What I’m listening to now…


Saintseneca, especially “Frostbiter”

Lead singer Zac Little has got a sort of plaintive tone to his voice that I just love. The album is full of dynamic folk/art rock and droll lyrics. “Frostbiter” begins dramatically with some swooshing sorts of organ sounds, and then Little begins to tell us that “When Grandad died I got his knife.” Oh my gosh, he’s such a good story-teller that I’m sucked in immediately. The song just gets better from there, and it was definitely my favorite of the summer. “Pillar of Na” is a reference to Lot’s Old Testament pillar of salt. (Na symbol for salt, get it? I didn’t. I had to be told.) The album was produced by Mike Mogis (Bright Eyes), which goes a long way towards explaining why I’m captivated by the way this album sounds.

Juliet Naked, soundtrack

The new film adaptation of Nick Hornby’s wonderful novel Juliet Naked doesn’t seem to be playing anywhere in Maine, so for now I’ll have to content myself with the soundtrack. These songs sound like ones that the mysterious, used-to-be-sorta-famous main character Tucker Crowe might have written. They are of an era, not spell-binding like a Dylan or Leonard Cohen song, but good enough that we can imagine a cult following built up around them (think Nick Drake or Alex Chilton). Ethan Hawke, in the role of Crowe, deftly handles the vocals on most of the tracks. Highlights include Robyn Hitchcock’s meditative “Sunday Never Comes” and Conor Oberst’s “LAX,” which gets three different treatments on the soundtrack, as a wistful ballad, an urgent rocker and a bare bones demo from Oberst himself.

Not so current…

I didn’t make the transition from cds to digital music until this year, but subscribing to a music service is now making the way I find music much more spontaneous. I can be working out on the elliptical machine at the gym, listening to some song I saved to my ipod years ago from some compilation cd, and suddenly become curious about the band. A quick search as I’m pedaling, and I can jump right to more songs from some band that had barely been on my radar. I can imagine twenty-somethings giving me blank looks right now, wondering what the big deal is. They don’t know how hard it used to be track down obscure records or how expensive it could get to indulge every musical whim.  Here are my latest indulgences:

The Allah Las

This is the band I found recently on an old compilation cd. They sound like the Moody Blues met the Ventures, and then time traveled to the new millennium. Their most recent album is from 2016. Check this out:


The New Mendicants

Another recent band channeling long ago sounds, these reminiscent of top forty radio from about 1967. Imagine the happy flower power of the Cowsills, but with lyrical content. Their first song on their 2014 album Into the Lime, “Sarasota,” may or may not be about the land boom of the 1920s, but it’s lovely:




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Ten Summer Cottages Worth Viewing in Bar Harbor

Along with breathtaking views of the rocky Maine coast, Bar Harbor is also home to a stunning number of fine old homes, once called “cottages” by the wealthy “rusticators” who came to enjoy the mild summer weather and incomparable scenery. Some of these homes are mentioned in my book Bar Harbor in the Roaring Twenties.  All of them have a story to tell…

Bar Harbor Inn

Photo courtesy of backroadjournal.wordpress.com

Socializing in a Dry Town:  Oasis Club/Mount Desert Reading Room, 7 Newport Drive.  Built 1887, the Mount Desert Reading Room began as a “social club” in the dry town of Bar Harbor.The revival of yachting after WWI led to the building’s transformation to the Bar Harbor Yacht Club in 1924 but after the roaring twenties came to a crashing end, so did the Yacht Club. During the Depression several local hotel owners joined together to make the building a social club for their guests. In 1948 the building was sold to Bar Harbor Hotel Corporation and reopened in 1950 with a wing added, as the Bar Harbor Hotel. The building now houses a restaurant that is part of the Bar Harbor Inn.

The Turrets

A Young Beauty Marries an Older Man:  The Turrets, 105 Eden Street. This French Chateau style summer home was built in 1895 by John J. Emery, whose family made their fortune in Cincinnati real estate. Emery built the Turrets for his young wife Lela when he was 62 and she was 30.  The couple spent their summers here with their five children, where Lela in particular made her mark as one of the leading beauties of Bar Harbor society and a popular hostess. The Turrets, which the Bar Harbor Times described as “one of the most charming and pretentious of Bar Harbor villas” was the scene of John’s death in 1908 and Lela’s death in 1953. It is now an administration building for the College of the Atlantic.

Seacoast Mission

A Home for a Horsewoman:  LaRochelle 127 West Street. The brick mansion was built in 1901 for banker George Bowdoin, one of the “Morgan Men” who followed J.P. Morgan’s lead and summered in Bar Harbor beginning in the 1800s. The Bowdoins were horse people, keeping one of the finest stables in the summer colony. Bowdoin’s daughter Edith could be seen around town driven by her liveried coachman in her Brewster Victoria, a mink robe over her lap. In the early 1900s Edith lost her father, her brother and her  mother in quick succession. She inherited LaRochelle and never married. Her love of horses led her to play an active role in Mount Desert Island’s Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. After Edith’s death the house was purchased by Tristam and Ethel Colket. Ethel was a Campbell Soup heir, and after her death in 1965 the house was donated to the Maine Seacoast Mission which still uses it as their headquarters. Tours are being offered during August 2016 at 1 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays through August 30th. 

Atlantic Oceanside Hotel

Two Independent Women:  The Willows, 119 Eden Street.  Built in 1913, the Willows was first the home Charlotte Baker, a very independent woman for her time. She was the long-time partner of Clara Spence, founder of the Spence School, still a private school for girls in New York City. Together the couple adopted and raised four children while also overseeing the day to day activities at the school or enjoying their summer vacations in Bar Harbor. In 1938 the estate was purchased by Sir Harry Oakes, a Maine native famous both for discovering gold in the Yukon and getting murdered in the Bahamas. In 1958 Lady Oakes donated the Willows to Bowdoin College as a conference center. In the late 60s Bowdoin sold to a developer. The Willows is now part of the Atlantic Oceanside Hotel.


yellow-house 3

Escaping the Heat:  Yellow House, 15 The Field. The house was built in 1872 in a different location but moved to its present setting near the water some time before 1885. Beginning in 1894, Mrs. Sarah Linzee of Boston and her daughter Elizabeth stayed at the Yellow House every summer to escape the heat of their Back Bay townhouse. After Mrs. Linzee died in 1903, Elizabeth continued to summer at the Yellow House with her aunt Ann Torrey and after Miss Torrey passed away in 1911, for a few more years by herself. Elizabeth lived quietly at the Yellow House, enjoying the refreshing sea breezes from her porch. It is now a B&B.   

Ivy Manor Inn

The Doctor is In:  Ivy Manor Inn, 194 Main Street. The home was built in 1939 by Dr. R.E. Weymouth who had begun practicing medicine in Bar Harbor in 1933. When he was in his 40s he served in World War II in the South Pacific. For the last eighteen years of his career he was chief of staff at Mount Desert Island hospital. Now a B&B.

Mira Monte 2

Politicians and Scientists:  Mira Monte Inn, 69 Mount Desert Street. Developer Orlando Ash built the house for his family in the 1870s. In 1884 he rented it to U.S. Senator James Blaine who might not have spent much time relaxing there since he was running for president that year. Then again, perhaps he spent too much time enjoying the Bar Harbor summer because he lost the presidential election to Grover Cleveland that fall.  Dr. Henry C. Chapman purchased Mira Monte in 1892, and his family summered here for 39 years. Dr. Chapman was one of the foremost biologists in the country. He was the author of several books on a surprisingly broad range of subjects from evolution to toxicology to medical jurisprudence. He was also the curator of the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia. Now a B&B.


Bass Cottage

photo courtesy of Yelp

Newspapers and Motor Cars:  Bass Cottage, 14 the Field. Built in 1885, the house was purchased soon after by the Bass family. Joseph Bass was publisher of the Bangor Commercial newspaper. He led the fight against allowing automobiles on Mount Desert Island, but by 1913 the opponents had to bow to the times and allow the motorized carriages on the island. After giving up the fight, Bass was seen driving one of the biggest and nicest autos in Bar Harbor. In 1915  Joe Bass celebrated his 80th birthday at this cottage.Now a B&B.

Central House 2


Newspapers and Duels:  The Central House, 60 Cottage Street. Once called Briarfield, the home was often the summer residence for the McClean family, owners of the Washington Post, around the turn of the century. Briarfield then became the summer residence of former New York City fire commissioner Henry Winthrop Gray and his wife. Gray had become infamous in the gossip columns for a duel he once fought against his friend John Heckscher in Canada over Gray’s wife. The duel ended in a draw; however, Gray and his wife divorced, and she eventually married Heckscher. Gray was with his second wife in Bar Harbor. In 1925 Mr. and Mrs. Herbert Hodgkins bought Briarfield, renamed it Central House, redecorated and refurnished and began running the establishment as a rooming house. Now an inn.

Seacroft Inn

Counting Money and Writing Books:  Seacroft Inn, 18 Albert Meadow. This was once the summer home of Robert B. Bowler, son of a wealthy Cincinnati merchant. In 1893 Bowler became Comptroller of the U.S. Treasury and the following year he and his wife Alice bought the house, also known as the A.L. Higgins cottage. Later a popular American novelist summered here in the early 1900s. His name was Winston Churchill, but he was not the British Churchill who remains famous today. Now a B&B.

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Remnants of a Hollywood Past

Just off a winding hillside road in Bel Air, California is an ornate entrance gate to what looks to be a lovely old house that sits beyond. If you’re looking for it, you’ll see the letters CAP E MO E on the brick pillar. That’s me standing next to it this past January.


About 85 years ago the sign read “CAPO DE MONTE,” the name of a sprawling Italian villa-style mansion surrounded by terraced gardens on over twelve acres of Bel Air land. Now only the carriage house remains, long ago converted to a private residence.

I was drawn to this spot because Capo de Monte had once been the home of Atwater Kent. He figures in my book Bar Harbor in the Roaring Twenties as one of the resort town’s most prominent socialites and hosts. Kent’s Bar Harbor days ended with the advent of the Depression and the decline of Bar Harbor as a trendy summer resort. In the thirties Kent legally separated from his wife, sold all his East Coast properties, including his immensely profitable radio manufacturing plant, and moved to where he could find more action: Southern California.

In Bel Air, Kent continued his role as fabulous host, throwing lavish parties with guest lists that included Hollywood’s famous film stars and movie industry moguls. Kent may have been responsible for the concept of the “A List” celebrity. I read in one old L.A. newspaper article that he classified his parties into three categories: C parties were for “hopefuls and has-beens” who were served chicken ala king; B parties “called for a buffet and dance with fairly good names.” But A parties were the ones Kent became famous for:  formal dinners followed by dancing on the terrace under the stars for the most glamorous of Hollywood celebrities like Gloria De Haven, Van Johnson and June Haver.

Whether the party was modest or lavish, the gregarious Kent played the role of the charming host, often wearing his “Madhatter Hat” and making his best effort to greet and and say farewell to every guest. Kent, known to party-goers as “Attie,” lived in Capo de Monte from the mid-thirties until his death in 1949. By all accounts he was an extrovert who loved being around people, yet all the stories I found portrayed him playing host by himself, with never a hostess by his side.  I wonder if he was lonely…

When Kent died at the end of the 1940s, his passing was noted as the end of a chapter in Hollywood history, his parties fondly remembered as ” the last remnant of a lavish era which seems to be vanishing in the face of a more dignified (and tax-burdened) industry.” Kent had managed to retain his wealth better than most throughout the Depression and seemed to bring his Roaring Twenties’ sense of style to parties he hosted during more difficult times.

He had amassed an impressive art collection for which he had invested over a million dollars throughout his lifetime including works by Thomas Gainsborough and John Singer Sargent. After his death the collection was auctioned off  for a total of only about $50,000. His elegant mansion with its seven luxurious master bedrooms, five baths and tile swimming pool was demolished in 1951. Times had indeed changed. But today if you travel up a winding road in residential Bel Air you will still come upon a gate with brick pillars and on it a few burnished metal letters representing what is left of a once elegant estate.


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Dedication in the Face of Fire

As fire swept across Mount Desert Island in October of 1947 six women in Northeast Harbor determinedly kept their post at the telephone office. The lights went out; their friends and family fled, but the operators remained, sounding the evacuation alarm and then calling every telephone in town to calmly urge the citizens of Northeast Harbor to leave their village in the face of the menacing forest fires. A fishing boat was moored outside the telephone office in case the operators needed to flee for their lives, but even after successfully overseeing the evacuation, the operators remained, never leaving their posts for four days. The only women left in Northeast Harbor, they provided a crucial communications link between fire fighters, police and relief workers.  

  Here is a photo of two of the women, Helen Gillette (left) and Philena Davis (right):

Helen and Philema

 The photo had been taken twenty-seven years before when Helen and Philena were young, single “telephone girls.” Helen’s maiden name was Smallidge. She married Charles Gillette in 1926, and the couple never had children. Philena, named for her paternal grandmother, was a Manchester before marrying Walter Davis in 1930. I don’t think they had any children either. Walter was twelve years older than Philena, and I believe he had a child from a prior marriage. Walter had died just a few months before the Great Fire. Since both Helen and Philena were childless, this might partially explain why they were working as operators in an era when married women more often stayed at home.

Thankfully the fire never reached the village of Northeast Harbor, yet the operators’ dedication to keeping their posts throughout the disaster was true heroism.

More to come about the telephone girls of 1920 in later blog entries!




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Otter Creek in a World at War


Naval station personnel, 1919. Photo courtesy of the National Archives.

The story of Bar Harbor in the Roaring Twenties really begins with the Armistice in November of 1918. The first news that the World War had ended came to this country by way of the Otter Creek Naval Station just outside of Bar Harbor.

Otter Creek had been established by MDI summer resident Alessandro Fabbri whose interest in the latest technology involving radio transmissions propelled him into an important role as war in Europe began to involve the United States. Fabbri built a station on Otter Point, an isolated spot unhindered by other radio transmissions, and then offered it to the government under the condition that he be named the commanding officer. The United States Navy had enough trust in Fabbri to grant his request and gave him a lieutenancy.  36.

The naval station is long gone, but today a monument pays tribute to Fabbri at the intersection of Otter Cliff and Park Loop Roads. It reads “In memory of Allesandro Fabbri Lieutenant USNRF. A resident and lover of MDI who commanded the U.S. Naval Radio Station upon its site from its establishment on August 28, 1917 until December 12, 1919. At the end of the world war he was awarded the navy cross. His citation stated that under his direction “the station became the most important and the most efficient station in the world.”

These days visitors from around the globe picnic near the monument or hike along the Ocean Path behind it. They are on vacation, and their thoughts are usually far from the past when the United States and Europe were experiencing their first “world war.”  They live in an age when transatlantic communication means they can enjoy the scenery of Mt. Desert as they send a quick text to a friend in England or have an easy video chat with a family member in Italy.

But nearly a hundred years ago, with the western world in turmoil, the act of communicating important, history-changing information between the United States to Europe in real time rested on the shoulders of Fabbri and a small naval force on a remote point of land in the North Atlantic on an island called Mount Desert. It was at this very spot that the United States received notice of the unconditional surrender by the Germans and learned the war was finally over.


(For stories about the naval station, the end of World War I and more, see Bar Harbor in Roaring Twenties by Luann Yetter.)

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Beatrix’s Garden

When I was in Bar Harbor recently, I stopped by Garland Farm, now owned by the Beatrix Farrand Society. In my new book, Bar Harbor in the Roaring Twenties, I write about how the famous landscape artist donated her time to the town to help them beautify their village. (Dump Wharf and the coal plant may not be the most attractive of the village’s waterfront features, she suggested. A patterned screen or a well-placed tree might help obscure some of these unattractive sites…)

1.Paula Moody, Open Days Coordinator for Garland Farm, gave me a tour of the facility, and it was fun to see Farrand’s living quarters as well as her gardens.

5.Much of the hardscaping — sculptures, benches, fencing — comes from Reef Point, the Farrand family cottage which graced the Shore Path until it was torn down in the 1950s. Other artifacts, long gone, have been reproduced based on old photos.

9.Many plants too are original to the Farrand collection, making their way from Reef Point to other island gardens like Asticou and Thuya and now to Garland Farm, Farrand’s home during retirement until her death in 1959.

Paula told me that Farrand lived at Garland Farm with her assistant. They each had their own garden, designed by Farrand to suit their tastes. Farrand liked the cool colors


while her assistant liked the warm colors.


On the walls of her modest final home are displayed plans for many of the island gardens she designed including ones for the Rockefellers in Seal Harbor, the Millikens in Northeast Harbor and the Byrnes in Bar Harbor. Guy’s Cliff, the James Byrne cottage, was on what is now the campus of the College of the Atlantic. (The cottage is long gone; however, the outlines of Farrand’s terraced garden can still be seen.)

It’s a shame that the cottage and gardens at Reef Point were not preserved, but it’s wonderful to see so many avid gardeners and historians embracing Garland Farm where Farrand spent her later, quieter years. And nice to see that her legacy lives on in beautifully landscaped areas all over the island. No doubt she would pleased to see that Dump Wharf and the coal plant are long gone from Bar Harbor’s waterfront!


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A Book and a Question

cover 2

Here’s my new book! And before I go back to posting entries on Maine towns and history, I’m going to answer a couple of questions I’ve gotten from people as I’ve been working on this book over the past couple of years:

When you sit down to write, do the words just come to you? Is it like the book writes itself?

I wish. It’s interesting to me that people who don’t write often have this notion, and I can’t imagine where it comes from. Certainly the process never works this way for me. When I was working on my Bar Harbor book, the process went something like this:

Find a possible story. Do as much research as I can on the people and places associated with the story. When I’ve found out all I can, I tell myself that the next day I will take all my notes and start writing. The next day I start writing. And about halfway through the first sentence, I have more questions. And I go back to researching.

At some point, I tell myself “That’s it! You aren’t going to find any more about this, and even if you do, the six hours of research it will take to find out that her middle name was Jean is not worth the trouble!” And then I make myself write. And the words come out really slowly. Sometimes one at a time. Or sometimes in something more like lists of events rather than paragraphs. The rough draft sounds choppy. And really boring.

But slowly something starts to emerge that seems kind of interesting. and in the rewrite process I try to bring that out.

Do you make a lot of money on these books? 

No. I’ll be lucky if I cover my expenses for all those nights at the Central House and dinners at Testa’s, blueberry ale from the Atlantic Brewing Company and gourmet olive oil and balsamic vinegar from Fiore.

And here’s the unasked question, the question they feel it’s not polite to ask. The one that seems to imply I must be crazy:

Then why do you write?                                                                        

Well, it’s not exactly because I’m inspired to write them. And it’s not for the money. But there’s a sort of satisfaction from feeling like I found someone’s story and told it for a new audience. And when someone says they’ve read my book, that’s just about the best thing I’ll ever hear…

Other writers out there — why do you write?

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