Ives, Smith deaths are a sad day in history

Posted Nov. 15, 2009, at 6:36 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 11:26 a.m.

The recent deaths of David C. Smith and Edward “Sandy” Ives mark a watershed in Maine historical writing that makes me nervous. Who will replace them? Over their long careers at the University of Maine, Smith and Ives turned out huge amounts of material about Maine’s past that I have found valuable in writing this column. The old Bangor newspapers I read each week are never enough. I also need historians like Smith and Ives, and I could name a few more, to provide the context left unsaid by the ink-stained wretches who turned out the newspapers of yesteryear. I only hope that at a time when the University of Maine is trying to broaden its national reputation, these important scholars are being replaced by a new generation who recognizes that all history, like politics, is local.

I was neither student, colleague nor personal friend of either professor. Over the years, I consulted them or their work for both stories and columns, crediting them always, I hope. Occasionally, we met up on the phone or in person for interviews and the like.

In my early days as education reporter at the Bangor Daily News some 35 years ago, Dave Smith occasionally set me straight on the latest skullduggery of University of Maine campus and system administrators. In this way, he and a small group of other professors such as Brooks Hamilton and Stu Doty provided me with an education on higher education politics.

Smith was also an on-the-record source occasionally. One memorable story I wrote about him concerned his research with UM geologist Harold Borns demonstrating Maine’s climate was cooling down. Smith had used old diaries, as I recall, to show that the state’s climate was colder than it used to be. This was before the global warming movement got under way.

After I retired from the newspaper a few years ago, I began writing this column, which has evolved into a weekly check on events in Bangor 100 years ago. Only then did I realize Smith’s significance as a Maine historian. I have found important information in his epic “A History of Lumbering in Maine, 1861-1960” for almost every column I have written about the impact of lumbering on the Queen City of the East. Smith’s succinct essay in James B. Vickery’s illustrated bicentennial history of Bangor is an invaluable summary of much of importance. He also wrote an interesting and useful history of the University of Maine that I have consulted many times.

In his lumbering book, Smith summed up the end of the log drives this way: “The old river, as they say in Bangor, ran and still runs rolling to the sea. It didn’t, and somehow still doesn’t seem right to meet log trucks along the river road and see the river itself sparkling in the sun, empty and just a bit lonely.” That’s how I like to think of Smith, driving along the Penobscot, musing about the past with a warmth and enthusiasm missing in so much historical writing. He wrote about a lot more than lumbering, but I think his work in this arena will be the reason his name is still important in Maine a century from now.

I first became acquainted with Sandy Ives and the Maine Folklife Center in 1988 when Bangor historian Dick Shaw and I were working on a story about Fan Jones for Down East magazine. In an effort to liven up our account of Bangor’s famous madam, I visited the Folklife Center. Sure enough, there were several interviews by Ives’ students with people who claimed to have seen Jones when they were children growing up in Bangor or who had good stories about her. (The Folklife Center, founded by Ives, is also a gold mine of photographs I discovered recently while preparing a book for publication.)

I used the Folklife Center again years later when I was writing columns on Aunt Hat, the infamous madam of Veazie. Once again I hit pay dirt. About this same time Ives contacted me. We had lunch a couple of times. Saying he was working on a project about Aunt Hat, he asked me to be on the lookout for old newspaper stories. I pointed out two or three, as I recall. He showed me the location of her grave in Veazie and the spot near the river where her house was located. I hope his research on Aunt Hat makes its way into print someday.

Two other books by Ives have also been important sources for my columns. One of them, “Argyle Boom,” is a meticulously detailed account of the construction and use of log booms on the Penobscot River. I know of nothing else like it. Most historians assume readers know all about these log corrals. They are mentioned in many of my columns about Bangor’s lumbering industry in a meaningful way thanks to Ives’ book.

Another Ives work that is unique is “George Magoon and the Down East Game War: History, Folklore and the Law.” Encompassed by its covers is the incredible story of Calvin Graves. He gunned down two game wardens who tried to seize or kill his hunting dog back in the days before game laws were accepted by the average Mainer. Graves was an important cultural icon in Maine a century ago, and his story was followed closely by the newspapers. While people condemned what he did, they sympathized with his motives. Ives’ book helped me understand these important nuances for a column.

The works of Smith and Ives are essential to maintaining our links with the past. These links are constantly being eroded. The further we get from them the harder it is for us to reconstruct these ghostly images. Thanks to Sandy Ives and Dave Smith and a few others, the job is a bit easier.

An illustrated collection of Wayne E. Reilly’s columns titled “Remembering Bangor: The Queen City Before the Great Fire” is available at bookstores. Comments about this column may be sent to him at wer@bangordailynews.net.

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