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ELLSWORTH, Maine — Andrew Jones loves Bonita Sipe. He especially enjoys seeing the shy 25-year-old blush, roll her eyes and squirm at some of the things he does.
That’s why Sipe found a rather odd bit of art in her front yard when she came home from a vacation 14 months ago: The lower half a mannequin shoved into a toilet.
And what started as a joke has developed into something of a landmark, as the couple’s home is on Route 1, locally known as Bucksport Road, one of the most heavily traveled roads in Ellsworth. Cars — as many as five at a time — pull over to get a look at the display most every day.
Jones said he thoroughly enjoys the spectacle of it, especially for what it forces his introverted girlfriend to do.
“A lot of people stop and take pictures of it, a lot more than we expected or dreamed would,” the 30-year-old Jones said. “It makes her go out there and talk to them. It’s great: It gets her out of her shell a little bit and people get a good laugh.”
“They love it. They stop and want to know where he got it, what his idea was and things like that,” Sipe said.
Sipe hadn’t realized how far into the local zeitgeist Jones’ display had crept until a friend asked her if she lived near “the toilet house” — a nickname attached to the couple’s 1½-story home, with its fresh paint job, neat lawn and flowers, new wood stove, and tile and wood floors he has installed.
Jones left the display out last winter, but ice broke the toilet bowl and he replaced it. The broken bowl now sits alongside the display, and he will probably take the mannequin and bowls indoors before this winter sets in, he said.
An able seaman aboard the MV Henry Lee, a ferry that runs between Bass Harbor, Swans Island and Frenchboro, Jones is a handy guy around the house. He studied boatbuilding for a few years in Rockland before joining the Maine State Ferry Service — but he’s no artist, his girlfriend said.
“He’s just weird,” Sipe said. “He likes random things.”
A big fan of junkyards and tag sales, Jones found the mannequin at Treasures and Trash Barn on Route 1 in Searsport. The couple had just replaced the toilets in their house, and Jones instantly knew what to do, Sipe and Jones said.
“I texted her and I said, ‘Boy, do I have a surprise for you,’” Jones recalled. “She hates surprises, by the way. She absolutely hates them. I don’t know why. I can’t figure it out. That’s why I always do things like this.
“I kind of like taking people out of their comfort zones. She is super shy, super introverted,” Jones added. “I like watching her not get her way all the time. It gives me a little bit of enjoyment.”
Yet, as he knew she would, Sipe loved the joke, and Jones loved her reaction to it, Sipe said.
Not everybody shared that reaction, however.
“His mom is not that big of a fan,” Sipe said. “She doesn’t like things like that. He has a beard. She’s anti-beard.”
The couple have been together for four years. He is a Connecticut native, and she’s from Montana. They met aboard the USS Yorktown CV-10, a World War II-era aircraft carrier on Charleston Harbor at Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum in South Carolina. Sipe was working as a “photo girl,” snapping souvenir photos of visitors, and Jones worked for a ferry service there.
Each was almost instantly captivated by the other.
“He was funny, easy to be around,” Sipe said. “He walked up on the boat like he knew everything.”
“I had to get her to talk. She was taking pictures and having to sell them, so it was kind of a funny job for her,” Jones said. “We met, we hit it off pretty good and I said, ‘You want to move to Maine?’ and she said, ‘Yes I do.’”
Jones figures that he isn’t finished with the toilet display.
“There is more to come,” he said. “I have a salmon-colored toilet, and I am looking for an upper half of a mannequin so I can make it look like somebody is coming in one toilet and out the other.”