Last night my buddy Bernie Davis called to tell me that “Peyton Place” was on television. He knew I would want to see this movie because it was set in 1941, made in Camden in 1957 and contained a lot of great film of Camden, South Thomaston and Rockland – as well as the vintage automobiles he and I drove into the ground when we were kids.

Because I tuned in late I missed the bit by the railroad tracks on Route 131 between my humble farm and Thomaston. I will never forget it because it showed the railroad tracks and the Anderson farm. And when the camera turned to give you another angle you saw a nest of shacks, ostensibly occupied by low-income people. Right then, anyone living on the St. George peninsula would rise right up in their seats because, as anyone who drives past there knows, there are no shacks in the Anderson hayfield and there never have been.

In the 1940s I knew how low-income people lived. I saw them when we’d visit our cousins in the Boston area. This was the post-war era, when people put in foundations and lived in them until they got time or money enough to to build a house on top. It seemed to me to be a curious way to do business, and we called them “cellar dwellers.”

A native watching “Peyton Place” would wonder where the Hollywood set-makers got their idea of a Maine shack. There were poor people among us, but in the 1940s, the only person I knew who lived in anything that resembled a “Peyton Place” shack was our resident hermit, Art Peirson. He lived in Tenants Harbor out by the marsh and reputedly ate dog food right out of the can.

Movie-goers were led to believe that these shacks were just a skip and a jump from downtown Camden, and anyone familiar with the geography got dizzy walking down a familiar street and within seconds finding himself in a non-existent degenerate section of town.

Hollywood could learn a lot by simply talking to a few natives – if only to get the lay of the land – before making a movie in Maine. When the heroine tried to escape the sex, scandal, gossip and violence that seemed to everywhere abound, she got on a bus to New York. And when it drove off, it turned left and headed to Bangor.

I knew that bus was going to head north to Bangor because that was one of the movie’s high spots that I remember from the last time I saw it, so I watched and waited. But this time I also noticed that when the bus pulled out of the side street, Camden’s Main Street was empty and you could park most anywhere. Only in movies or under heavy-snow warnings do you see streets cleared out like that.

Something else that I didn’t see the first time grabbed my attention last night. Who was the district attorney prosecuting the girl who murdered her father but a very unpleasant, black-haired Ben Cartwright. I didn’t recognize him the first time I saw him there in the Rockland courthouse because in 1957, Lorne Greene wouldn’t be Ben Cartwright for another two years.

Another scene that I remember well in “Peyton Place” was filmed up by Mirror Lake on Route 17. It showed a high school couple riding two bicycles along the road by the water’s edge. A gossipy neighbor who saw them created a scandal by telling her friends that she saw a boy and girl swimming naked in the lake. Every time I’ve driven by Mirror Lake since 1957, I’ve thought of those two bicycles going in there – and wondered how they could get away with swimming in the Rockland water supply.

When you drive into Camden from the south on Union Street, you pass under an arch that has “CAMDEN” written on it. Bernie Davis reminds me that the movie folks replaced “CAMDEN” with “PEYTON PLACE,” and because they didn’t bother to change it back, people drove into Peyton Place for years.

It is hard to believe that the last time I saw “Peyton Place” was 63 years ago in Rochester, New York.

My neighbors John and Betty Kinney were hired as extras for the crowd scenes, and when I saw them at Rockland’s courthouse steps, cheering for the girl who had clubbed her stepfather to death with a piece of firewood, I got so homesick that I cried.

The humble Farmer can be heard Friday nights at 7 on WHPW (97.3 FM) and visited at:

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