FEATURED COLUMN by John McDonald: Out with the old can be dangerous

By John McDonald

There was a New Year’s Eve custom in Italy where homeowners and apartment dwellers took old items they didn’t need or want anymore and threw them out the window into the street.
I had heard about the custom but didn’t believe it until I spent a New Year’s Eve in Rome — during my crazy college days — and saw it done with my own eyes.

As you might expect this year-end activity caused more than a few injuries to innocent pedestrians over the years, and the practice is not encouraged by government officials, yet dangerous customs are most often the hardest to do away with and so — dangerous or not — this zany one is said to continue.
While keeping the windows here at Storyteller Central closed as I write this column, nonetheless, I do intend to get rid of a few old e-mails that arrived over the past year but, for reasons that will soon be clear, never got any further than the ‘in’ box. For example, a while back Chet from Newport wrote: “John, my buddies and I were sitting around my kitchen the other night talking about one thing or another and Dave, one of my buddies, asked if anyone knew where Maine’s first limestone quarry was dug. I said I thought, because of its name, it must have been in Limestone, but Arthur said he thought the first quarry was in Rockport. Peter then piped up and insisted the first quarry was dug in Rockland.
“Rather than argue further about it I decided to e-mail you for the answer and we all agreed we’d go by whatever you say. So, John, assuming one of us must be right, I ask, ‘Was Maine’s first limestone quarry in Limestone, Rockport or Rockland?’ ”
Thanks for the curious e-mail, Chet. I’m too polite to ask what you and your buddies were using as your beverage of choice that night as you sat around discussing such weighty issues, but I hope your buddies had a designated driver for the ride home. That aside, I can tell you without even checking that you and your buddies were all wrong about the location of Maine’s first limestone quarry. Close, but no cigar, as they say at the carnival!
As you know, Chet, I’m not just an erudite columnist. I also host a radio talk show in Portland (WGAN Saturday and Sunday, 6 to 10 a.m.) and like most talk show hosts, my head has to be filled with some of the most useful information known to exist in the minds of men, which helps fill up all those hours we have to fill on the air. Anyway, somewhere in the mountain of useful facts I have on file in my head is the answer to your limestone quarry question.
They started digging in Maine’s first limestone quarry in Thomaston in 1733 — almost 100 years before we even became a state. Once they got their fill of limestone from the quarry, they decided to build a prison over it.
Sometime last spring, Ethan from Falmouth wrote “John, I read your column every week and find it most enjoyable. The other day we were talking about American presidents and local place names, and I said I assumed that either the town of Lincoln, Lincoln County, or Lincolnville was named after our 16th president. My friend insists that none of those places was named for the Great Emancipator. Is that true? I find it hard to believe.”
Thanks for the e-mail, Ethan. Yes, it is true. There are no towns, cities, counties or even endangered species in Maine named for Honest Abe. The town of Lincoln is named for Enoch Lincoln, our sixth governor; Lincolnville is named for American Revolutionary War Gen. Benjamin Lincoln, an incorporator of the town; and Lincoln County was named for Thomas Pownal, a governor of Massachusetts, who came from Lincoln, England.
Go figure. Since most people have never heard of those three obscure guys, you’re free to say one of those places is named for the famed author of the Gettysburg Address. Just don’t tell your friend.

John McDonald is a storyteller and the author of five regional bestsellers – including “A Moose and a Lobster Walk into a Bar” and “The Maine Dictionary.” Contact him at 207-240-8324 / maineauthorjohn.mcdonald@yahoo.com