Fort Kent historian looking for everyone’s story, not just tales of ‘horses and potatoes’

Posted Dec. 11, 2011, at 11:01 a.m.
Last modified Dec. 13, 2011, at 7:28 p.m.

FORT KENT, Maine — As far as Marc Chasse is concerned, everyone — he does mean everyone — has a story, and he wants to hear as many as possible.

Check that; the retired Fort Kent chiropractor and local history buff wants to collect stories — 300 of them to be exact.

Chasse, who is well known for his extensive collection of videotaped interviews conducted over the past two decades, now is turning his attention to writing a book showcasing the famous, infamous and everyone in between.

“Les Belles Histoires de Fort Kent, Maine” will be published as a 300-page, hardcover book by the Fort Kent Historical Society.

“I’m looking for stories on anything from people who live in Fort Kent, who were born here and moved away, who moved away and came back or who moved here from someplace else,” Chasse said.

In other words, everyone is fair game.

Friday morning, for instance, Chasse found himself at a local gym working out on a rowing machine next to an elderly gentleman who apparently had a good story to tell.

Before he knew it, Chasse had convinced him to put the story into writing for the book.

“I’m always asking people for their stories,” Chasse said. “People think they have nothing to say, but then the next thing you know you’ve been sitting with them for two hours talking.”

Chasse said he got the idea for his book after attending a townwide celebration in Dover-Foxcroft with his son and family.

The town was raising funds to preserve its 1882 central hall, and among the projects was a book chronicling tales and anecdotes about the building.

“I looked at it and thought, ‘Why can’t I do that with Fort Kent here?’” he said.

Chasse hopes people will come forward with their Fort Kent-related stories, adding he is fully aware the town has had its share of tragic events and losses, including the deaths of several popular residents in plane crashes and automobile accidents.

“When you live in Fort Kent the tremendous tragedies are like our own 9/11 stories,” he said. “I am hoping people will share those.”

Like most of northern Maine, Fort Kent’s history is based in the forests and potato fields surrounding it.

“I had one guy tell me about the days when all the men who worked in the woods would crowd Main Street on Monday mornings looking for rides back into the woods,” Chasse said. “Dozens of horses would be coming across the border to go back and work in the woods.”

For years in the last century entire families would pick up and temporarily relocate to the large potato farms in central and southern Aroostook County for seasonal harvest jobs.

Chasse has collected a story from a woman who recalled her own mother getting up every morning at 3:30 in the spring to cut potato seed for a local farmer.

By 6 a.m. she was back home to make breakfast for the family and send her children off to school, and then it was back to the potato house where she worked until her children came home from school when she would make supper, clean the house and take care of other daily chores.

“We had no water in the house [in 1948] and Monday was wash day,” the woman recalled. “All [my mother] had was an outside water pump and wringer.”

In another written vignette, Joel Plourde, 77, remembers the day he picked — by hand — 164 barrels of potatoes.

“He loved to pick potatoes,” Chasse said. “Unlike me who hated it and prayed for the potato digger to breakdown, Joel was unhappy when it stopped for the day.”

Chasse knows there are hundreds of other stories out there covering all aspects of small-town life.

“I don’t just want stories about horses and potatoes,” he said.

In some cases the original sources for stories have passed away, Chasse said, but over the years he had interviewed many of them on camera.

The discovery of VHS taping at a convention in Bangor in 1987 was a turning point in Chasse’s life.

“I bought everything I could,” he said. “The camera was in two pieces with all the wiring and was very heavy.”

VHS tapes at the time were $29 each and Chasse, fearing they would only rise in price as the new technology caught on, bought a case of 10 on the spot.

“I paid $290 for those tapes and now you can buy them for 80 cents, if you can even find them,” he said with a laugh.

Two years ago he turned over his entire collection of taped interviews to the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent.

He plans to review those tapes and transcribe several of the interviews for his book, including ones with 12 area World War II veterans he conducted at the 50th anniversary of the end of that war.

“I’m never tired of hearing people’s stories,” Chasse said. “Every time I hear one, I learn something [and] I have never once regretted doing one or felt I had wasted my time.”

Chasse even plans to include one or two of his own experiences in the book, including a trip into New Brunswick with his then 12-year-old grandson who did not have his passport with him.

While Chasse was confident the youngster would be allowed back into the United States, he said he could not resist teasing him about visiting him in jail should he be detained at the border.

He also wants to tell the story of moving to Fort Kent as a young chiropractor from St. Agatha in 1963 and setting up a business which had failed under previous practitioners.

Chasse’s chiropractic business was successful, and several of his own children have followed in his footsteps.

“Years after I opened I heard that some businessmen had given me six months before I closed down,” he said.

Anyone who has a story they would like to submit for “Les Belles Histoires de Fort Kent, Maine” can contact Chasse at 834-3406. Stories can be mailed to 155 East Main St., Fort Kent 04743, or submitted electronically to marcprischasse@gmail.com.

Chasse said anyone who does not feel they can write their own one-page story, may simply tell it to him and he will transcribe it. All stories, he added, will be limited to one page.

CORRECTION:

An early version of this story requires clarification. Marc Chasse, who is seeking life stories of local residents to include in the book, was quoted making a joke about accepting any reminiscences and that “people can exaggerate all they want.” Some readers may have misinterpreted the statement. His intention is to have the book be factual and true to each participant’s memories.

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