August 26, 2010

Et cetera: Only in MAINE

Human ingenuity and natural processes have left weird and entertaining marks on our state.

By SHANNON BRYAN Staff Writer

Scoff at peculiarities in fine china if you must. But oddities in life -- those should be revered.

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Freeport’s Desert of Maine

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Additional Photos Below

Maine has plenty of curiosities in residential yards, town squares and museum halls. Even the environment has developed some natural quirks of its own, like Bubble Rock in Acadia, where a massive boulder sits precariously at the edge of a high rock wall like a hesitant base jumper.

Or the Blowing Cave off Ocean Avenue in Kennebunkport, where at high tide the waves are pressed between craggy rocks, creating tall explosions of water that shoot into the air like water from a whale's blowhole or a busted kitchen pipe.

And who can forget one of nature's more ironic practical jokes -- the Desert of Maine in Freeport -- where dunes of glacial silt took over 40 acres of former farmland? A Sahara two miles from the sea (with a well-stocked gift shop to boot).

Some of Maine's uniqueness comes naturally. But most of Maine's "weird" comes straight from the courageous, crafty -- dare I say, kooky -- minds of our fair locals. If you can dream it, a Mainer can build it -- with a little elbow grease, some scrap metal and a blowtorch.

WEIRD IN THE YAHD

Near the corner of routes 25 and 113 in Standish, an all-season snowman keeps watch over passing motorists from a safe harbor in a grassy front yard. Made of three large rocks stacked atop each other, the sturdy sculpture revels in its permanency by donning holiday-appropriate attire year-round, like the patriotic red, white and blue bikini it's sporting currently, along with a sign that reads "God Bless America."

A van-sized pig grazes in a yard on Route 5 in Limerick. In fact, it's not just van-sized, it is a van. The old Volkswagen has been painted a Pepto pink, along with a "family" of smaller pigs fashioned from toy cars.

There's a traffic jam of those same kid cars (not painted pink) on Beach Road on Long Island, with ducks and dolls behind the wheels. It's a sight that captures a passerby's attention as he's heading off to the beach on the island's eastern shore, but visitors shouldn't forget to look up, where bicycles have racked themselves in the trees.

Of course, solitary sculptures crafted from old wheelbarrows and shredded bike tires are swell for random roadside spottings. But to be a true yard-art destination, it's a matter of quantity.

Jerry Cardone has several acres covered in towering sculptures, including Santa, Bigfoot and a host of other fantastic creatures, as well as a rooftop gazebo in the shape of a flying saucer. His recycled-material menagerie, which he calls Seven Wonders of God Creatures in Houlton, is visible to visitors, and all of it is hand-crafted by Cardone with love.

If you're looking to bring some weird into your own home, but lack a soldering iron and several cans of spray paint, you can browse and buy at Elmer's Barn of Junk and Dead Things in Coopers Mills. Owner Elmer Wilson has spent three decades filling three floors with antiques and odd collections -- and for the right price, you can take some of it home.

WICKED-HUGE WEIRD

Everything's bigger in Texas? P'shaw! Apparently, those Southern folks never saw the 14-foot-tall crank telephone in Bryant Pond. The "World's Largest Telephone" stands as a tribute to those cranky days of yore. It's also rumored to be the phone that Bangor's 31-foot-tall statue of Paul Bunyan uses to drunk-dial his ex-girlfriends.

For folks who love blueberries -- and I mean really love them, as in "I want to get inside their heads and know their innermost thoughts and dreams" -- Columbia Falls has a blueberry big enough to literally get inside. Wild Blueberry Land boasts an array of blueberry-centric items, edible and otherwise. And if you listen closely while inside, you can almost hear the blueberry whisper, "I always wanted to be a ballerina."

While eaters are on the outs with eggs lately, that shouldn't diminish a Mainer's pride over being home to the "World's Largest Non-stick Frying Pan." Hauled out in July during Pittsfield's Egg Festival, the working pan is 10 feet wide and can cook the salmonella out of any of its smaller siblings.

The world's largest rotating Earth (aside, of course, from the actual one) turns on its axis in the DeLorme lobby in Yarmouth. Forty-one feet in diameter, the globe is endearingly known as Eartha and is free to see during the lobby's open hours or through the immense glass windows (it's so big, it's visible from I-295 north).

Huge replicas truly are the ideal tribute to anything -- the Earth, telephones, eyeglasses. But the small stuff is notable too. On the edge of Great Diamond Island, the smallest lighthouse registered by the United States Coast Guard sits watch over Casco Bay. Pocahontas (Echo Point) Light stands only 6 feet tall, but don't use the words "cute" or "adorable" within hearing distance. That lighthouse will toss its nose into the air, tuck its hand into its waistcoat and mutter curses in French for the rest of the night.

MUSEUMS OF THE WEIRD

Big cities have museums dedicated to things like the fleeting relevance of science or newfangled areas of study such as natural history. But Maine has the first and only Umbrella Cover Museum.

Curator Nancy 3. Hoffman (yes, her middle name is "3.") has a healthy sense of humor about her treasured artifacts, and offers guided tours and the singing of "Let a Smile Be Your Umbrella" with accordion accompaniment, according to the museum's website. Umbrella covers currently on display hail from 30 countries, and there's at least one Hoffman pilfered from a dime store.

Music boxes -- more than 5,000 of them -- find a happy musical home at the Musical Wonder House in Wiscasset. The immense collection includes restored musical boxes, player grand pianos and organs, spring-powered phonographs, musical birds, porcelains, furniture, clocks, steins, whistlers and a musical painting. Tours are given from Memorial Day through Halloween, and music boxes can also be purchased. The shop also does repairs.

Moxie inspires smacked lips or grimaces, depending on the drinker. It's no wonder Maine's state beverage now has two museums dedicated to its history and promotion. The small Moxie Museum in Lisbon Falls (home of the Moxie Festival) has been retelling the Moxie story and selling memorabilia for years. Union recently added a Moxie annex to its Matthews Museum of Maine Heritage. The annex's most notable relic: a 33-foot-tall wooden replica of a Moxie bottle that once had a slide and was once used as a summer cottage in New Hampshire.

On the less-tangible side of historic appreciation, the Wilhelm Reich Museum in Rangeley is dedicated to the work and memory of Austrian-born psychiatrist Wilhelm Reich, M.D., and his study of primordial cosmic energy, which he named "orgone." Patients sat inside Reich's "orgone energy accumulators" -- devices that the press called "sex boxes" -- in an effort to glean health benefits, namely a boosted immune system.

No roundup of the weird would be complete without Loren Coleman's International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland. The museum, located beyond the shelves full of wonderfully odd reading material at the Green Hand Bookshop, displays Coleman's monster collection. That is, his collection devoted to so-called monsters like Bigfoot, white-haired Yeti and the Loch Ness monster. The museum includes Sasquatch hair samples and footprint casts, an encased Fiji mermaid and a range of intriguing skulls, replicas and pop-culture memorabilia.

Weird.

A Map of the Weird


View Weird Maine in a larger map

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 791-6333 or at:

sbryan@mainetoday.com

 

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Additional Photos

BUNYAN BROOKS
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Bangor’s Bunyan

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Portland’s Bigfoot, right, and owner

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Freeport’s Eartha

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EMERSON
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Wild Blueberry Land in Columbia Falls

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