila.
For his part, Polson says he believes the canvases and frames he creates for the masters helps reinforce Maine's spot at the top of the art world. "We're adding value to a Maine product," he remarks.Mountaintop teeGolfers find the Cadillac of Maine driving ranges closed.
Difficult as it is to believe, there are limits in golf fanaticism, and this past summer two duffers discovered one of them — on top of Mount Cadillac in Acadia National Park. Park rangers were a little taken aback when they caught two erstwhile golfers teeing up near the parking lot atop the 1,530-foot peak and whacking drives toward Frenchman's Bay.
The pair had just completed a local golf tournament at Kebo Valley Golf Course in Bar Harbor and decided to go for the long ball off Cadillac on a whim and a dare. "It happens occasionally," explains Acadia Ranger Richard Rechholtz. "People who are into golfing drive up there and hit a few just to see what kind of distance they can get."
Rechholtz says the last such incident occurred about three years ago, and it's not something rangers take lightly. Hiking trails wind along the flanks of Cadillac, he points out, and no one walking through the woods wants a wayward golf ball upside the head.
Both golfers were given citations for littering and told to tote their clubs elsewhere.