Carnival atmosphere lifts Eastport pirate fest

Posted Sept. 12, 2010, at 10:39 p.m.

EASTPORT, Maine — Shouts of “Cannon coming through,” growls of “arghhhhh,” and plenty of “avast, me hearties” were heard this weekend at Eastport, as thousands of pirates of all ages and sizes invaded the city for the fifth annual Eastport Pirate Festival.

Vendors hawked pirate jewelry, dozens of people were lined up for temporary tattoos, and there was plenty of pirate-approved vittles: salmon kabobs, fried chicken and lobster rolls.

While many coastal communities roll up their welcome mats after Labor Day weekend, Eastport residents have found a way not only to lure 10,000 people to their city, but also to have a heck of a good time in the process.

Local business owners said that even if festival-goers didn’t make any purchases, the exposure itself was worth it.

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“These are new visitors,” Cynthia Morse at Breakwater Gallery, said. “They will like what they see, and we know they’ll come back.”

Kelle Erikson at Dancing Dogs Pottery said the festival brings a lot of people into the city, and those people like to shop. Although Erikson said it had been a slow summer at her shop, she was aware that other business owners were doing well.

“Besides, any reason to dress up is great,” she added.

Dressing up as a wench or a pirate was the norm. Folks in everyday dress somehow looked a bit out of place. Eastport had a carnival atmosphere with a sea breeze. Pirates roamed the streets, staffed the cash registers in the stores, and sat chatting on benches.

Some carried skull mugs for their “grog” while others were laden with bracelets, in striped pants and high boots.

Dr. Thomas Rostas at New To You, a Christ Episcopal Church-run thrift shop, said the shop had been busy all week with folks looking to augment their costumes. “This is such fun,” he said. “A lot of people really get into it. And the grown-ups are having a lot more fun than the kids.”

John Miller, a city councilor who came up with the pirate festival idea five years ago, said it was a rousing success. “By the end of the weekend, we expect that 10,000 people will have come to Eastport,” he said.

Miller said Walt Disney became successful by creating a venue which “brings out the kid in all of us. That’s what we are doing here. It doesn’t matter how old someone is — we have babies to grandparents dressed up.”

Even dogs were in on the act.

Elmer, a mixed-breed dog, didn’t seem embarrassed that he was wearing a skull-and-crossbones scarf and a ragged little vest. His owner was wearing tights, boots, a full skirt and at least 20 gaudy necklaces. “This is the most fun I’ve had in a long, long time,” Anita Meagher of Bangor said. Meagher and four family members made the trip to Eastport for Saturday’s events.

She was so impressed that she vowed to return next year and stay for all three days.

“I feel like I’m in the middle of a movie,” she said. “Look at these outfits! Listen to this music! How fantastic is this?”

Sheila Thompson of Braintree, Mass., was ending her vacation in the area and decided to come over to Eastport and check out the festival.

“I’ve never seen anything like this. I thought I would die laughing at the bed races,” she said. “I’ll be back next year, and I’ll be bringing friends.”

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