BANGOR — Every city has its mythology, and Bangor is no exception. Just as Boston and Philadelphia have endured a plethora of half-truths and flat-out lies spun around favorite sons Paul Revere and Benjamin Franklin (respectively), the Queen City also has its share of fractured history.
Let’s be honest: Often the falsehoods are more entertaining than historical facts. How many of the following Top 10 boo-boos have you heard while never bothering to challenge them? With apologies to my public-school history teachers, I offer them as proof that things are not always what they seem.
• 10. Hannibal Hamlin died at the Tarratine Club on Park Street. The former vice president actually succumbed while playing cards on July 4, 1891 at the Tarratine Club’s Main Street headquarters. Its impressive brick Park Street clubhouse did not open its doors until 1907.
• 9. Al Brady was buried in a pauper’s grave. Stolen loot in the slain gangster’s leather money belt totaled more than $1,400, which more than covered a proper burial at Mount Hope Cemetery’s Public Grounds on Oct. 15, 1937.
• 8. Clipper ships made regular stops in Bangor. Schooners, brigs, brigantines, and other sailing vessels made it up the Penobscot to the 19th-century port, but not the tall clippers, They needed much more wind for the 25-mile journey from ocean to city.
• 7. Devil’s Half Acre was located on Exchange Street. In truth, the red-light combat zone originated across the Kenduskeag Stream on the city’s West Side, near Front and lower Union streets. Bangor Museum and History Center walking tours and last year’s BDN column by Wayne Reilly outlined the Acre’s true boundaries.
• 6. Amelia Earhart flew women over Bangor. The legendary aviator served as the hostess on 10-minute “joy hops” leaving from the city’s municipal airport in 1934. A male pilot was at the controls.
• 5. The great Caruso performed arias in Bangor. Many operatic greats sang in the old wooden auditorium and the original Opera House, but not Enrico Caruso. Other no-shows were President Franklin D. Roosevelt and Robert E. Lee, long rumored to have stopped here on official business.
• 4. Rudy Vallee wrote his hit, “The Maine Stein Song.” In truth, author Lincoln Colcord wrote the lyrics, and Bangor orchestra leader Adelbert Sprague adapted the melody. Vallee tweaked the song for a 1929 radio broadcast.
• 3. Urban Renewal brought down Union Station. A private demolition project actually razed the Washington Street landmark in 1961. The federal program, approved by city voters in 1964, came later.
• 2. Parson Seth Noble was tipsy in Boston. The colorful local pastor, delegated to oversee the signing of the town charter in 1791, returned with a name change, from Sunbury to Bangor. Most historians agree that demon rum, of which Noble was said to be fond, had nothing to do with the rumored mix-up.
• 1. The Queen City was named for the Standpipe’s lit royal “crown.” Bangor’s nickname began appearing in the 1830s, following Queen Victoria’s coronation. This was 60 years before the water tower’s completion. The moniker was more likely a regal sounding name designed to build commerce and lure visitors. It worked!