Bunting from Belfast
Most Mainers don't need an excuse to get outside and enjoy a sunny June afternoon, but even the most reclusive of Waldo County residents couldn't resist the inaugural arrival of the steamship Belfast to her namesake port in 1909. More than two thousand people crowded onto the Eastern Steamship Company's wharf at the foot of Commercial Street to watch the enormous "Great White Flyer" come alongside. (The largest of the steamers plying the Bangor-to-Boston run, she was so huge that she had to back into deeper water before turning around and departing.) Flags and bunting hang from every eave and window in the turreted terminal building, and even the tops of the pilings have become seats for a handful of bold couples, at center. One chap, barely visible just right of center, even leans out a second-story window to welcome the ship.
The unknown photographer of the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company who captured this surprising image had the best seat in the house, of course. He must have finagled his way onto the maiden voyage of this 320-foot-long, steel-hulled ship in Bath, where she'd just been completed at the same shipyard that today produces the latest generation of destroyers. But the tremendous length of the Belfast meant that he was unable to capture both the ship and the crowd assembled to greet her. His vantage point on the upper deck near the ship's stern allowed him to capture a more candid scene, though, from the gents in their straw boater hats, at far right, to the bonneted women in their billowing blouses and skirts. One woman may even be Belfast's Carrie Greenlaw, chosen by popular vote to christen the ship. A telling detail is the young girl leaning on the rail at lower right; her fascination with the Belfast appears to have faded during the trip up Penobscot Bay, and she no doubt would prefer to be wandering the ship's mahogany-trimmed halls or playing in one of its 222 berths.
Indeed, even some of the spectators on the wharf appear to be losing interest in the Belfast's arrival: the young ladies just left of center gaze at the receding tide below, and some of the wagon drivers at far left have actually turned their backs to the harbor. They may be more interested in the goings-on at Fields S. Pendleton's shipyard, at upper left, where low tide has caused two schooners to list; a three-master nearby may soon be beached as well.
In the years after this photograph was taken, more people would turn their backs on steamers such as the Belfast. Though the proud ship sailed her route for another twenty-six years, the popularity of the automobile would give rise to a new bridge across the Passagassawakeag River in 1921 and an even more impressive span, the Waldo-Hancock, over the Penobscot River ten years later. The Belfast's party would be over soon enough.