A Belfast (Maine) Sojourn
By Larry Tritten

I've lived in a large city
so long that my memories
of growing up in a small town
in North Idaho have become
analogous to old photographs in a scrapbook tucked away in the back of a

I grew up watching movies like "My Sister Eileen
" in which young people from
small towns all over America yearned to escape to New York or Hollywood or
Chicago to become actors and writers.  I made that escape but still have always
thought that ideally one should grow up in a small town and live in the city as
an adult.

I have a very clear memory of seeing "Carousel
" in one of my home town
theatres, so there was a vestigial feeling of deja vu in finding myself on that first
morning in Maine cruising Penobscot Bay in the Friendship Sloop Amity, whose
skipper told me that the boat had been used in the movie, specifically in the
scene in which several boats sail over to an island for a clambake.  

As we made the scene on the bay in a light rain, fortified by coffee and muffins, I
reflected on the Amity's pedigree.  It was built in 1901 and originally used as a
lobster boat.

And might the Amity, I wondered, have been the very boat Shirley Jones took to
the island in the movie?

Whether or not Shirley Jones was ever aboard the Amity, I would hear much
about another celebrity at the
Watchtide Bed & Breakfast where I stayed.

Eleanor Roosevelt was a frequent guest and wrote that she "liked the
cleanliness, the good food, the spectacular view of Penobscot Bay and the lack of

The Watchtide has three acres of lawns, gardens, and trees to wander about in
before or after a gourmet breakfast on its spacious sun porch and an antique
shop in a vintage barn adjacent to the main quarters.  I should also mention that
the Watchtide, which was deeded to Henry Knox (our first Secretary of War), has
a long and proud history of amicable hauntings and incidents with guests
encountering resident spirits, all of which is detailed under
Ghosts of Waldo

Belfast's Small Town Theatre

Some pleasures to be had in small towns are low key but substantial and Belfast,
Maine gave me the opportunity to recapture the nostalgia of a fundamental
boyhood experience -- going to a movie in an old-fashioned small town theatre.
I grew up going to three of them, all gone now, replaced by clinical modern
buildings, so I was pleased to find the Colonial theatre alive and well.  

It opened in 1912 on the day the Titanic set sail and the character of its art deco
facade (added in 1923) is matched by the museum-like lobby with a display of
photos showing the theatre's history and a small library of film books which
allow patrons to settle arguments about movies.

The elephant on the roof above the neon marquee and the one in the lobby were
acquired in 1997 from the closing of an internationally-known Belfast roadside
attraction -- Perry's Nut House.  

At the Colonial I found myself in a full house small town audience with a
familial mood, reminiscent of those I remember from Idaho.

In Idaho, walking to a movie or coming home from one, I would pass some of
the  oldest and largest houses in town and always felt a sense  of awe about their
antiquity.  Yet in fact few of them dated back even to the late 19th century.  

Architecture and History

In Belfast, walking along Church Street, I had that same feeling but intensified as
I passed house after house whose styles were Queen Anne, Greek and Gothic
Revival, Italianate and Cape Cod, etc. -- a striking miscellany of Ionic and Doric
columns, mansard roofs, bay windows, decorative gables, clustered chimneys,
balustrades, crystal windows, towers and turrets and cupolas.  

The sense of history in this neighborhood is palpable and for just a moment,
walking along the block where the First Church in Belfast stands, I fancied that I
could hear ghostly echoes of the sound of a Paul Revere bell ringing and the
voices of the original townspeople joined in a community sing-along of
Handel's Messiah.

The restaurant that made the strongest impression on me was a nearby roadside
place named Angler's, a down-to-earth, very plainly appointed family seafood
restaurant whose distinction is largely due to the lively, actively friendly
presence of the owner, Bud Hall.  

I watched as he worked the crowd, so to speak, showing genuine interest in
people as he went from table to table, exchanging a few words with friends and
strangers alike, making everyone feel right at home.  

An offbeat bonus was that he did a bit of shtick for us with live lobsters, a sort of
crustacean Punch and Judy Show, and when one of our group mentioned black
raspberries for some reason, Bud leaped at the opportunity to make black
raspberry milkshakes for us, though they weren't on the menu.  I hope they are

A Sense of Fun

One of the things that caught my eye among the handout materials given to us
was a sheet of paper advertising the
Belfast Bearfest. The symbolism of an event
celebrating ursine creatures struck another nostalgic chord, since I grew up in
bear country on the other end of the continent.  

I missed the Bearfest, which runs from June through October, but it sounds
irresistible, being a hands-on art event at which several Maine artists display
more than 40 mostly larger than life bears of all manner of designs and colors on
the streets and in the parks and stores of Belfast.  It concludes with a Great Bear
Auction whose proceeds go to charity.  

It's this sort of salient sense of fun that distinguished many of the people I met
in Maine.

As for those people, an experience near the end of the trip made a telling
impression.  One of my companions lost her wallet, which contained the usual
array of cards and pictures and a significant amount of cash, a loss guaranteed to
spoil her visit.  

Except that by the end of the day it had been returned to her by one of the
townspeople who found it.  It was a pleasant way to wind up a trip to the Pine
Tree State and an altogether upbeat memory to take home with us.

About the author: Larry Tritten is a freelance writer whose credits include the New
Yorker, Harpers, Vanity Fair, Travel & Leisure and National Geographic.  He lives in San
Francisco, Calif.
Belfast, Maine
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