BRUNSWICK, Maine — The mystery behind an old photograph of Boy Scouts and heavyweight boxing champions found in a bag of used bottles has been solved by Bangor Daily News readers — sort of.
Several tips came in after the Bangor Daily News ran a story earlier this month regarding the unclaimed, 1960s-era picture discovered at a Clynk recycling facility in South Portland. None led to the owner of the picture but two alert readers recognized one of the scouts even though he’s now in his 70s.
They knew him by his smile, which hasn’t changed at all.
Eugene Crockett’s face split into an identical wide grin on Thursday when he spotted himself in the 45-year-old photo.
“This makes me happy,” Crockett, 73, said, looking at the picture.
In the photo, Crockett and his Boy Scout troop are posed at a campout with boxing legends James J. Braddock and “Jersey” Joe Walcott. Both former heavyweight champions were in Maine for the April 1965 fight between Muhammad Ali and Sonny Liston in Lewiston. Wolcott also refereed the short, controversial “phantom punch” bout.
Crockett said he doesn’t remember any details of meeting them but definitely remembers that day.
“They came and said, ‘Hi,'” he said.
Like Crockett, everyone in his troop had cerebral palsy. It was led by scoutmaster Clayton Duplissie and was based at the old Cerebral Palsy Center on Martin’s Point in Portland. Duplissie, who also is in the photo, was an early advocate for equal access and fought to make sure his troop had genuine scouting experiences.
“He was a pretty nice guy,” Crockett said, remembering his old scoutmaster, who died in 1993.
The photo was taken 25 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, barring discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life.
Crockett said he remembers sleeping out in a tent all week at Camp Hinds in Raymond and crossing the Tenny River there on a footbridge.
“We cooked hotdogs outside,” Crockett said. “They taught me how to tie knots.”
Sue Brewer, one of Crockett’s former teachers, recognized him in the photo and sent the BDN an email. Crockett’s older sister, Shirley Fenderson of Falmouth, also got in touch.
“One of my cousins saw it and she called me up,” Fenderson said.
Fenderson said she and Crockett grew up in Portland between Washington Avenue and Bayside. She also said this is not her brother’s first brush with the media. Crockett first appeared in the newspaper as a March of Dimes poster child in the 1950s when he had his photograph taken with Maine Gov. Burton Cross.
Fenderson said her brother showed up in print again as an adult after getting stuck in an elevator with a panicked child. Crockett comforted the boy, helping him remain calm until help arrived. Crockett was hailed a hero at the time.
Like his old scoutmaster, Crockett also has been an activist for equal access. While living at a Community Partners group home in Biddeford, he had trouble traversing the street in his wheelchair.
“The signals didn’t give him enough time to cross the street, so he went straight to the mayor and had them lengthened,” she said. “He also traveled to Alaska to advocate for people with disabilities with one of the staff members from Community Partners.”
Also while living in Biddeford, Crockett volunteered in the local schools and was instrumental in getting railroad crossings smoothed over for people getting around in wheelchairs.
He’s now retired and living in a Brunswick group home run by the Independence Association.
“He’s got a great attitude, he’s patient and the ultimate gentleman,” House Manager Nick Orr said. “Whenever you meet him, he changes your day and your unconditional regard for other humans.”
Since the basic mystery of where the photo came from — and who owns it — still remains unsolved, Crockett agreed to hold onto it for safekeeping. Orr said he’d personally get the photo matted, put into a fresh frame and hung up with the many other photographs gracing Crockett’s bedroom walls.
When asked what other pictures he’s got, Crockett’s familiar, cavernous smile returned.
“He’s got lots of Sports Illustrated swimsuit models,” Orr said.
“Girls,” Crockett added with a slight shrug and an even bigger smile.