History of the Lobster Festival
Rockland celebrated this month the 66th Maine Lobster Festival, with thousands of people coming from everywhere to have their fill of the famous Maine lobster and entertainment. The preparation takes a lot of hard labor for the many volunteers. I think it is time to review its history.
Can you even imagine a festival with all the lobsters you can eat for $1 and also enjoy a parade, ball game, door prizes and evening entertainment? Before you rush to buy your ticket, I must inform you that you are 66 years too late.
Some of the readers are not old enough to remember when, but some local citizens heard about a lobster carnival in Pictou, New Brunswick, Canada. E. Hamilton Hall and Henry Bickford of Camden left on a trip to Pictou, New Brunswick, to find out more about the event. Upon returning home, several gentlemen met with lawyer Charles Dwinal to form a social corporation and issue a warrant to call a meeting April 1, 1947, at 2 p.m. at the offices of Dwinal & Dwinal.
Henry S. Bickford called the meeting to become organized and elect officers as follows: Earl Fuller, president; Clinton Lunt, vice-president; E. Hamilton Hall, secretary; Henry S. Bickford, treasurer and Earl Fuller, Clinton Lunt, E. Hamilton Hall and Henry S. Bickford, directors.
They set forth the purpose of the corporation as follows: “To conduct an annual festival for the citizens of Camden, Maine and Rockport, Maine to assist in publicizing the products of coastal Maine, and devote any incidental profits, which might be realized from the activities to such public uses or organized charities as the board of directors shall direct.”
Then they solemnly swore to faithfully, and truly perform the duties to which they had been elected to the best of their ability. Their bylaws contained nine articles.
With that, Maine’s first Lobster Festival was launched.
Two days later, The Camden Herald confirmed rumors that had circulated around town: the Lobster Festival would indeed take place Aug. 16, 1947, in the Bean Yard and Steamship Wharf area. Camden and Rockport wanted a giant picnic, with lobsters as the main fare and many other events. The Bangor Daily News and Portland Press Herald included news the following week of more names added to the corporation’s board, including: Wayne Buxton of the Maine Development Commission, Owen Smith, editor of The Maine Coast Fisherman, Rudolph O’Marcoux of the Maine Broadcasting Company, and Percy Keller, Camden’s town manager.
Some thought the slogan should be “claws across the border,” since Pictou gave it up and Camden was ready to go. Canada called theirs the “lobster carnival” but Camden preferred to call it the “lobster festival”.
Henry Bickford and Abe Weatherwise of Dublin, N.H., began exchanging telegrams. The first one Bickford received said, ”Depending on how dry all hands want to be for the lobster festival, suggest weekend of August ninth and rum rather than the sixteenth and lemonade.” The next telegram to Henry said:” Venus states she will still be in Tahitian and that Moon along with Mercury will just be getting over it. Also she along with Moon, Mercury and Saturn expect Saturday the sixteenth really tough after celebration of assumption of Virgin Day taking up the Virgin Mary into heaven before prognosticate. Therefore not even Camden can withstand the blow and rain which may begin Saturday the sixteenth. However will be glad to see if Venus will compromise in any way with four full pages ads in Yankee, to be paid in cash, not leftover lobsters.”
Ads went to Yankee Magazine, and the date held fast to Aug. 16.
Congresswoman Margaret Chase Smith had contacted Fleet Admiral C. W. Nimitz to see if one or more naval vessels could be in Camden Harbor for the occasion. Admiral Blandy, commander of the Atlantic Fleet, ordered a submarine chaser control ship to Camden for the lobster festival.
Visitors from the political world included U. S. Representative Margaret Chase Smith, Maine Governor Horace Hildreth, Senator and Mrs. Owen Smith and Mayor Charles P. Nelson of Augusta. The event welcomed more than 10,000 people.
Perry Greene and his Chinook dog teams joined in the parade. Following were jeeps and fire engines. When the parade ended, the master of ceremonies, Talbot O. Freeman, vice president of the Pepsi-Cola Company made some appropriate remarks.
Perry Greene and his Chinook dog sleds and many jeeps kept the lobsters coming. Long tables serving lobsters took up much of the space on the ball field behind Mary E. Taylor School and the old Camden High School (now demolished). All the lobsters you wanted, but eaten at one sitting. They served a total of 11,900 pounds of lobster in a matter of hours, until the supply was gone.
Prof. Robert P.T. Coffin ate 10 large lobsters, one after another.
In the evening, a street dance took place near the post office on Chestnut Street and Joseph Brewster, a well-known businessman, gave lessons there for all types of dancing, so anyone could learn to square dance, waltz or fox-trot. People danced the night away. Everyone considered it a wonderful family picnic for Camden and Rockport. It made the New York Times the following day, as well as our local papers.
Now, the Rockland Lobster Festival is a very large event, and people come from all over the world to visit. Rockland people do a great job, with the many volunteers, who make the event possible each year.
I am not positive why Camden discontinued it. A rumor I heard at the time in 1947, was that a litter of lobster shells covered Main and Elm Streets, especially the parks. Camden did not want that again.
It has just been held in Rockland earlier this month with thousands of people, and now you know The Lobster Festival’s humble beginning.
Barbara Dyer is Camden's official town historian.