The Death of Local News, or if you want to get away with murder, come to Hartland.

Mr Fox on a Midnight Stroll

As time goes by, I miss writing for the Sebasticook Valley Weekly more and more. It was a local weekly published in Newport and my first encounter with it was when Brenda Seekins, the editor, stopped by the library and asked if we’d like some copies. I said we certainly would and was she interested in a weekly library column. She was, and in short order, I was back to doing what I still believe is the best marketing tool a public library can have, writing a weekly newspaper column touting the things happening at the library as well as teasing potential borrowers with brief descriptions of new additions to the collection.

I knew from my five years of writing a similar column for The Boothbay Register while I was library director there, that plenty of people would read a few columns, develop a sense of comfort and familiarity with the library by doing so and then come in to get a card. It worked just as well in Hartland. It wasn’t long before I expanded my writing for the SV Weekly by doing an irregular feature called “Getting to Know Your Neighbors.” I’d spend an hour or so interviewing someone who I knew had an interesting background and then write it up with a photo or two. Over the course of a year or two, I met and profiled a local musician who was inducted into the Maine Country Music Hall of Fame, a true renaissance man who calibrated Norden Bombsights during World War 2 and interviewed the widow of a man whose demise was directly related to wild turkey poop.

Do these spikes make my butt look too big?

At some point, I realized that almost every weekly columnist in the paper was far to the right, so far in fact, that reading an issue made my teeth hurt. When I asked the new editor (Brenda had moved on) when he was going to have a liberal columnist, his response was right to the point. “When are you going to start writing it?” I spent the following morning weeding our raised bed flower garden while running ideas for columns through my head. That afternoon, I sat down and started putting a few on paper and my second regular entry in the newspaper, “Right-Minded, But Left of Center,” was born. I can say with absolute certainty that writing it cost me some library patrons, but it also made me some new friends and was read by plenty of people in an area from Skowhegan to Milo. Heck, it was great fun to tweak the right wing on a weekly basis. Unfortunately, the paper folded, and after trying to write for a diminished web version that was focused on Lincoln and the surrounding towns, I dropped it.

Sadly, Hartland seems to exist in a news vacuum these days. Neither the Waterville Sentinel nor The Bangor Daily News consider us of importance. Consider the following events, all of them true or easily provable. A few months back, a young woman was walking home after visiting her sister. The specifics are cloudy and there are details I’m not at liberty to disclose, but the upshot is that she was run over around 11 at night in front of the fire station. The driver stopped, but immediately sped off. She suffered nine broken ribs and a busted collerbone. Nothing appeared in the newspaper and to this day, no one has been arrested or charged.

Last month, the siren at the tannery started wailing and before anyone knew what was happening, fire trucks from as far away as Skowhegan rushed into town. There was a brief teaser about a fire at the tannery on the Bangor Daily News website that promised further details. A thorough perusal of both the web and print versions the following morning yielded nothing. The bean hole supper, scheduled for the following evening in Winterport, however, did merit three inches in the State section. I followed up by asking one of my regular patrons who works at the tannery what happened. It seems that the town dodged a bullet. There are two large machines located at the end of the main tannery building which are used to oil and wax hides. The more efficient one was about to be cleaned when there was a major miscommunication. Person A neglected to turn off the heating element and person B started sending a cleaning patch through which ignited. Fortunately there was a sprinkler system which activated automatically, dousing most of the fire while closing a door leading to the adjacent room where the bulk of flammable chemicals are stored. If there had been a malfunction in the sprinklers, it could have been scary, as not only were the chemicals nearby, but newly installed industrial size propane tanks were right outside the building where the machine was located. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that a big part of beautiful downtown Hartland could have been flattened had things not gone as they did. As it stands, the affected machine is out of operation and will probably require specially machined parts to get back in operation. While I think this was definitely newsworthy, the two papers mentioned above did not.

The two teens, aged 13 and 14 who did an estimated $6,000 in damage to the elementary school, the new town pool and a couple houses in town, did merit an article in the Waterville paper, but Bangor ignored them. These little darlings were released to their parents and are free to wander about town, generally without adult supervision.

The as yet unidentified individual who ransacked two cars in a friend’s driveway before going upstairs and ransacking an apartment and then spray painting obscenities on the side of their house while the family was in the living room watching television also failed even a mention in the police log, nor have there been any leads regarding the perps.

We have what even the village idiot can see is a shooting gallery within 500 feet of the elementary school (as I understand it, this should be felony territory), but no arrests have been made. I have another friend who used to go there to get high before he straightened his life out and at least one individual overdosed there.

Finally, there’s the copper theft that wasn’t. This is a real head scratcher. The tannery annex is behind my house and I kept hearing a lot of what sounded like sawing and pounding going on out there. It turns out that someone was cutting and carrying off the copper piping. When they were caught, charges were filed. These had to be dropped when they got to court. Why? Because the building was officially abandoned by whomever got ownership after the current tannery operators decided not to use it any longer. If there’s no owner, there’s no crime. Once again, this eluded the local news establishments as did the fact that some local teens broke in and had one heck of a fight, using the fire extinguishers.

The tannery annex from an earlier time when it was a thriving corn cannery.

The tannery annex from an earlier time when it was a thriving corn cannery.

So, good people, I’m betting that if you wanted to knock someone off, you couldn’t pick a better town to do it in that Hartland, Maine, the town that news forgot. However, if you do so, please let me know so I can put it in my next short story.

Photo of a painting given to retired game warden John Ford.

Photo of a painting given to retired game warden John Ford.

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3 Responses to The Death of Local News, or if you want to get away with murder, come to Hartland.

  1. Joyce Lovelace says:

    Living in a small town outside of NYC we never made the news until that awful day when a train hit a school bus. Then I moved to a small town in central NY and basically the only news we saw was obituaries which now they make us pay for.

  2. Laurie Graves says:

    Those are some stories, John. Also makes me realize the value of a town having a good police department where the officers have enough common sense to know when to intervene and when not to intervene.

  3. Hi, John. I would commend to you (and all our readers) the “Daily Bulldog” a family run daily local on line newspaper from Farmington. It is entirely free to the reader, being advertising supported. They offer a varied coverage of rural Franklin County, from local poetry and prose, reader-taken photography (some of which is breathtaking), columns from the right and left, local sports, court and police news, obituaries, etc. The editor/owner is a news professional and she and her staff have long-standing contacts throughout the area. If you want the taste of rural Maine, you can’t do better!

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