Down East 2013 ©
Someone really loves Portland, and no one knows who it is. Each Valentine’s Day since 1976, residents have awakened to discover that someone has left red hearts glued to lampposts, hanging from buildings, and even flying from flagpoles all over the downtown. And whoever it is, the Valentine Phantom apparently works his, her, or their magic without ever being seen — officially, at least.
The hearts have come in all sizes, from construction paper taped to store windows to banners hanging from the Portland Museum of Art. Last year the Phantom even managed to loft a Valentine flag from the pole atop the Central Fire Station on Congress Street. Meanwhile, firefighters and patrolling police officers all claim to see nothing.
To call the Phantom much loved would be an understatement. “I’m just delighted that someone’s doing it,” chuckles Ted Ney, owner of Gallery Seven and president of the Old Port Retailers and Restaurant Association. He quickly declares his own innocence in the annual caper. “I’m not connected in any way whatsoever,” he insists. “I hadn’t even heard of the Phantom until I opened my store down here in 1995.”
Whoever he, she, or they is or are, “everyone thinks it’s wonderful,” Ney says. “The Phantom makes this place feel like it’s still a small town. We’re just happy it happens.” This is one Phantom no one, apparently, wants to catch.
(Published February 2002)