SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A genuine photographic mystery tumbled from a ripped plastic bag amid a clatter of sticky, returnable bottles on May 5 at the Clynk redemption facility on Rumery Street.
The 55-year-old, monochrome picture shows a troop of Boys Scouts smiling for the camera with two famous heavyweight champion boxers. One of the fighters later had a Hollywood movie made about him. The second was the referee at the famous Liston and Ali fight in Lewiston.
Where the photo came from, who it belongs to, how it got into a bag of returnables and the identity of the Scouts is unknown.
“I’d like to find the owner,” said Bridget O’Brien, chief commercial officer at Clynk. “It’s an interesting photograph. There’s some history here and probably a nice story.”
Clynk offers returnable bottle drop-off locations at 53 Hannaford supermarkets in Maine. The company then processes the bottles and puts deposit money in personal accounts which customers can use to buy groceries or donate to charity.
Each bag of bottles bears a customer’s personal barcode. O’Brien tracked down the person who might have dropped off the bag containing the picture. They said they had no knowledge of the photograph whatsoever and it did not belong to them.
O’Brien didn’t want to say exactly which town that person lives in, citing privacy issues, but did confirm it was Cumberland County. She added that it was just an educated guess as to which bag the picture came from, anyway. It might have originated anywhere in Maine.
O’Brien also said it’s not uncommon for her staff to find items other than bottles.
“We get all sorts of things in bags,” O’Brien said. “For instance, last week, there was an old sander in a bag. Today, there was a needle.”
They get keys, too — lots of keys, she said.
“It just happens when you have hundreds of thousands of people using this system. Mistakes get made — and sometimes, they’re not even mistakes,” O’Brien said.
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The yellowed, wood-framed 5×7-inch photograph shows six or seven scouts lined up in a pine grove. The top of a tent pokes into the background. A couple of adult men, possibly scout leaders, can also be seen. Two scouts are in wheelchairs. Behind each seated scout is a retired, former world heavyweight boxing champ in a suit and tie.
On the left is James Braddock. The son of Irish immigrants, he won the title in 1934 in a unanimous decision over Max Baer. In 2005, Russell Crowe, Renée Zellweger and Paul Giamatti starred in an Oscar-nominated film about Braddock’s life, called “Cinderella Man.”
On the right is “Jersey” Joe Wolcott, who held the heavyweight title from 1951 to 1952. At the time, he was the oldest man ever to win the title, at age 37. Wolcott also refereed the famous, fast and controversial fight between Sonny Liston and Muhammad Ali in Lewiston in May 1965. Ali knocked Liston out in the first round via a “phantom punch” still talked about today.
According to a 2015 New York Times article, Braddock came to Lewiston to see the match, as well. Cursive writing, in blue, ballpoint pen, on the back of the framed photo reads: “Cerebral palsy Boy Scout camporee, 1965.” It would seem the boxers made a side trip to the campout while they were in Maine for the fight.
Also written on the back is the misspelled name of long-time southern Maine Boy Scout leader Clayton Duplisea.
“Clayton was a scout leader in Portland for a long time,” said Frank Maguire, who knew Duplisea. “I’ve got a picture of Clayton that dates all the way back to 1945. He was old when I was young and he was the scout executive for Portland in the 1920s.”
Maguire, 86, of South Portland, has been involved with the Boy Scouts in Maine since joining as a kid in 1943. He currently serves as a commissioner for the Pine Tree Council.
Maguire said Duplisea, who died in 1993, is the man standing at the far left in the picture.
“He led that cerebral palsy troop in Portland,” Maguire said.
Maguire remembers Duplisea as a fierce advocate for equal access and experience for his troop, all of whom had cerebral palsy.
“Clayton did what he could to help those kids have a [proper Boy Scout] program,” Maguire said. “He was adamant and saw to it that those kids got some attention.”
That included camping, swimming, singing — as well as meeting famous heavyweight champions.
It’s worth noting that the photo was taken 25 years before the Americans with Disabilities Act was signed into law, barring discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life. It also was a time when boxing was a much bigger deal than it is today.
Even with Duplisea, Wolcott and Braddock identified in the photo, questions remain: Where has it been hanging all these years, who are the scouts and how did it end up among the returnables at Clynk?
If the picture’s owner can’t be found, Maguire would like to see the photo end up in the historic collection of Maine Boy Scout memorabilia currently warehoused at Camp Hinds in Raymond. He hopes they’ll have a museum for the collection some day.
“We hate to lose stuff like this,” Maguire said. “So often, people just toss stuff out because they don’t know what to do with it.”
If you know anything about this photo, email Troy R. Bennett at firstname.lastname@example.org