PORTLAND, Maine — It’s been a tough year. The coronavirus pandemic hit hard, making good news a novelty. But amid the daily downer of rising COVID-19 cases, unlikely local stories of astonishing kindness refused to completely die.
Here’s six tales of things which were long lost but found again in 2020. These stories made us say, “Wow, that really happened?” They restored our sense of wonder and made us forget our troubles — at least for a while.
In February, before the pandemic reached Maine, a class ring lost in Portland 47 years earlier, turned up under 8 inches of soil in a Finnish forest. How it got there is still a mystery. Less mysterious was the finder’s kindness.
After locating it with a metal detector, Finn Marko Saarinen managed to track down Debra McKenna, 63, of Brunswick. The Morse High School ring had belonged to McKenna’s late husband, Shawn. She’d misplaced it in a Portland department store bathroom in 1973. McKenna never saw it again.
Nobody knows how it got to Finland but having it back meant the world to McKenna.
“It’s very touching in this world of negativity, to have decent people step forward and make an effort.” McKenna said. “There are good people in the world, and we need more of them.”
In April, Lance DeRoche of Standish found a 45-year-old beer bottle hidden behind a wall inside his house. Tucked in the 12-ounce suds jug was a hand-written message by Lawrence Shaw, who’d penned the note, in 1975.
With the help of social media, DeRoche located Shaw’s family. He died in 2010 and the note brought a lot of happiness to his daughters.
DeRoche planned to put a message of his own in the wall, sealing it up for someone else to find.
“We’re going to talk about Standish, and describe the pandemic,” DeRoche said. “We’ll maybe put it in a Fireball bottle — or maybe Allen’s Coffee Brandy.”
In June, a mysterious photograph of Boy Scouts and two famous boxers, taken in the 1960s, turned up in a bag of returnable bottles. A few weeks later, with the help of Bangor Daily News readers, the photo was presented to one of the scouts: Eugene Crockett, now 73-years-old.
In the photo, Crockett and his Boy Scout troop are posed 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.
One of Crockett’s former teachers and a sister recognized him in the photo and contacted the BDN. When presented with the photo, Crockett’s face split into a wide grin, mirroring the one he wore as a young man in the picture, 45 years earlier.
“This makes me happy,” Crockett, 75, said.
In September, the astonishing story of Royce Gibson’s Purple Heart came to an end. Gibson was an American army officer who died in France, helping liberate Europe from Nazi occupation in 1944. Later, his Purple Heart medal was lost and his family spent decades looking for it.
Thanks to several kind-hearted people with well-developed senses of duty, the medal was found at an auction, lost again and finally rediscovered in Portland. Nearly 76 years after Gibson’s death, the heirloom finally made its way back to his still-grieving family.
By coincidence or design, it arrived two months after distant relative Dan Drag named his new son after Gibson.
“I got more than a little emotional,” Drag said.
In October, Questlove, the iconic, Afro-wearing drummer for The Roots announced he was looking for Ellie, a local woman who started his record collection in a Portland bar in 1976.
He told the story in social media posts, asking if anyone could put him in touch with the mystery woman who bought him a turntable and three records when he was 5 years old. The post included a picture of a handwritten note on a napkin dated May 25, 1976.
A few days later, Ellie turned up. Ellen Bruzzese, said she didn’t remember buying him records but recognized the handwriting as her own. Bruzzese also remembered hanging out in that particular hotel after work, in those days.
Also in October, a man with a metal detector found a 222-year-old coin under a few inches of soil outside a church in Embden. The copper penny, dated 1798, came from the first decade of American-minted money in North America.
As Shane Houston dug the coin up from under a few inches of dirt, he immediately saw the 1798 mark on it and knew it was something special. It’s the oldest American coin Houston has found in 10 years of serious metal detecting.
“Honestly, 99 percent of the things I dig up are garbage,” he said.
There might even be a seventh lost-and-found story from 2020 in the works.
This month, Toby McAllister, a local musician who got a taste of the big time more than a decade ago with Sparks the Rescue, announced he was searching for a guitar he sold in a restaurant parking lot while desperate for money in 2013. A gift from his father, he immediately regretted doing it and has been looking to find the instrument for years. Now, with help from a pawn shop, he’s located the serial number. McAllister is hoping it’s just the thing to help bring it back to him.
Though he sold it for $500, McAllister hasn’t given much thought as to how much it’s worth to him, now.
“That’s a good question,” he said. “I just want the chance to make an offer.”