March 11, 1936: Rain begins falling on the first day of a three-day rainstorm that causes flooding that results in major destruction and damage across New England.

In Maine, the Kennebec River bridge linking Richmond and Dresden is washed away, and the Androscoggin River in Auburn reaches its highest level on record.

More than 150 people are killed in the floods, which ravage the East Coast as far south as Virginia. The water bursts dams, wipes out roads, ruins businesses and washes away homes.

March 11, 1968: A state police detective arrests Donald Gellers, an attorney helping Maine’s Passamaquoddy tribe to assert its fiscal and land rights. Gellers is arrested at his home in Eastport and charged him with “constructive possession” of six marijuana cigarettes.

Gellers’ offense is a felony under a state law that is about to lapse but remains in effect. He is convicted in May 1969 and sentenced to two to four years in prison, and is subject to disbarment.

An article published in the Press Herald on March 4, 1969, reports the verdict from Gellers’ trial. The photo of Don Gellers on the left is from an article published by the Press Herald on Jan. 22, 1967. From Press Herald archives

The case later proves to be the result of a conspiracy orchestrated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office, under the leadership of “law and order” conservative Attorney General James Irwin (1920-2005), to sideline Gellers in his defense of the Passamaquoddys.

At the time of his arrest, Gellers had just returned from filing a lawsuit in Boston to force the state to turn over land that the tribe claimed belonged to it and to return $150 million that Maine had stripped from a trust fund set up for the Indians in 1794.

Gellers’ work becomes instrumental in bringing about the landmark 1980 Indian land claims settlement with the state.

Gellers dies of cancer in 2014. His relatives, through their attorney, seek clemency for him several times, but the case never is granted a hearing under the administration of Gov. Paul LePage. On Jan. 7, 2020, however, Gov. Janet Mills, issues a posthumous pardon to Gellers.

“While this pardon cannot undo the many adverse consequences that this conviction had upon Mr. Gellers’ life, it can bestow formal forgiveness for his violation of law and remove the stigma of that conviction,” Mills said.

March 11, 1997: Henry Joy, a Republican member of the Maine House of Representatives from the tiny Aroostook County town of Crystal, submits a bill that calls for studying the possibility of dividing Maine into two states.

Claiming his goal is to secure a fair distribution of economic opportunity and to reduce regulation, his legislation also seeks to impose a temporary development and construction moratorium in southern and central Maine and to study the feasibility of establishing a 3.2-million-acre state park along a 40-mile-wide strip of Maine’s coast stretching eastward from Mount Desert Island.

“The removal of homes, roads and people would allow nature to restore its lost resources,” the bill says.

The Legislature replaces the bill with one that sets up a task force to study regional economic inequality and directs it to report by January 1998. The bill passes. The other elements of Joy’s bill are discarded.

Joy, who served in the House from 1993 to 2000 and 2003 to 2010, submits another, less cluttered bill in 2005. Shedding the distractions of construction moratoriums, a new state park and task forces, it simply proposes a study of the feasibility of dividing the state in two, along the boundary dividing the First Congressional District from the Second. The Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government opposes it 12-1, and both the House and the Senate reject it.

Undeterred, Joy tries again in 2010. A proposal he submits in March calls for carving off southern, central and midcoast Maine. He suggests naming that part of the state “Northern Massachusetts.”

The remainder of Maine would consist of Aroostook, Franklin, Penobscot, Piscataquis and Somerset counties, as well as parts of Hancock, Oxford and Washington counties. The reduction would leave Maine with most of its current territory, but a population of fewer than 400,000 people, making it the least populous state in the country.

The bill is submitted late in the session. To be eligible for consideration, it needs approval from the Legislative Council, which rejects it.

Joy does not explain why the rest of the state should be called “Northern Massachusetts” – a name sometimes used to ridicule southern Maine – or why the approximately 1 million people who live there would be likely to put up with it.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]


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