CAMDEN, Maine — A new historical photo show will be traveling the midcoast this year. The show of old postcards is still being hung in Camden Public Library and will officially open at 6 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12. The photos have been blown up from negatives of old postcards from Knox County from the early 1900s to the 1950s.
The postcards from the Eastern Illustrating and Publishing Company aren’t the variety you find today in local stores or for sale at tourist destinations. The owner of the publishing company told his photographers to go to small, rural towns and then ask the locals what they should photograph.
As a result, the photos are of kids at a swimming hole, fishermen and now-long-gone restaurants.
The funniest of the photos isn’t humorous until you read the caption. The picture is simply another early-1900s photo of a small schoolhouse in Friendship with bored kids and a bored-looking teacher posing for a photograph. But the caption says that the teacher, Mrs. Jennie Hall, planned a lesson around Italy’s Mount Vesuvius. She built a mountain out of sand and put a stick of incense on top. While she was away, schoolboys loaded the mountain with gun powder.
“During the geography lesson she lit the incense. Very shortly, a thunderous explosion sent sand going in all directions. A peculiar gurgle and gasping noise came from the teacher’s throat as she fell over backward to the floor in a dead faint,” a placard under the photograph states.
Other photos in the galley show typical seascapes, some fishermen, churches and the old prison in Thomaston. Just about every town in Knox County is represented. Even one town that isn’t a town anymore. One shows a post office in Burkettville, Maine, which is now the village of Appleton.
“We keep doing history month year after year because we have such great turnout. People are so interested in history,” said Ken Gross, the programs director of Camden Public Library.
When asked if he thought midcoast Maine has changed much since the early 1900s that the postcards depict, Gross replied, “Yes, the roads are paved now.”
In fact, many of the pictures seem to depict scenes and items anyone could still see when driving through Knox County. The Hope General Store looks just about the same as ever in one old photo, except now it’s painted white.
In addition to the exhibit, the library will also bring in old boat engines to display in its rotunda. For a full schedule of history displays and discussions, visit www.camden.lib.me.us. The show will be up through January. It will then travel through the county, but the schedule is not yet solidified.
The exhibit is part of the Penobscot Marine Museum’s collection, which has 50,000 negatives from the old postcard company. Some of those have been transferred online already and the rest soon will be.