A photographic memorial to Jed Harrington sits on a table at the Waterfront Flea Market in Brunswick on Sunday. The flea market regular died in October. Credit: Courtesy of Sylvia Young

Longtime Brunswick Waterfront Flea Market vendor and manager Edward “Jed” Harrington died on Oct. 2, just after getting home from the second-hand bazaar he loved.

Harrington was 85.

He left no will, and his remaining family members are estranged and live several states away, according to friends.

With none forthcoming from Harrington’s kin, a friend paid for a basic obituary in the local paper at the end of November. The warm, brief item said Harrington’s “heart gave out” and emphasized his good humor, eye for beauty and his devotion to his flea market family.

“There will be no public memorial,” it ended.

On Saturday, half the remaining treasures in Harrington’s carefully curated flea market stalls will go under an auctioneer’s gavel, and be sold to the highest bidders. The second half will be sold the following week.

Proceeds will go to Harrington’s family and to settle his estate.

Soon, all physical traces of Harrington’s life will be gone. However, his memory will live on in the hearts of the Maine friends he considered his real family.

“We were so lucky to know him,” said Sylvia Young, who first met Harrington in 1965 and, 55 years later, ponied up the money for his obituary.

Back then, they were both caseworkers for the New York City Department of Welfare and lived in adjoining buildings.

Jed Harrington and longtime friend Sylvia Young sit on Harrington’s couch in Phippsburg sometime in 1997. The pair first met in 1965 and Young took a similar selfie of herself and Harrington not long before he died in October. Credit: Courtesy of Sylvia Young.

“On East 11th Street,” Young said. “Right between the Polish and Puerto Rican neighborhoods.”

Young said Harrington, born in Rhode Island in 1937, was fascinating from the beginning. A gay man, he seemed to know how to be friends with everyone and once painted Allen Ginsberg’s apartment.

In 1967, they moved with a group of friends first to Rhode Island and then to Maine. Young, her husband, and Harrington eventually ended up neighbors at Small Point in Phippsburg, right at the foot of Morse Mountain.

“We all supported each other and it was a commune with good boundaries,” Young said.

At that point, Harrington was already an accomplished weaver and potter, making his living doing both. Young still cherishes some of his pieces.

Harrington also traveled extensively, sometimes hitchhiking across the country, sometimes sailing overseas. At one point he spent time in India on a spiritual quest. The Hindu faith he found there stuck with him the rest of his life, Young said.

“It guided him and gave him an ethical balance,” she said.

Donna Koehling first met Harrington around 2006 when she and her husband John delivered firewood to his cabin.

“We had to put the truck in four-wheel drive and only deliver when it was really dry or the ground was frozen because he lived down this little goat path in the woods,” Koehling said.

Later, Harrington took her under his wing when she started selling at the Waterfront Flea Market in 2009. He was already a fixture there and taught Koehling to tell the difference between interesting ephemera and plain, old junk.

He would often wander over to her stall, cradling some just-acquired artifact in his hand, obviously pleased. Harrington would then ask her to guess what it was he was holding. After she guessed right or wrong, he’d then proceed to tell her all about it.

“He had the eye and the knowledge,” she said. “There was not one item in his stalls he didn’t know about. He was never stumped.”

A bearded Jed Harrington poses for a picture at his Waterfront Flea Market stall in Brunswick in an undated photograph. Harrington died in October but will long be remembered by his friends. Credit: Courtesy of Donna Koehling

Auction items from Harringhton’s collection listed online hint of his taste and eye for sellable artifacts. A box of oil lamp parts, a mid-century-modern arm chair, a Lucite Christmas tree and eight heart-shaped silver sip-and-serve straws are all on the list.

So are cufflinks with sailing ship designs, a jeweled brooch pierced by a tiny Scottish sword and a small horse-shoe-shaped leather box adorned with a nude figure in a bubble bath.

Koehling said Harrington was a small man with a snow-white beard who usually wore a brimmed hat. She remembers him as quiet — until he got to know you. Then the stories would come tumbling out.

“And once you were his friend, you were his family,” she said, “and he knew thousands of people. We had our own little family down there, full of misfits, so to speak.”

His friends included regular wheeler-dealer flea market types, casual browsers and summer folks who made pilgrimages to his stalls as part of their annual vacations.

“He was a tourist attraction,” Koehling said.

Tony Gatti, another seller at the flea market, called Harrington a friend for 30 years.

“He was the most honest man I ever knew,” Gatti said. “We were pretty close. I used to kid around and call him my older brother.”

Gatti said Harrington was generous, too, sometimes lending money to folks down on their luck and even letting a fellow flea marketeer come and live with him when the man found himself homeless.

“Yeah, we were a family down there and still are — 8 to 4, Saturdays and Sundays,” Gatti said, referring to the market’s hours of operation.

Gatti said he and some other stall operators are starting to plan a celebration of life for Harrington next year. It will likely be held after hours at the flea market and be catered by the Fairground Cafe in Topsham.

Two undated photographs show Jed Harrington in his younger days. Harrington died at 85 on October 2, 2022. Credit: Courtesy of Donna Koehling

Cafe owner Perry Levitt was another of Harrington’s countless friends.

About two weeks before he died, Young met up with Harrington on a bench, halfway down the path leading to their cabins in Phippsburg. It was a frequent rest stop for Harrington, feeling the effects of his heart troubles.

They had an unusually long and deep conversation.

“About old times, good times, our philosophies of life,” Young said.

At the end, she took a selfie of them both with her iPad. Young didn’t know it would be their final chat.

“I’m glad I took that picture,” she said.

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Troy R. Bennett

Troy R. Bennett is a Buxton native and longtime Portland resident whose photojournalism has appeared in media outlets all over the world.