Strange Maine: True Tales from the Pine Tree State
by Michelle Souliere
From the back cover: Maine is well known as a land of fresh air and clean water, as the home of L.L. Bean and as one of the most popular camping and outdoor recreation destinations in the country. But what lies behind this idyllic faÃ§ade? Freaks. Weirdos. Unmapped roads. Whispering rocks. Deadening fog. Ghost pirates. Lonely islands. THINGS in the woods. This is the great state of Maine, home of Stephen King, land of the Great Northern Woods and all the mystery that lies within their dark footprint. What better setting than this for tales of strange creatures, murderers, madmen and eccentric hermits? From the "Headless Halloween of 1940" to Colonel Buck s curse, from Bigfoot sightings to the "witch's grave" in a Portland cemetery, writer and illustrator Michelle Souliere brings to life these strange-but-true tales from the Pine Tree State.
So I'm a Californian. Never been to Maine. Most of my exposure to the Pine Tree State stems from the imagination of Stephen King. He's a pretty weird guy, so the state that spawned him must be pretty bizarre, too. Right? I hoped that Michelle Souliere's book would help enlighten me on that theory.
Strange Maine is short. Very short - if you took out all the photographs, there would be less than 100 pages of text. I was able to read it very quickly. It's divided into five chapters, each of which generally has 2-3 stories in it. The lack of content in some chapters was disappointing. For example, the first chapter, "The Witch's Grave and Other Marked Monuments" has only two entries: the so-called Witch's Grave and the Libby Mausoleum. My reaction was That's it? That's all you've got?? Sure, there's some interesting general information about Maine graveyards but my mind just kept going back to You've got a whole freakin' state and you could only find two landmarks worthy of comment?
Other chapters are similar; they left me unsatisfied and wanting more. Chapter Three, "Places That Go Bump in the Night", featured two forts that provide atmosphere for psychic fairs but otherwise seem rather low on the creepy factor. The third story, in which a friend of the author relates the memories of a haunting he experienced, is all about a house that was torn down years ago.
The longest and most entertaining chapter is devoted to odd creatures found in Maine, like the albino "ghost" moose, Bigfoot and wildcats. Perhaps there was more information because the bookstore owned by Souliere happens to share a building with the International Cryptozoology Museum (a plug for which ends the book). She even highlights some of the quirkier residents of Maine, like Glenn Violette, owner of 'Hubcap Heaven' and artist Brian Read.
Overall, the narrative has a very folksy, regional feel to it. Reading it is like perusing a copy of my neighborhood's newsletter, which makes sense since Souliere writes the quarterly Strange Maine Gazette, available in small towns throughout Maine. For me, it felt too small. Metal sculptures crafted from found materials don't seem strange to me; they're all over the place out West. The Bryant Stove Museum and Doll Circus seems less a museum than a hoarder's cluttered stash. I come from the city that is home to the Winchester Mystery House; I like my strangeness to be flashy and larger-than-life.
Fans of urban legends may enjoy this book, but the content's spread a bit thin. There are several poems/songs lyrics scattered throughout, and lots of photographs, but some of them feel like padding.
Before buying, I'd suggest going over to the Strange Maine Blog and reading some entries to get a taste of the book's style.
One last quibble: The description on the back cover promised ghost pirates. Where the heck were they?
2 out of 5 stars