May 20, 2012

Malaga Island: A century of shame

A new exhibit at the Maine State Museum tells the story of the eviction of Malaga Island's residents, one of the state's most disgraceful official acts ever.

By Colin Woodard cwoodard@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 2)

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Stones mark the graves of island residents whose bodies were dug up and reburied at what became Pineland Farms in New Gloucester.

Telegram file photo/Jack Milton

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Kate McBrien and Linda Carrell arrange artifacts from Malaga Island for the exhibit “Malaga Island, Fragmented Lives” at the Maine State Museum in Augusta.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

Additional Photos Below

'MALAGA ISLAND, FRAGMENTED LIVES'

WHERE: Maine State Museum, 230 State St., Augusta, 287-2301

WHEN: Now through May 2013.

MUSEUM HOURS: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday, closed for state holidays

"The way everyone from the island was played -- I think of my granddad, the one who was on the boat with his mom, and he would go through all these tribulations in his life. It kind of made him the way he was. But what was most disturbing to me was the fact that they moved the graves. That took the cake for me."

But in 2010, the state finally expressed contrition. A joint resolution drafted by then Rep. Herb Adams, D-Portland, was passed unanimously at the State House and expressed "profound regret" for the numerated injustices of the incident. On a rainy day late that summer, then-Gov. John Baldacci joined a historic gathering of descendants on Malaga and delivered an apology to them for what his predecessor had done. "I thought it was very important that I go there as governor and try as much as possible to right a wrong that had been done many years ago," Baldacci said. "I don't think it was reflective of Maine's history, heritage and roots.

"I have to tell you, it was very emotional. I didn't foresee the impact of that just saying sorry would have for people."

"I remember that day when we were out on Malaga and the governor gave his apology, and everything was silent," said Marilyn Darling Voter of Windham, whose great-great-grandfather's sisters, nieces and nephews were among those evicted. "When he ended it, the aspen trees started quivering (in the wind) and the sun came out. And believe me, we all noticed it. It felt like something had broken in the other realm, like literally a cracking of the lies."

In the two years since, Rosenthal has perceived a change in the atmosphere around the story. "You could tell that a cloud had lifted, maybe not all the clouds, but most of them," he said. "Since then, I get the sense that people in the town of Phippsburg -- descendants and otherwise -- perhaps feel a little freer."

Last fall, Voter organized a family reunion of descendants of Malaga founder Benjamin Darling at the Phippsburg Congregational Church, which plays a role in "Lizzie Bright." More than 125 people reportedly attended, including the Tripps and family friends of some of those interred at Pineland. "People can embrace it now and say, yeah, my family came from Malaga, and I'm proud of it," she said. "We all stood and said, 'We're Darlings and we're proud.' "

The Maine State Museum exhibit -- running through May 26, 2013 -- will likely increase awareness of the Malaga story, which has often been told inaccurately, when it was mentioned at all. (Many accounts relied on early 20th-century newspaper stories by reporters accustomed to inventing or embellishing details.)

"We're trying to present the facts as we know them, and bust some of the myths," said curator Kate McBrien, who developed the exhibit.

Relatives of the Malaga evictees say having a high-profile exhibit at the state's official museum is cathartic, but there is another step Voter would still like to see. "Closure for me is to return the bodies to the island because my aunts died there believing their bones would become part of it," she said. "Removing the bodies was the difference between eviction and annihilation."

Colin Woodard is State and National Affairs Writer for The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram.

CORRECTION: This story was update Sunday, May 20 to reflect that William Howard Taft succeeded President Theodore Roosevelt.

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Additional Photos

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Kate McBrien, front, and Linda Carrell evaluate the placement of a cemetery burial book from the Maine School for the Feebleminded, circa 1915.

John Ewing/Staff Photographer

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Students gather on Malaga Island in 1910.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

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Rosella and John Eason pose with their children in 1911.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

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The Loring Wallace family in 1900.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

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A 1907 postcard is part of the Maine State Museum’s collection.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

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The Murphy family poses on Malaga Island in 1910.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

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John Eason repairs a building on Malaga Island in 1908.

Courtesy of Peter Roberts

 


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