EASTPORT, Maine — Saturday was John and Kathleen Meade’s first visit to Eastport, and they didn’t have a clue they were part of an invasion.
“I wondered about all the traffic and the difficulty parking, and then we began seeing skulls and crossbones everywhere,” John Meade said.
“And then we spotted pirates and wenches,” Kathleen said, clapping her hands. “We figured we had stumbled onto something wonderful.”
Thinking they were visiting a quiet Down East village, the Keene, N.H., couple had landed in the middle of the sixth annual Eastport Pirate Festival — a three-day event that entices nearly everyone who attends to dress up and participate.
Even the Meades got in on the act. “We went in one of the stores and bought a couple of hats,” Kathleen said. “We couldn’t be the only ones ‘undressed.’”
The pirates came in all sizes this weekend, from babies with striped leggings and painted-on eye patches to senior citizens with fancy boots and belts. City Council members and county commissioners alike were disguised as pirates. Peter Gould, 68, and Jim Moffitt, 64, both of Baileyville, were decked out as two frightening buccaneers. “Oh, we love this. We haven’t missed a single year,” Gould said. “It lets us be kids again for one day.”
“Isn’t this fun?” said Melinda Crowley, 88, of Bolton, Conn. Crowley was taking a break, sitting on a bench waiting for the parade. Crowley was wearing a ruffled white skirt and blouse with a crimson sash and brooch. “This is my second year coming with my son and his wife, and we wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
If the goal of the festival was to bring tourists and visitors into town after Labor Day, when crowds typically drop off, it was a rousing success. Water Street was closed to traffic and instead was filled with pedestrians. Restaurants were full, art galleries were busy, and traffic circled through the gift shops.
When asked whether she had purchased anything while in Eastport, Nancy Ginnley of Cape Cod said she already had made two trips to her car to drop off packages. “I didn’t intend to shop but …” she said with a laugh. “This is the happiest event I have ever been to. I can’t wait for the fireworks tonight.”
The festivities continue Sunday with several breakfast events, a pet pageant, boat parade and races at the breakwater, a re-enactment of a pirate trial and, at 6 p.m., a memorial walk and service for the victims of 9/11 from Shead High School to the Fisherman Statue.