ROCKLAND, Maine — For 71 years, the Maine Lobster Festival has crowned a Maine Sea Goddess.
The young woman then joins the ranks of the state’s other “Commodity Queens” — the Maine Wild Blueberry Queen, the Maine Dairy Princess and the Maine Potato Queen, to name a few — who represent their respective festivals and region at events throughout the state.
But after the 2018 Maine Sea Goddess was decrowned over social media posts just 24 hours after her coronation during this year’s Lobster Festival, some festival officials and members of the public are wondering if it’s time for the pageant to change.
“I do think that the coronation, as it stands now, should be looked at as to what we can do to make it more modernized and more equal,” said Cynthia Powell, president of the Maine Lobster Festival board of directors.
Meetings of the 28-member board of directors are typically closed to the public, but community members were allowed to attend their monthly meeting Tuesday night.
Several people expressed outrage about how the board handled removing this year’s Sea Goddess, Taylor Hamlin, from her post after someone anonymously shared photos Hamlin posted on social media. Festival officials have maintained that the photos “were not in keeping with the behavior and image” of the Maine Sea Goddess, though there are no written rules that outline expected social media behavior.
With the festival serving as a centerpiece in Rockland for decades, the wake the controversy has left in the community worries some residents.
“I worked hard for this festival for many years. Many people did. It was a wonderful thing. But look how easy it is to destroy, well almost destroy, all of this good work to take advantage of a teenager,” said Barry Faber, a Rockland resident.
Powell was adamant that she wanted the festival to be able to move forward from this year’s Sea Goddess coronation, though stopped short of giving frustrated community members and Hamlin’s parents what they wanted — an apology to Hamlin and the residents of Rockland.
She suggested that the board confer with its public relations adviser and fellow director, Shannon Kinney, before issuing any kind of apologetic statement. However, she supported gathering ideas for revamping, or even replacing, the Sea Goddess coronation.
“We do have to move up and forward,” Hamlin’s mother, Cindi, said. “I agree that we need to make some big changes [to the coronation]. This is the crux of having to make it new and different, so no other girl or guy gets hurt like this.”
Many on the board agreed that changes should be made to the coronation, especially as related to applicant vetting and policies, but the scope of the changes brought division.
Board member Celia Knight, a former Maine Lobster Festival Sea Princess, was the most vocal advocate at Tuesday’s meeting for changing the coronation. Outside the recent controversy, Knight said the pageant has been “shrinking every year” in terms of audience and the number of girls from area high schools who apply to participate.
“We can’t keep doing it the same old-fashioned way that we’ve been doing it. Maybe I’m wrong, but does anyone else think this is working? It’s like watching a rerun every single year,” Knight said. “It could be a great thing, but we need to enhance it and bring it up to date.”
Knight proposed working a talent show into the festival, to either remake or replace the traditional coronation, and having members of the board of directors serve as ambassadors of the festival at other events, rather than having the Sea Goddess do so.
Powell suggested that rather than having a coronation, the festival could have an ambassador program that was open to young women and young men.
However, doing away with the coronation struck a nerve with some members of the board. Sharon Lombardo, who previously chaired the coronation committee, agreed that changes need to be made, “but to change the coronation and not even call it a coronation anymore, I truly believe is wrong,” she said. “It’s something that has gone on for 72 years.”
With social media use at the root of this year’s Sea Goddess controversy, some said it was time to update the pageant to fit in with the 21st century.
“What I would like to see going forward is young ideas, young people,” resident Steve Carroll said. “That’s what is going to change things.”
Next month, the festival’s seven-person executive committee will meet to create a rough outline of possible coronation changes, Powell said, and then bring those ideas to the full board for further discussion.
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