Jude Lamb’s family never tired of recounting the story of her great-great-great-great grandfather, Luther Hoar, who in the spring of 1817 brought his wife and nine children, including a 1-year-old baby, to settle near Rangeley Lake in Maine’s western mountains. They were the first white family to settle in the region.
The saga came up at just about every holiday and family gathering. There was the part about pulling all the family belongings, piled high on low, wooden sleds, across the crusted snow, probably at night, when the frozen surface would be easier to slide across. There was the heart-stopping episode of baby Eunice, snoozing cozily in a long, wooden bread bowl, somehow slipping off the sled unnoticed in the moonlight and found unhurt after a frantic search, fetched up safely against the base of a tree where the bowl had come to rest on its slippery descent.
“Luther was always cast as the great pioneer, and he was,” Lamb, 66, said during a recent conversation at her farmhouse in Lamoine. “But he could never have done it alone.”
Although he was accompanied at every step by his adventuresome and resourceful wife, also named Eunice, she said, “It was never her story. She had no voice.”
So five years ago, after Lamb completed a storytelling course at Acadia Senior College and had joined a local storyteller group, it seemed natural to tap into the family lore and recreate Eunice’s long-lost voice.
She didn’t have much factual information on hand to work with, Lamb said. But family documents and historic and genealogical records from the Rangeley area filled in the details of the Hoar family’s presence there and informed her comprehension of the region’s economic and cultural heritage. As Lamb’s interest and understanding grew, Eunice evolved from a shadowy figure without even a name to a gritty, witty, strong-minded and outspoken woman — a woman who shared her husband’s independent ways while raising nine children in what at the time was the untamed wilderness of northern Massachusetts.
These days, Eunice Lakeman Hoar is just one of the strong Maine women, real and fictional, who Jude Lamb brings to life. As a professional storyteller, she visits schools, libraries, historical societies, senior centers and other sites to educate and entertain audiences of all ages. She uses period-appropriate language and costume, along with props such as tools, toys and household objects — including an old wooden bread bowl — to bring each story to life.
“I don’t memorize any lines,” she said. “I tailor the story to the audience. I’m a storyteller, not an actor.”
Cast of characters
Lamb chooses her characters carefully. Her primary goal is to revive the stories of little-known Maine women who influenced their own times and whose lives have meaning today. But as a storyteller, she’s not afraid to develop fictional characters to engage her audience.
As a committed Unitarian Universalist, Lamb uses her made-up character of “Aunt Hattie” to tell the story of the Ferry Beach Conference Center in Saco, a historic retreat center and family vacation destination founded in the early 1900s by Massachusetts Universalist minister Quillen Hamilton Shinn. The center draws a lively crowd most of the summer, Lamb said, and gossipy Aunt Hattie, who knows everything there is to know about the place, has made several appearances. Because she’s a fictional character, Lamb said, “I have total freedom with her.”
Closer to home, Lamb is working up the story of Ann Jarvis Greely, a successful Ellsworth business owner of the 1800s, an ardent abolitionist, a committed suffragist and Hancock County’s first female doctor. It was Greely who in 1857 arranged for Susan B. Anthony to speak in Ellsworth on the issue of women’s rights, and it was she who led the effort in 1865 to build the town’s first Unitarian Church, which stood from 1867 to 1971 at the corner of Main Street and Oak Street. The corner is now the site of a small city park, and the new church, which opened in 1973, is on the outskirts of town.
Greely died in 1914, six years before the ratification of the 19th Amendment guaranteed women the right to vote.
Lamb is concerned about the current political climate and worries that hard-won progress made in women’s rights and other areas may be lost. She thinks the idea that there ever was a time when women were not allowed to vote is “an alien concept” to young people.
Lamb is also fascinated with the life of photographer Chansonetta Stanley Emmons, born in 1858 in Kingfield, Maine. The sister of twins Francis and Freelan Stanley — who made a fortune in improving dry-plate photographic technology but are most famous for their invention of a steam-powered automobile known as the Stanley Steamer — she studied art in Boston and became interested in using photography as an art form as well as a way to document the world.
Widowed at a young age and with a daughter to raise, Emmons lived in Newton, Massachusetts, to be near her brothers, but made many trips back to Kingfield with her big box camera to document the familiar farm scenes all around her.
“Everything was changing,” Lamb said. “Farm life was disappearing and people were leaving the farms to work in the cities. Chansonetta was in a place to see it happening. She saw the writing on the wall.”
Emmons’ remarkable photographs are now considered a valuable resource for understanding Maine’s rural culture at the turn of the 19th century, as well as exquisite pieces of photographic art. Many of her prints and glass plate negatives are now the property of the Stanley Museum in Kingfield, but are kept and curated at the Maine Historical Society in Portland.
Lamb’s portrayal of Emmons has been popular with older audiences, and she has upcoming
appearances at the Birch Bay Retirement Village in Bar Harbor, Acadia Senior College and the Lewiston Art Club.
Lamb grew up in Oxford County, married young and had three daughters by the time she was 23.
She was so busy with her young family and with her interest in painting that she gave up on the idea of ever going to college, she said.
“But life changes,” she said with a grin, and years later, in her mid-40s, she found herself in a position to reconsider. A friend reminded her that she had once dreamed of attending College of Atlantic in Bar Harbor. Though she felt “too old,” she checked it out.
“I spent four of the most glorious years of my life at College of the Atlantic,” Lamb said. “I loved every minute of it.” She designed her own curriculum, consisting primarily of art classes. In 2000 at the age of 50, she graduated, as all COA students do, with a degree in Human Ecology. She now works part time for Acadia Senior College while pursuing her art interests and enjoying life on the coastal farm she shares with her second husband, retired Jackson Laboratory scientist Rob Collins. Her three daughters all live in Maine and she has six grandchildren, ranging in age from 12 to 17 years old.
For Lamb, storytelling has become a deeply meaningful art form, enriching her own life experience while inspiring her audiences.
“I love that these women take me down so many avenues,” she said. “How did they dress? What did they cook? What were their social skills?” The answers to intimate questions like these are often the key to developing an authentic character. She hopes her stories change the way people, especially children, think about history and the fascinating individuals who inhabit it.
“History is the story of people,” Lamb said. “It’s not boring, and you can’t make it up.”