PORTLAND – While road races are prevalent in Maine, not many start with a poetry recitation.
“How beautiful it was, that one bright day in the long week of rain,” Daniel Noel read from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s poem “Hawthorne.”
“Though all its splendor could not chase away the omnipresent — run.”
And with a short play on words in the last line Noel read, about 100 runners crossed the starting line for the February Frostbite 2.5K. The early morning run was the kickoff to the Longfellow 204th Birthday Choral Festival taking place this weekend.
Longfellow, who was born in Portland in 1807, became one of the most celebrated writers in America when “Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie” was published in 1847. And his “Paul Revere’s Ride” in 1860 firmly established the name of the Boston patriot in Revolutionary lore.
To honor the poet’s 204th birthday, the Longfellow Chorus as well as the Maine Historical Society hosted a number of activities, which continue today, that are free and open to the public.
While participants in Saturday’s race were encouraged to run in Victorian dress, only a few did. A past member of the Longfellow Chorus, Jeff Logan of Portland donned a top hat and vest under a period jacket — most of which were costume items he had lying around. He took Saturday as an opportunity to get outside.
“Because it is the middle of February, everybody’s mood is depressed and it’s a great chance to come out and run,” he said.
Said Noel: “I think Longfellow would get a kick out of people running for him in the cold.”
Seattle residents Laura Jean Wilcox and Mike Miller, visiting Wilcox’s parents, were also dressed in costume. Miller held onto his top hat as he crossed the finish line.
“We came to see my mother and father singing,” Wilcox said. Both of her parents are members of the Longfellow Chorus.
While Longfellow Chorus under the direction of Charles Kaufmann continues celebrations throughout the weekend, the Maine Historical Society also hosted activities Saturday morning to commemorate the 204th birthday of the Portland-born world-famous literary figure.
“Maine Historical Society has a long relationship with Longfellow,” assistant director Steve Bromage said, with nearly 1,500 people visiting the society’s Wadsworth-Longfellow House each year.
Activities that were free and geared toward children included creating a flip book to depict Longfellow’s “The Arrow and The Song,” wooden toys to play games with, paper bag puppets, and of course making birthday cards for Longfellow.
The celebration’s highlight was a poetry recitation by historian and former state Rep. Herb Adams. As he prepared to recite “Paul Revere’s Ride,” Adams asked all the children to join him up front and “help Mr. Revere ride his horse.”
The children began stomping their feet and slapping their hands against the carpeted floor, mimicking the sound of a stead galloping through the night.
“You know the rest. In the books you have read, how the British Regulars fired and fled,” Adams read.
As the children continued their sound effects, Adams read with dramatic flair from the famous poem celebrating 150 years since it was first published, “The hurrying hoof-beats of that steed, and the midnight message of Paul Revere.”
Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at: