BANGOR, Maine — My mother was 9 when her parents gave her the newly published “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” and it was that copy that I read as child. My son read the book in third grade at Newburgh School, and now I buy it for the grandchildren in Maine and Minnesota.
Once you’ve caught the fascination with 12-year-old Donn Fendler — who was lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days in 1939 — it never wears off.
We still turn out to meet the subject of “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” to shake his hand and get his autograph for ourselves, or for our daughter or grandson.
An autograph session with Donn Fendler has become such a popular activity at Cole Land Transportation Museum that the facility does it every year.
This year, it will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at the museum at 405 Perry Road.
The program will start off 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 bring your own to get an autograph.
Fendler will stay all afternoon, if necessary, Cole said, “until he has personalized every book.”
On July 26, 1939, the Bangor Daily News ran a front-page headline that would give you the chills:
It was accompanied by three photos, including one of the 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.
“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, thanks to teachers who continue to use it in the classroom.
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. He’s spoken to other groups as well, including a class of adults working on their own writing at what is now Dorothea Dix Institute.
Fendler’s tale of “faith and determination” is 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.
Donn 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 help search for a young boy lost in Maine nearly seven decades ago.
Donn Fendler is still saying thank you.
Donn Fendler, who as a boy was lost on Mount Katahdin for nine days in 1939, will sign books during a program at 1 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 20, at Cole Land Transportation Museum, 405 Perry Road, Bangor. (Bangor Daily News File Photo)