ALLAGASH, Maine — To quote the Irish Rovers, “Could’ve been the whiskey; might’ve been the gin …” but whatever it was, word of a unique reward offered for the recovery of a valued family canoe has spread throughout Maine and across the country.
Wade Kelly’s missing vintage 20-foot Old Town Guides Special wooden canoe was last seen tied up at the village’s public landing on Aug. 12, the weekend of the Fort Kent Muskie Derby.
At some point over the weekend someone untied it, emptied out its contents and simply took it, along with the symbol of two generations of happy Kelly family memories and stories.
Once word of the theft got out by word of mouth and on social network sites such as Facebook, friends of the Kellys ponied up to offer a reward, and in typical Allagash fashion, that reward was anything but typical — $250 and a gallon of gin.
Since then, the only thing to spread faster than the new of the canoe theft was the nature of the reward offered in what is otherwise a dry town.
After first appearing the Bangor Daily News, the story was picked up by dozens of Maine print and broadcast news outlets. It has been carried nationally by CBS, New England Cable News, a variety of boating-related websites and for some reason got a mention on www.britishcarforum.com.
Everyone, it seems, is now on the lookout for the 20-foot, green canoe and in the hunt for the reward, which has now grown to $650, two gallons of gin and a gallon of Irish whiskey.
“Since this story went viral we have gotten some crazy responses and some funny ones,” Darlene Kelly Dumond, Wade Kelly’s sister, said this week. “We got a call from someone in southern Maine who said they saw a tan canoe go by on a car.”
Calls from other people around New England describing canoes of all shapes, sizes and colors have been coming in ever since, she said, with some offering tips on canoe sightings and others wanting to contribute to the reward fund.
Little wonder, given the attention the canoe and that reward have gotten.
“A friend of mine who is from Allagash and who now lives in San Francisco heard about it on the radio,” Kelly Dumond said. “She called and told me she was driving at the time and pulled over in shock.”
A group of hunters from New Jersey came into the family’s Two Rivers Lunch cafe this week and said they’d heard the story back home before heading north.
Kelly Dumond is hoping all the attention will help bring the canoe home, because, after all, it’s more than just a canoe.
Her father and his cousin Ransford “Pike” Kelly won race after race in that canoe. In fact, it was after winning the 30-mile Fort Kent Centennial Canoe race from Allagash to Fort Kent that Old Town gave him the canoe.
“This week Ransford’s son told me those two men never lost a race in that canoe,” Kelly Dumond said.
Beyond racing, there were the adventures her father had in the canoe, such as the time a fast-moving storm stranded Tyler Kelly and his moose hunting group on an island in the middle of a Canadian lake.
“Dad said that storm came up quick and they knew it was going to be bad and they had to get to shore,” she said. “But before they could a big gust of wind and a wave pushed them to land and over a bunch of [debris] that ripped out the bottom of the canoe.”
Stranded with a heavily damaged canoe, Tyler Kelly did what any longtime riverman would do — he fixed it with materials at hand.
“He found some natural pitch, boiled it down, tore his T-shirt into strips and used it to patch up the hole,” Kelly Dumond said. “Once the storm passed and the pitch had dried, they were able to come off that island.”
And to think someone would steal that canoe holding those kinds of memories.
Among those on the lookout is Lou Pelletier, 93, a lifelong resident of Allagash who called in a sighting a week or so ago, after seeing a canoe alongside the river.
“If Lou at 93 years old was out there looking, I was going to go out and take a look at what he saw,” Kelly Dumond said. “I don’t care if that canoe he saw was pink.”
Sadly, though Pelletier had spotted an Old Town canoe, it was not the Kelly canoe.
Pelletier’s daughter and renowned novelist Cathie Pelletier is not surprised people like her father are involved in the search.
“The Allagash and St. John rivers were the highways for their ancestors,” she said. “I’ve said many times before that the St. John River is in my blood simply because I was born on its banks and played along it as a child, but to Tyler Kelly, and men like him, the river was for their livelihood first, when the log drives were at their peak.”
At the same time, Pelletier said, the river offered these same men some of their greatest recreational times with fishing and camping.
“A canoe is the means to connect them to the river in more ways than financial,” she said. “It’s also spiritual.”
Pelletier wants to do her part to help and has donated to the reward fund in addition to spreading the word.
“I have sent this story all over the country to people I knew would appreciate it,” Pelletier said. “Knowing Darlene [Kelly Dumond] as I do, I wouldn’t be surprised if people in China start getting in on the reward pot.”
Maybe not China — yet — but one reader has contacted me to anonymously offer a gallon of whiskey.
Frankly, I’m not sure what excites me more, the recovery of the canoe or serving as a broker for that bottle of booze.
And there’s more.
When the longtime food distributer for Two Rivers Lunch heard about the theft, he put the information on his own Facebook page.
Soon after, he got a message from a woman in Portland who has a 1950s-era wooden canoe in great shape complete with a trailer.
“That woman wants to ‘pay it forward’ and give that canoe to my family,” Kelly Dumond said. “Can you imagine?”
At first, she said, the family was hesitant about accepting the offer, fearing it would appear opportunistic, but upon reflection, they realized this stranger’s heart was in such a great place, they are honored and humbled to accept her offer.
“With every bad thing, there does seem to be some good,” Kelly Dumond said.
In the meantime, the search — and reward — keep growing.
“We have eyes everywhere,” Kelly Dumond said. “I believe that canoe is going to surface.”
And if all else fails, as one BDN reader commented, maybe it would not be such a bad idea to throw a gallon of Allen’s Coffee Brandy — the top-selling hard liquor in Maine — into the reward pot.
Julia Bayly of Fort Kent is an award-winning writer and photographer, who writes part time for the Bangor Daily News. Her column appears here every other Friday. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com.