Caravan of Gypsies visits Rockland

By Terry Economy | Dec 04, 2013

It was not uncommon to have Gypsies visit Rockland during the 1930s to 1940.

During the summer of 1940, a small caravan of Gypsies appeared on Thomaston Street next to the Curtis Wright airport. I remember it was a hot August afternoon. They proceeded down Thomaston Street, across Broadway to Holmes Street turning onto upper Holmes Street, left toward "Pill Hill," to upper Pleasant Street, near the location of what is now Kno-Wal-Lin office building. There they set up camp in circular fashion.

Word quickly spread throughout the city, the Gypsies have arrived. The downtown merchants had previous shoplifting experience dealing with them. Sure enough after setting up their camp some filtered to the downtown section, walking the sidewalks in their colorful attire, some peddling their costume jewelry, bracelets, beads, scarves, and leather goods. According to history, there was no trouble between the Gypsies and the local people.

One afternoon, during the visit, a canvas-covered truck drove down Park Street and parked next to Economy Fruit Store. Two Gypsies jumped out of the truck and walked into the store. They bought two cases of beer and paid $4 in change. After they drove off, my brother Richard, who was clerking in the store, walked out to the sidewalk and checked the fruit display and noticed that a box of plums was missing.

At our home on Prescott Street, my mother was sitting outside in the shade watching children at play. Two female Gypsies were walking up the street toward "Pill Hill" and stopped on seeing my mother and started speaking to her in broken English. They were a little surprised when they realized she understood them and could answer them in their own language. It seems that mother, who grew up in Albania and was multilingual, visited relatives in Romania. During the visit she was introduced to Gypsies, their camps, music and dancing and acquired some of their language.

Later that evening we could hear them singing and playing instruments. Mother opened all the windows so we could all hear the music. In fact, it was so loud that we later learned that people in the "Pill Hill" area complained to the police. Rockland Police Chief Arther Fish and members of his department arrived at the encampment wondering what trouble to expect. He met with members of the group, the leader apologized for the loud music and said they would tone it down and finally stopped playing around midnight.

The next morning they moved out of Rockland and were seen heading up Route 1. That was the last time Gypsies were seen in Rockland. Mother was left with happy memories of her teenage visit to Romania.

Terry Economy was born in Rockland. He graduated from Rockland High School and has had a long career in broadcasting, and is a member of the Maine Broadcasters Hall of Fame.

Comments (4)
Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Dec 07, 2013 05:05

Glad Terry brought it up. Have some of those same memories of how they were treated when coming to town. Encouraging to see we have moved forward in the way we treat those whom we see as "different".  It is making a difference in our little community; and beyond.  Look at what has been accomplished through the vision of our local Universalist church with their Window Dressers Project. Working together accomplishes so much more and is FUN!
http://www.windowdressersusa.com/



Posted by: Bill Packard | Dec 06, 2013 22:40

I think Terry was just sharing his memories from 1940, not making racist comments or showing any prejudice toward anyone.  He was a kid then and that's what he remembered.  Whatever.



Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Dec 06, 2013 15:19

The correct term is Roma people - not gypsies, which has become a racist term, beginning with the Nazi attempts in WW II at extermination of the Roma, and of course Jews, intellectuals, homosexuals, among others. Increased prejudice toward the Roma continues into our contemporary times and attitudes in Western & Eastern Europe, the United Kingdom and the United States. Kendall & Phyllis Merriam



Posted by: Kendall Merriam | Dec 06, 2013 15:16

The correct term is Roma people - not gypsies, which has become a racist term, beginning with the Nazi attempts in WWII at extermination of Roma, and of course Jews, intellectuals, homosexuals, among others. Increased prejudice toward the Roma continues into our contemporary times and attitudes. Kendall & Phyllis Merriam



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