FORT KENT, Maine — There’s a reason folks in this town affectionately refer to the local access cable station as “The Marc Chasse Channel.”
For a quarter-century the retired chiropractor has been a fixture at every major St. John Valley event, camera in hand, in addition to conducting hundreds of personal interviews capturing the area’s history, culture and people on videotape.
In recognition of the historical importance of those recordings, the Acadian Archives at the University of Maine at Fort Kent have accepted 150 individual videotapes into its public collection.
“I have about 500 tapes in all,” Chasse, 70, said. “My wife says she’s tired having them around the house.”
Chasse’s career as an amateur documentary filmmaker began in 1983 when he used a video recorder to chronicle family history as told by his father and aunts.
“I did those just for the family,” Chasse said. “But I found it really interesting.”
In 1987 Chasse produced a video history of Fort Kent which became, in his words, “a big hit.” Not long after, the Fort Kent local access station, channel 4, went on the air, and Chasse found a ready venue for his growing collection of videos.
Over the years Chasse’s tapes have covered interviews with governors, veterans, artists, authors, historians and educators. He has filmed parades, the Can Am sled dog races, the annual Fort Kent Pride of the Lions Show, and the World Cup Biathlon event.
“Marc not only captured and immortalized people and history,” said Lise Pelletier, Acadian Archives director. “He captured the very essence of what it means to be from this area, and that is priceless.”
More importantly, according to Pelletier, Chasse’s work was done in a medium that is easily shared, making it a natural for the archives’ collections.
Thanks to a grant from the Maine Heritage Council, the contents of the 150 donated tapes were digitized and placed on DVDs.
“I know that took a lot of work,” Chasse said. “I appreciate they did that.”
Every public library and television station in the St. John Valley has received a complete copy of the collection.
“As director of the archives I’m not just interested in manuscripts,” Pelletier said. “I’m also interested in celebrating the area’s culture, and that’s what Marc’s collection is all about.”
From individual stories to personal histories to demonstrations of agricultural practices, the tapes tell a great deal about the people of the St. John Valley.
“That’s what makes them a great research tool,” Pelletier said. “I really don’t think any of this would have been documented without him.”
It’s difficult for Chasse to choose just one interview as a favorite, though a series he did on 12 area World War II veterans stands out in his mind.
“I did those interviews in 1995,” he said. “Today there are only two veterans left.”
Among them was a young man who was on his way to fight in Japan, only to have the war end before he got there when the U.S. dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945.
“Can you imagine how he must have felt?” Chasse said. “I’m sure he was certain he was going to die and instead he got to come home.”
In another interview, he talked with a woman who, as a 9-year-old in the 1920s, saw members of the Ku Klux Klan in Patten.
“She told me she saw horsemen with torches up on a hill,” Chasse said. “Her mother told her to shut the lights and close the curtains.”
Most recently, Chasse spent several hours with a St. Agatha man who grew up on a small potato farm with 23 siblings.
“He talked about what it was like growing up with no indoor toilet, no electricity and what it was like feeding that many people,” Chasse said. “Every time I do an interview I learn something new.”
In addition to the collection gathered by the Acadian Archives, a selection of Chasse’s tapes may be heard online at www.francoamericanarchives.org.
“I’ve gotten calls from people in South Carolina and Texas telling me they’ve seen the tapes,” Chasse said. “This is what I wanted — rather than just storing them I want people to see them as much as possible.”
Pelletier shares that wish.
“Already people are checking them out of the libraries,” she said.
What makes the Chasse collection unique, Pelletier said, is Chasse’s behind-the-camera interview skills.
“He actually disappears,” she said. “He’s the one doing the interview, but the focus is on the individual, and that person is so comfortable talking to Marc the real person comes through, and that is a gift.”
Chasse chalks up the ability to his 32 years as a chiropractor taking hundreds of case histories in his Fort Kent office.
“When people came to see me I’d always ask their age, where they were from and family history,” he said. “It’s all very natural for me.”
Pelletier is well aware there are hundreds more tapes at the Chasse home, and she has her eye on them.
“Marc handpicked the ones he donated,” she said. “Now I want to go pick through what’s at his house.”
It could be a lot of picking, as Chasse has no intention of stopping anytime soon.
Next up, he hopes to interview a 94-year-old retired blacksmith.
“This guy is someone who is always laughing and worked with horses all those years ago,” Chasse said. “You know, a real blacksmith.”
The fact that Chasse’s tapes focus on the people and their lives is crucial as far as Pelletier is concerned.
“It’s the day-to-day, and those events are more important because that’s where you find the real people,” she said. “The tapes are really a sociological study of a people over a given period of time.”
For his part, the importance of all those interviews is just sinking in for Chasse.
“As far as history, I guess it is valuable,” he said. “That’s not why I started doing it, but I will keep doing it for as long as I can.”
That’s good news for Pelletier.
“I told him he can’t stop,” she said.
A list of the Chasse tapes available through the Acadian Archives may be seen at www.umfk.maine.edu/pdfs/archives/collections/chasse.pdf.