A Look Back at 1940

 Even though the United States was not yet involved in the war, war news dominated the media which in those days consisted of the newspapers and radio. The 1940 Presidential election saw Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who wanted to provide as much support as possible to the Allies, seeking a third term and opposed by the Republican candidate Wendell Willkie, who had to contend with a strong isolationist element in his party. He was not able to mount a serious challenge to FDR who won handily.

Still, Roosevelt was able to institute the draft by only a one-vote margin in Congress; and, had the vote failed, the United States would have been in mortal danger when, in 1941, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On October 31, 1940, 18 Calais men were selected in that first draft callup, including Tom Greenlaw, Max Gayton, James McVicar, Charles Pulk, Thomas Lunn, Leslie Burns, Ernest Davis, Francis Eagan and Charles Pulk.

On the war front, the “phony war” ended in May of 1940 when the Germans swept across France in less than two months, and England found itself isolated in its island fortress. The Brits wisely turned the reins of government over to Winston Churchill who delivered a series of rousing speeches in the House of Commons, convincing the British people—but few others at the time—that England would ultimately win the war.  German U-boats had cut off England’s food supply and most of the Army’s equipment lay in ruins on the beach at Dunkirk while German bombers began to appear over London in preparation for the German invasion of Britain.  In Germany, Hermann Göring proclaimed the country needed only 100 church bells, the rest were to be smelted; and the Auschwitz concentration camp was opened.

Soldiers march by Queen Theater on Water Street in St. Stephen, 1940

Of course, just across the border, our neighbors in St. Stephen and Milltown, NB were already at war, and the first casualties were being reported in the St. Croix Courier, including the death of the very popular St. Stephen boy Dee Staples, who had been killed in action. Local Canadian casualties, dead and injured, would reach triple figures before the war was over. Guy Murchie of Calais was injured while reporting on the war in 1940.

From San Bernardino Daily Sun, Friday, September 27, 1940:

This cablephoto from London shows a street in Dover, England, following a Nazi bombing, coupled with long-range shelling across the channel. The wrecked building in the center is that of the Grand hotel, where Guy Murchie, an American newspaperman, was injured. (N.E.A. cable-telephoto)

Many boys from this side of the border crossed the line to enlist in the Canadian forces, often to be pilots, but none, as yet, had been engaged in combat. Calais’ first casualty was Guy Murchie, a veteran newspaperman and writer, who was injured at Dover, England during a German bombardment of the city.  

In the U.S.., a population of 131 million heard for the first time on their radios the voice of a fellow called Frank Sinatra, and the theaters saw the debut of Pinocchio and Bugs Bunny. “Gone with the Wind” won eight Academy awards, and John Steinbeck won the Pulitzer Prize for The Grapes of Wrath. The St. Croix Courier reported that “Gone with the Wind,” acclaimed as “a new high in the achievements of the motion picture industry” would be shown at the State Theatre in Calais if enough people showed an interest in paying the “premium prices which the producers have set for it through 1940.”

In sports, Bob Feller pitched a no-hitter on opening day; night games began at many ballparks; and Ted Williams pitched the last two innings of a game against the Tigers. He gave up one run on three hits in the 12-1 Tiger victory. Spaulding introduced a batting helmet with an earflap to protect against beanballs which were perfectly legal at the time. Richard and Maurice McDonald opened the first McDonald’s restaurant in San Bernardino, California.

In the St. Croix Valley, there was the usual spate of fires: Cole Bridges Garage burned again; the Red Beach Congregational Church was destroyed by fire—as was Brown’s Store and the Post Office in Alexander.  Beckett’s was selling its famous ribbon candy at 20 cents a pound; and the shoe factory in Calais closed which was devastating for the local economy. The unemployment agency was processing over two thousand unemployment claims a week during much of the year.

The noted Arctic explorer John Vaughan died in 1940. He was one first to achieve passage through the overland route across the Northwest Territory to Alaska in search of gold; and in 1903, he joined the Ziegler Expedition to the North Pole and was marooned off Franz Joseph Island for 19 months. We have to admit our claim to Vaughan is tenuous. He was born on his father’s ship in 1876 while it was docked on the Calais waterfront and may not recall being here.

St. Stephen authorities spent the night of May 4, 1940 dragging the river for the body of the distraught Ansil Yerxes who had leaped from the town pier into the river. With daybreak, his clothes were discovered in a neat pile by the river and Mr. Yerxes himself was found in the Calais lockup where he had spent the night after appearing naked at a Calais boarding house and being arrested by our constable, Howard Eye, for public indecency.

The national papers of late February 1940 liked the story of Calais’ Angus Anderson who was rescued by a Coast Guard icebreaker after being stranded on an ice flow drifting down the St. Croix towards Eastport. “The boy appeared none the worse for his dangerous voyage.”

A & P Supermarket when new

The A & P Supermarket, the first of its kind in Washington County, opened on Main Street although it was hardly a propitious time to open a business in the St. Croix Valley. Times were tough economically as our twin communities adjusted to the reality of legally being two countries—one at war and the other a neutral nation. Locals were outraged at the new passport, entry and work requirements.

From The Calais Advertiser, October 23rd, 1940:

   Canada is taking the war seriously. She doesn’t desire her citizens to leave the provinces. She needs them within her borders for military service and taxation revenue. Her neighbor to the South, the great Republic of the States, too places harsh restrictions on the flow of human traffic across the international boundary. Necessary because of international situations, to guard against the possible influx of so called alien fifth columnists.

   Therefore, Canadians may not cross at will to obtain cheap groceries and chain apparel store commodities: neither may Yankees practice border hopping to obtain low priced woolen goods and other articles in the low scale Canadian markets. That’s the border! Many of the youth are absent, some at nearby military cantonments, others across the Atlantic aiding in Britain struggle against the Conqueror sweeping Europe. Fields of potatoes and grain are being tilled to produce a larger crop than formally. The elders are in the fields. Women too. Nobody seems to be low spirited in spite of the fact that wages are low. Very low in comparison with the American scale.

   The Yankee merchant is taking a licking because his Canadian neighbor could not cross the border to trade with him as of yore. The other side too is feeling it. And they’re all hoping that the bars will be lowered to permit friends and neighbors of years standing to trade their goods, greet their friends, and marry their sons and daughters as they have done for years and years and years. That’s the border!


    Hunting season 1940 saw twin tragedies involving the suicides of two young hunters. The death of John Moholland was so distressing and inexplicable that it was reported in nearly every newspaper in the country: This from the Wichita Falls Record News, Wichita Falls, Texas, Monday, December 2, 1940:

Young Hunter Cuts Throat Rather Than Die From Exposure
CALAIS, Maine, Dec. 1. (AP)—A lost hunter was found dead near here last night, his clothing frozen, his throat slashed, and Sheriff Ray Foster said today that the 19-year-old boy had committed suicide.
The sheriff said that by retracing the wanderings of John Mulholland [sic], Princeton, Maine, experienced woodsmen in a party of 50 discovered that:
Going into the woods near Musquash lake on Friday, Mulholland had lost himself and had crossed and re-crossed Flipper brook which, had he followed it, would have led him to Musquash stream on the Grand Lake highway.
Mulholland lost his rifle and had no way of signaling for help His matches soaked, he was unable to light a fire. As his confusion grew, he traveled in circles. Apparently crazed by the thought of freezing to death, the sheriff concluded, the youth drew his hunting knife and cut his throat.

Strangely, an incident somewhat similar in nature, had occurred in Woodland a month earlier but it received far less national press perhaps because it lacked the macabre nature of the suicide.  Paul Turner, 16, and Donald Gerow, 27, of Woodland went hunting in early November and did not return. The next day Turner’s father began a search for them and found them in an orchard behind the Hayman Farm. Both were dead from gunshot wounds. The Calais Advertiser reported:

   Reconstructing the affair, police officials arrived at the conclusion that Gerow, mistaking his companion for a deer, had fired and shot young Turner. Gerow on going over to learn the result of his shot discovered he had killed his friend and crazed with grief and remorse, he turned the gun on himself.

     As always, Eastport was in hundreds of national newspapers every day because the National Weather Service always reported the Atlantic Coast weather from “Eastport to Block Island.” It was also widely reported in 1940 that Eastporters had discovered a cure for seasickness:

   The sufferer, at first symptoms, must throw a line over the side and catch a dolphin. The heart of the dolphin, still quivering, must be cut out and consumed—the cure is “guaranteed.”

     Many papers reported that the “longest telephone call in the United States would be from Eastport, Maine to Monterey Bay, California, a distance of 2,910 airline miles” and we’re sure this distinction was important to Eastport; but they would have been less happy to discover many national papers were reporting the highest tides in the U.S. were at Calais when we believe Eastport likewise deserves that honor.

In 1940, a boxer from Eastport named Paul Junior fought for the welterweight championship of the world. He lost, and his career as a boxer did not flourish, but the newspapers in 1940 carried some interesting retrospectives about another Eastport boxer from the late 1800s known as “The Mysterious Billy Smith.” Smith was, if not an accomplished tactician in the ring, one heck of a fighter and for a time was the welterweight champion of the world. We had no idea Eastport had such boxers in its past. Smith was born May 15, 1871 in Eastport and it appears his first name may have been Amos. Read more about Smith here.

From The Bangor Daily News, Saturday, 20 January 1940:



   Amos Smith of Eastport, Maine, who was known to the world of flying fists as Mysterious Billy Smith was one of the toughest fighters who ever defended an American ring title. He beat Tommy Ryan for the welter championship in 1892 and held it until 1894 when Ryan took it away from him again

   The Eastporter had his greatest success in 1899. In that year he knocked out Australian Billy Edwards in 14 rounds; defeated Kid Lavigne on the coast; tackled the clever Charley McKeever of Philadelphia three months later at the Lenox A.C. in New York, and drew in a bitterly contested 20-rounder. Then he went on to fight a fierce 25-round draw with Andy Walsh at the same club; had the edge in a six- round set-to in Philadelphia, then in a third bout, beat him badly In New York.

   That was a record any fighter could feel proud of because of the high calibre of the opposition Yes, Amos “Mysterious Billy” Smith of Eastport, Maine, was a truly great fighter.

Finally, a couple of interesting items:

     In May of 1940, just after the German blitzkrieg had reached the French coast at Calais, a Bangor lady became concerned about her Downeast neighbors:

     And really finally, this item, published in newspapers across the country about the Lund family in Dennysville who lived for many decades on what we know as Lund’s Corner:

From The Tampa Tribune, Tampa, Florida, Wednesday, 25 December 1940:        

We can find no proof that this is true; and the math is challenging as Lord Nelson died at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805. Our demon researcher Sharon Howland has provided us a Lund family history which does refer to members of the family being at the battle of Trafalgar but makes no claim to being on Nelson’s family tree.

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