Donn Fendler, who famously survived more than a week while lost on Mount Katahdin in 1939, died Monday at age 90, a director who was making a movie about him announced on social media.
It would be hard to grow in Maine in the last 75 years and not know his story. At age 12 while hiking Katahdin, he was separated from his family near the summit during a storm. He was the subject of hundreds of searches over the next week, becoming national news, and eventually some began to assume he’d never be found alive.
Nine days after he disappeared, however, he found a hunting camp 35 miles from where he was last seen. In those days he cut his skin on thorny bushes, foraged for food, encountered a bear and scavenged for supplies in abandoned cabin.
How he survived during those nine days was recounted in the novel ‘Lost on a Mountain in Maine,’ which was required reading for many Mainers in the fourth-grade Maine Studies curriculum.
In an interview with the Bangor Daily News in 2014, Fendler, who grew up in Rye, New York, said it took him a long time to understand why his story meant so much to Mainers.
“Finally it dawned on me: Maine people are rugged people. They’re resourceful. They’re resilient. They’re outdoors people … People in Maine could relate to exactly what I was going through. They knew. They knew the woods. They knew the bugs. They knew the whole thing. They could follow each day and know what I was going through.”
Over the years, Fendler visited dozens of Maine schools to tell his story to students who had read his book. Two years ago, Gov. Paul R. LePage declared July 25, 2014 “Donn Fendler Day,” marking the 75th anniversary of the end of Fendler’s trek.
“Donn was such a loving and caring person,” Ryan Cook, who was working on turning Fendler’s story into a feature film, said in a video posted to Facebook around midnight Sunday. “Donn Fendler’s legacy will live on forever in the state of Maine.”
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