Down East, Maine is a unique place. I have been writing about this “uniqueness” for some time now, so it’s refreshing to find a new book that offers a trove of some quirky stories that add to the unusual luster this place provides. In Jim Harnedy’s new book, Forgotten Tales of Down East Maine, place and people stand out in every story in which Harnedy has researched and collected. The 27 stories offer the reader a snapshot of classic, and some not-so classic but rather rare word-of-mouth tales, passed down through time, generation after generation.
Harnedy is a veteran storyteller, having previously published ten books, as well as a number of articles for both local and national publications. With this latest book, Harnedy captures and contains a cast of characters as diverse as the Maine coastline with stories emanating from Penobscott Bay to Machias Bay and beyond.
Harnedy has written extensively about this place since he and his wife Jane moved here in 1998. Living in Bucks Harbor, Machiasport, together they saw and heard first hand some of these tales of bygone days. And, as many writers have a habit of doing, these stories were tucked away, until finding their place in this book which is so deserving of a spot on anyone’s bookcase who is interested in this one-of-a-kind place we call Down East.
The book is trim in volume, but hefty in Down East lore. It is structured to allow the reader the ability to jump around— as if on the shore, rock-to-rock, story-by-story. A nice read for hardened Downeasters to reminisce, and a vacation of sorts for those traveling and experiencing this area for the very first time.
Layered within the pages are stories thick in Down East culture, brimming with seafarers, mysteries, and even a haunting here and there. From Jonesport-Beals Island’s own Tall Barney to a North Pond hermit, a missing white bird to shipwrecks, from a schoolgirl ambassador to a Robin Hood artist, Allagash abduction and festivals devoted to all things Maine in food and beverage, there is something here for everyone.
Many of these stories I have heard before, some I am hearing for the very first time, and all of them are well told. After reading the stories I thought I knew, I found myself walking away with better understanding and renewed interest. It takes a gifted storyteller to glean the static from a story and reveal the nuggets of goodness— this is what Harnedy does throughout the book.
Stories are made every single day by you and me, by people from away and people close to home. And life is made so much better when stories become a part of it. Pulling and tugging on the buttons of our day, when boredom takes hold as it sometimes does, stories let us shirk off the tedium and can make life richer. So, if you happen to be looking for some classic stories to add a dose of Down East to your day, then you would be hard-pressed to find a better collection of stories that depicts a unique Maine experience.
The History Press, 2019, Softcover $21.99