Ski history news from Aroostook County
This page is the newest addition to the Ski Museum of Maine's website. This space is intended to provide news of recent ski history research in Aroostook County. Aroostook is Maine's largest county — plus it's the birthplace of skiing in our state.
The principal reporter/researcher is Karla Wolters, a history buff who resides in Madawaska Lake four months per year. Assisting her is Scott Andrews, the Ski Museum's curator and research director.
Karla Wolters poses with hand-crafted skis at New Sweden Historical Society
Karla spent many hours this past summer traveling around the County, visiting local historical societies, libraries and people connected with Aroostook ski history.
Karla returned to her home in Michigan in early October, bringing her summer's trove of notes and photographs with her. Over the course of the next few months she'll share her experiences and the results of her research in this online space. We encourage you to keep coming back to this page to see the latest postings!
I. Getting started: June in Fort Fairfield
For many people, summer time is a time for doing projects; crossing off something on your “bucket list” and going places. In mid-June, as I drove from our home in Zeeland, Michigan, to our camp at Madawaska Lake (near Stockholm), I contemplated what I wanted to do this summer, 2011.
An annual project for me is making jam and I was eager to hit the strawberry fields and other fruit bushes. On my bucket list, I was seriously thinking of going on a Maine archaeological dig. As for going places, there were still plenty of places in the County I had not visited yet. Little did I know, just a few days after my arrival, that I would receive a call from Scott Andrews that would help me have a very fulfilling summer.
After retiring as a teacher of Sport History, I still wanted to do something significant in the field. I wrote a note to the Ski Museum of Maine offering my services if they had any projects with which they needed help. Scott called and asked if I would help dig into the history of skiing in the "County," as we call Aroostook County, the largest county in the state of Maine.
I eagerly accepted the opportunity to find the ghost tows and trails, identify the abandoned ski jumps, and to track down former skiers and historians who could help me with this project. Within a few days, I quickly realized that this effort would be bigger than any other project I had ever researched and one I would surely never forget.
The avalanche of information about 140 years of skiing in Aroostook, a county as large as Connecticut and Rhode Island put together, seemed overwhelming at first, but the more information about County skiing I was able to dig up, the more I wanted to know.
FORT FAIRFIELD PUBLIC LIBRARY
Having visited the Stockholm and New Sweden Museums almost every summer, I decided to head to Fort Fairfield for new leads during the first week of my digging for County ski information. I drove straight to the public library where I was warmly greeted by Sharon Nadeau.
A former skier herself, Sharon was very enthusiastic about the project and brought me to a locked room that contains the library’s old bound Fort Fairfield Record newspapers from the early 20th century, a box of Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival programs and other books and documents that Sharon thought might be helpful to me.
Picture me now on a warm summer day in a room without air conditioning, sweat beading up on my brow, devouring the weekly Record newspapers in the over-sized bound books. The interesting articles about winter sports in Fort Fairfield and surrounding communities, kept me cool. It was quite easy to find information about winter sports in the Record, because it was always on the front page of the paper.
This front-page exposure immediately indicated to me that winter sports were important in this community. The high school teams were revered, the town supported the winter sport teams and their involvement in meets and winter carnivals, and the hard work to create and maintain local winter sport facilities was gratefully acknowledged every year.
One of the first things I found was this interesting short article in the Record about Clare Lockhart, a female ski jumper from the 1930s. Here’s a photo reproduction of the printed page:
Here’s the short text, again in photo reproduction:
Unfortunately, the above is all we know (at the moment) about this interesting young lady. In the future I hope to learn more. Anybody out there know her or know anything about her?
FORT FAIRFIELD WINTER CARNIVALS
Sharon directed me to the library's nearly complete collection of program books from the Fort Fairfield Winter Carnivals. These are the best and most compact sources of information available. Plus they're fun to read. I particularly admire the handsome artwork on the cover of the 1930 edition:
Interscholastic coed winter sports had started a few years before the winter carnivals began. Fort Fairfield's first winter carnival, held in 1929 featured open events, while the second Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival was a combination of open events and a triangular schoolboy meet between Limestone, Fort Fairfield and Easton. The latter won the meet.
The driving force behind the competitions was Fort Fairfield resident, Roger T. Hall, a former skier at Middlebury College, who participated in the famous Dartmouth Winter Carnivals during his college days. Hall would continue to manage the Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival for many years.
Hall's writeup in the program book emphasizes the importance of the collegiate outing clubs and outing teams to the development of skiing. Here's a scanned reproduction:
What set the Fort Fairfield winter carnivals apart from other County winter carnivals were the interscholastic meets and the unique open races created by Hall and his committee. In the second winter carnival, the slate of events included a motorcycle-sled race, the dog race,the snowshoe obstacle race and the very popular ski-joring race.
The dangerous and exciting ski-joring race was held on Main Street where men on short skis were harnessed to horses with a rider on each horse. When the gun went off the skiers were pulled along until they fell or crossed the finish line. The first year, only two skiers finished the race out of six who started.
By the 1930s, the three-way school meets were growing larger, and the Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival was soon hosting County-wide competitions. This scanned excerpt from the 1931 carnival shows no fewer than 19 schools in attendance:
In the next addition to "County Connection," we'll look at some more interesting and informative details from the program books of the 1930s.
The Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival was also known for having outstanding exhibitions by terrific athletes from outside the County. Donald "Deak" Rollins of Colby College, was the first person to show his skill during the second carnival, demonstrating his ability to ski jump off the Fisher Hill.
Two other ski jumpers demonstrated their athleticism in subsequent carnivals in Fort Fairfield, Edward Goguan from the Chisholm Ski Club in Rumford, and 11- year-old Aurele Legere, also of Rumford. Legere would go on to become one of the finest ski jumpers in the Northeast. He is an honored member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame.
Bobby McLean, a world championship speed skater and a maker of quality skates, and Russ Jones, an acrobatic figure skater, would also provide exciting entertainment in later carnivals.
In the eighth winter carnival in Fort Fairfield held in 1935, the Record reported that ski racing was taking off all over the United States, particularly in the Northeast. New races were added every year in Fort Fairfield and in this year, the Recordindicated that there would be races for both men and women. In addition to the Chisholm Ski Club, the Nansen Ski Club of Berlin, N.H., was invited to send an exhibition jumping team.
Two of the women’s races, the ski dash and the skate race, were similar to women's races held in other carnivals, but the two other races were new and unique to County carnivals, the ski potato race and the three-legged race. The potato race required competitors to ski without poles 50 yards, pick a potato off the ground — with their skis on — and return to the finish line. Leave it to the County residents to include the famous County vegetable in a race!
The second race proved to be more difficult as two women would be bound together by their inside legs while they skied with their own ski on the outside leg. Very little other information was found about these initial races for females.
The interscholastic competition continued to grow every year of the Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival. On the 10th anniversary of the carnival in 1937, 24 high schools participated. In 1938, an incredible 31 Maine high schools with 340 student athletes — some from as far away as Greenville — made their way to Fort Fairfield. The occasion marked largest interscholastic meet held at the town's carnival.
MEETING ELIDA ERICKSON MCNEILL
Let’s back up a bit.
When I found the picture of Clare Lockhart, Fort Fairfield’s notable competitive girl skier, I began to wonder if she was the only Aroostook County girl who skied competitively early 20th century. I combed copies of the Fort Fairfield Record and Winter Carnival programs, but no other names of County girl skiers graced those media in the late 1920s and early 1930s.
But I wasn’t stymied for long. While walking with a friend, County native Carol Carlson, I asked her if she knew of other County female skiers during this period. Without hesitation, Carol said that almost all schoolchildren in New Sweden, Stockholm, and Jemtland skied to school, after school and on weekends.
Both boys and girls flew off homemade ski jumps, skied between twigs in slalom courses, and through the woods on open fields and flats.
Carol added that one of the best early female skiers in the area lived in a camp just down the road we were taking for our walk that day! We decided to see if Elida Erickson McNeill was home and we were thrilled when she answered our knock on her door.
When Carol told Elida of my research, Elida eagerly raced upstairs to get a box of her skiing ribbons and pulled out an album of pictures from her youth that included several wonderful skiing shots. Here's one from the 1930s.
Elida was delighted to share some of her skiing stories. She said she came into skiing as most County Swedes did: following in the ski tracks of her older brother. Her father built her first pair of skis. Elida is not exactly sure how old she was when she started skiing, but she tells people, with tongue in cheek, that she skied before she walked.
She had no fear on her dad's homemade boards, schussing downhill or through the slalom course or jumping off the four-foot ski jump that
her brother and other neighborhood boys made for the kids in Jemtland. The Ericksons' kitchen window provided a full view for her parents to watch the skiing action on the hill.
Elida remembers one particular day her father issued a no jumping edict. When she returned home he said sternly: "You jumped five
times." Elida knew he was watching her out the window.
Elida was thrilled to share several of her favorite skiing memories. On Christmas Eve, when she was 15, her parents gave her a pair of Henry Anderson skis, the finest skis made in the County.
After a little supper her family allowed her to go out into the moonlit night to ski. When she got cold she came back for a hot drink and something to eat and went out again and again that night on her new skis, her family thrilled that she was enjoying her gift.
She participated in the 1937 Fort Fairfield Winter Carnival when Maine's governor, Lewis Barrows, took part. Elida found herself standing next to the governor at the starting line of the Girls 100-yard ski dash. She was not expecting the governor to fire the starter's pistol so closely to her. Although the blast startled her, Elida recovered in time to win a ribbon in the race.
The Jemtland School Winter Carnival was close to home, but Elida also took the Bangor and Aroostook train to the Stockholm Winter Carnival and other County winter carnivals farther away.
Some winter carnivals included an interscholastic meet. The Caribou carnival was one such meet and Elida was a top finisher in one of the events. As a result, she earned her varsity letter “C” of which she is still very proud of today. Few girls earned a varsity letter in the mid-20th century and even fewer girls earned their letter in skiing.
Elida Erickson McNeill continued skiing well into her 50s and as an octogenarian still loves to share the wonderful memories of her adventures on skis. The above photos dates from the 1950s, while the one below is dated 1961.
I hope that people are enjoying "County Connection."