BANGOR, Maine — On July 26, 1939, the Bangor Daily News ran a front-page headline that could give you the chills: DONN FENDLER FOUND ALIVE.
It was accompanied by three photos, including one of a scrawny 12-year-old putting in a telephone call to his mother to let her know that he was OK after nine days in the dense woods around Mount Katahdin.
What a story. It ought to be a book, and it is.
“Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” the book the youngster co-wrote with Joseph Egan but never made a penny from, is still in print 69 years later.
Mainers still turn out to meet the subject of the book, to shake his hand and get him to sign a copy of the book for themselves or their children or grandchildren.
Find out for yourself when the Cole Land Transportation Museum holds its annual Donn Fendler event at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at the museum, 405 Perry Road.
The event will start with a showing of a 10-minute film made in 2006 when Fendler for the first time flew by helicopter over that part of Maine where he was lost. With him were Conservation Commissioner Patrick McGowan, who shot the film, and Galen Cole, founder of the Cole museum.
The museum will have “Lost on a Mountain in Maine” books for sale for $6 on Sept. 20, or people can bring their own to get an autograph. Fendler will stay all afternoon, if necessary, Cole said, “until he has personalized every book.”
Of course, Fendler’s not 12 anymore. The Tennessee resident is 82, with many Maine summers under his belt and countless visits to schools from here to Wallagrass.
Fendler’s tale of “faith and determination” and Boy Scout training is still mesmerizing, whether the reader is a youngster or someone who, like Cole, remembers the story as it played out. He’ll never forget finding out Fendler was alive.
“I remember reading about it in the Bangor Daily News. Wow,” Cole recalled.
Fendler went on to a career in the U.S. Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
A year ago, Gov. John Baldacci gave him the free fishing license that Gov. Lewis Barrows had promised him all those years ago.
Three hundred fifty people turned out to search for the young Fendler.
Nearly seven decades later, he’s still saying thank you.