Writing this column has led me to some interesting experiences.  After writing about the Wiscasset, Waterville and Farmington Railway, I was invited out to the railway museum in Alna to take a ride in the train engine. It was a childhood dream come true.

Zac McDorr is the founder of the Bath Maine History Center on Facebook.You can reach him at [email protected]

After writing about one magical day I spent on Cushing Island as a teenager, I was invited back to spend another day among the ruins of old Fort Levett. What a wonderful experience.

And last week, an old acquaintance of mine contacted me about the folk artist William Matthew Prior, who I wrote about recently. It turns out that she and her husband had two of Prior’s paintings hanging in their house, and wondered if I might want to see them. Of course!

The best thing about them was that they showed the former occupants of the house circa 1830.  Other than a few years in a museum, they had been in the house since being painted. What are the chances?  After seeing the paintings, we sat down and had a long chat about local history.

They told me that they had a great story idea for me, and it was a doozy: A pair of German spies had once lived on North Street in Bath, just down the street from my own house. Their name was Wayne. Inside the house was a room full of transmitter equipment for sending messages to Germany during WWII. The door was kept locked and the housekeeper was never let inside. The transmitter was so powerful that people in the neighborhood had trouble tuning in to their favorite radio stations. Eventually, the two were caught and arrested.

This was obviously a juicy tale that I had to pursue. German spies on North Street? What were they spying on? BIW perhaps, or the Jews who ran clothing stores downtown? And how far did their transmitter travel? Was the signal picked up by a German U-Boat in Casco Bay? And what happened after they were arrested? Were they executed?

I asked my researcher friend, Kerry Nelson, to see what she could dig up. It turns out that Justin and Alice Wayne had indeed lived on North Street, though their original name had been Weinschenck. Like the famous Marion Morrison (John Wayne), the couple apparently decided that “Wayne” was a good American-sounding name. They were Germans living in America during WWII, and they probably hoped to allay suspicion about their loyalties.  Given the lingering spy rumors almost 80 years later, I guess they failed.

There was nothing in the newspaper record about any arrest for spying. Justin Wayne had been the owner of a clothing factory in Germany, and after moving to Bath he went to work as a designer and pattern maker in the Congress Sportswear factory.  He was apparently very skilled in that line of work. He was also a skilled magician, and there were several mentions of him entertaining people with his amazing sleight-of-hand tricks. Mrs. Wayne was also interested in clothing, especially hats.  She attended fashion shows in New York and brought back the latest hats to display and sell in her home. She also put on millinery shows in Portland.

I can only imagine the dirty looks, ill treatment, and rumors they might have suffered as Germans living in a country that was at war with Germany. According to History.com, about 11,000 German nationals were interned during WWII, much fewer than the 100,000+ Japanese who were put into camps.

Justin Wayne decided to move away after he ran over a man’s legs on Pearl Street in Bath. The man had been working on a car with his legs sticking out, and Wayne apparently slid on the ice. A week later he was at a new job in New Jersey, and he traveled back and forth until his wife joined him down there in 1947. He died in 1977, and she lived until 2006.

If they were spies, they got away with it.

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