by Janet Lyons, Local & Legendary project consultant, Maine Humanities Council
The Portland-Westbrook Local & Legendary team recently hosted two events in historic buildings in downtown Portland.
On April 8, 13 sophomores and their teacher from Casco Bay High School in Portland traveled to the Maine Masonic Civil War Library & Museum housed at the Portland Masonic Temple. Students came to do research as part of their new expedition focused on “hidden histories” within the Civil War.
The Library’s focus is on Maine Masons and non-Masons who fought in the Civil War. Jim Dufresne, director of the Maine Masonic Civil War Library and Museum, shared both primary source material, in the form of letters, and the Library’s rich collection of secondary source material with the students.
Students were assisted in their research by Local & Legendary team members Bob Riley, Jessica Siraco, and Lin Brown. Bob spoke to the students about the history and the construction of the “Our Lady of Victories” statue in Monument Square, whose dedication reads “Portland To Her Sons Who Died For The Union.”
A member of the Portland Masonic Temple gave a brief overview of Masonry and spoke about the role Masons played in giving comfort to their fellow Masons during the Civil War.
The following day, Jean Flahive, author of Billy Boy: The Sunday Soldier of the 17th Maine and Railroad to the Moon gave a noontime lecture at the Maine Charitable Mechanics Association’s Mechanic’s Hall on Congress Street. Jean shared how she used “historical realities to write a fictional story.”
Jean told how she was contacted recently by a man in New York who is the descendant of Pvt. Henry Frost, who was stationed at Fort Preble (the current campus of SMCC) when Billy was executed for desertion.
He sent Jean a copy of a letter that Pvt. Frost wrote to his parents describing the day. A photo of an actual button from Billy’s coat was enclosed in the letter.
In addition to reading the vivid account of the execution to the audience, Jean answered questions about Billy’s story, the process of writing, and the topic of desertion. It was an informational and emotional lunch hour.