Posted by: Daniel Cisek, Deputy Press Attaché
Motto: Dirigo (I lead)
The state of Maine is located on the northeast coast of the United States, bordering Canada to the north. Part of New England, Maine is the least densely populated state east of the Mississippi River (population: 1.3 million), with large expanses of natural beauty. It’s nicknamed the Pine Tree State, and nearly 90% of its land is forested. A rural state, Maine has no big cities, the largest being Portland with 65,000 people. Maine’s dense forests have provided jobs for generations of Mainers, and its natural beauty and long coastline make it an ideal summertime vacation spot.
Maine has the distinction of having been visited by Europeans long before the rest of the future United States – evidence suggests that Vikings from Scandinavia sailed to the coast of Maine around 1000 A.D. The first European settlement in Maine was established by the Plymouth Company at Popham in August 1607, three months after the settlement at Jamestown, Virginia, America’s first permanent settlement. The settlers of Popham abandoned the colony after a year, sailing away in a ship they constructed (the first seaworthy ship built in the New World), named Virginia of Sagadahoc. The precise site of Popham was only rediscovered in 1994.
The territory of Maine was originally part of the colony (and later state) of Massachusetts, but in 1820 the people of Maine established their own separate state. Historically, Maine is notable for being the home of Harriet Beecher Stowe, who wrote the anti-slavery novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin in 1852. Stowe’s book played a large role in inflaming anti-slavery feelings in the North during the period preceding the U.S. Civil War (1861-1865).
Maine is also associated in American historical memory with the U.S.S. Maine, a navy ship that exploded and sank in Havana Harbor in Cuba in 1898. The explosion was called an act of war and blamed on Spain, and the reaction in the United States played a big role in the outbreak of the Spanish-American War that same year. Later historians have found no clear evidence that the explosion was an attack rather than an accident, but Americans still know the famous slogan that stirred up war fever in the United States: “Remember the Maine!”
Parks, Beaches, Lighthouses, and More
Acadia National Park is considered the crown jewel of Maine. The park sprawls for 30,000 scenic acres across Mount Desert Island and several other islands and peninsulas along the coast. With wide-open ocean vistas, the tallest peaks on the Eastern Seaboard, the contiguous United States’ only fjord (more can be found in Alaska), and well-known spots like Thunder Hole, Sand Beach, Otter Cliffs, and Cadillac Mountain, it’s not to be missed. The park offers the change to hike, bicycle the famous carriage roads, explore by kayak, or simply sight-see.
Maine is home to other renowned parks and recreational areas, each of which provides an unforgettable experience to the outdoor lover. Baxter State Park is a 205,000-acre wilderness area of unrivaled hiking and camping. The Allagash Wilderness Waterway is a 92-mile corridor of lakes and rivers perfect for canoeing. There’s the Appalachian Trail, the long, backpacking byway, which stretches 281 miles in Maine (and continues another 1,899 miles through 13 other states – almost 3,500 km long). And finally there’s the White Mountains National Forest, with 45,000 acres to explore in the western mountains of Maine. Maine has more than thirty sites in its state-park system, many of them almost as spectacular as their better-known cousins.
Maine beaches come in many sizes and shapes. White sand ocean beaches cover much of the southern Maine coast and dot the rest of the long Maine coastline. By day, beaches are teeming with people building sandcastles, body surfing, searching for seashells and just soaking in the sun. In the evening, the low rumble of the surf crashing upon the shore offers a soothing backdrop for a romantic stroll. However, saltwater beaches only present half of the beachgoing opportunities in Maine. With 6,000 lakes and ponds, fresh water beaches abound.
More than 60 lighthouses dot the Maine coast from the well-known Nubble Light in York to West Quoddy Head, the easternmost lighthouse in the United States. Lighthouses were once the saviors of the seacoast, their bright beacons and resonating foghorns cutting through foul weather, warning ships of impending danger and guiding them safely back to shore. Today, these distinctive structures still carry the romance and drama of their past and make for a fascinating visit.
In addition to Harriet Beecher Stowe, several other prominent Americans have origins in Maine. Edmund Muskie served as U.S. Senator and Governor of Maine, and was nominated for Vice President for the Democratic Party in 1968. Muskie’s father, Stephen Marciszewski, emigrated from Russian-controlled Poland to the United States in 1903 and changed his name to Muskie. Edmund Muskie is the only American of Polish origin to have been nominated for the office of Vice President (or President).
In honor of Muskie’s life and achievements, the U.S. Congress established the Edmund S. Muskie Graduate Fellowship Program in 1992 to provide opportunities for graduate students and professionals in the former Soviet Union, including Ukraine, to study in the United States. The program has had nearly a thousand Ukrainian participants since 1992.
Other notable Mainers include the popular author Stephen King, who lives in Bangor and has written dozens of best-selling novels in the horror and supernatural genre, with worldwide sales of around 350 million books. King sets much of his work in Maine. His most popular books include Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, It, and The Dark Tower. I’ve read many of his earlier works, and although I haven’t kept up with his more recent books, I consider myself a big fan. Many of King’s stories have been made into movies, such as Carrie, The Shining, Stand By Me, and The Shawshank Redemption.
The author E.B. White also lived in Maine for a lengthy period. White is best known for his beloved children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, which is set in a farm community in Maine. The book is a funny, moving, and sad account of the friendship between a young pig and the wise spider who spins her web in his pen. In reality, the story is a metaphor about growing up and the loss of childhood innocence, and is rightly considered a classic of children’s literature. Almost every schoolchild in the U.S. reads the novel, and many adults continue to remember it with great fondness, including myself.