The Isle of Mt. Deserted

A Prophecy by Arthur Train

Editor’s Note: New York Newspaper man Arthur Train, convinced that allowing automobiles on Mount Desert Island would be the ruin of the place, wrote a “science fiction” story for the Bar Harbor Record on Aug. 28, 1907. Excerpts appear below.

Writer Arthur Train predicted Mount Desert Island would be a charred moonscape if automobiles were allowed on local roads. FILE PHOTO

Writer Arthur Train predicted Mount Desert Island would be a charred moonscape if automobiles were allowed on local roads.

It was on July 4, 1920, after the evacuation of Bar Harbor by its summer residents, that I determined to revisit the scenes of my youth and observe what changes, if any, time had wrought there.

Inquiry revealed the fact that no regular line of motor boats now touched at the island since the only summer visitors were excursionists who came in great hordes by rail at greatly reduce rates and I was forced to row to Bass Harbor where I could take the double decker trolley which runs around the island.

As the reader is aware, Bass Harbor is today the commercial centre of Mount Desert… .

The erstwhile little fishing village is now a thriving town with two large hotels owned by Moe Levy of New York, one of them having a thousand fully furnished rooms, fourteen garages, two gasoline factories, car works and train sheds.

Excursionists visiting Mt. Desert are carried direct to a point whence sightseeing automobiles start every forty minutes, making the trip around the island in a little over an hour … . The town presents a scene of great activity, and while it is true that much of the surrounding scenery has suffered in appearance owing to the extensive conflagrations occasioned by the explosion of gasoline tanks … .

One of the sightseeing coaches, a blazing bright vermillion thing, was about to start, and I was fortunate enough to secure a front seat next to the driver, who, much to my surprise, greeted me familiarly. At first I could hardly bring myself to believe that this emaciated person in bifurcated whiskers, goggles, dust coat and megaphone was my old friend Foley … .

He turned the crank and amid a series of deafening explosions the car started slowly forward. In a few seconds we were thundering through the remains of Southwest Harbor and on towards what used to be Somesville, leaving a cloud of peanut speckled dust behind us.

“Gee,” whispered Foley. “I wish some of the old Bar Harborites could see us now! This place is a regular Coney Island – all except the camels. It’s nothing but a big picnic ground for ‘Elks,’ and ‘Spiritualists’ and ‘Holy Ghosters.’ The whole island is full of campers from Skowhegan, Bucksport, Rockland and Ellsworth, that don’t do nothin’ but sit in front of their tents, eat bananas and read the Sunday Papers.

“Everyone that cut any figure has gone long ago. The cutunder drivers is out of business like everybody else and has gone back to catchin’ lobsters and diggin’ clams…

“Hosses? There isn’t a hose on the island except one they keep in the museum that kicked a motor car off Beech Cliff and went right on feedin’.

“Cottagers? Not a one except the excursionists and the gum chewers, which is what I calls them campers.”

We had passed Somesville and were now tearing along Sergeant Drive towards Northeast. The farms were deserted. No signs of life was manifest anywhere. The hills on either hand were covered with the blackened stumps of what had been noble forests. Every moment some motor shrieked by us tooting its horn and poisoning the clear air with its noxious gases. No laborer worked in the fields. No chicken pecked in the middle of the road.

“I don’t see any dogs,” I ventured.

“They’re extinct,” answered Foley.

“Or children,” I added hesitatingly. Foley waved his hand towards a stone dotted hillside.

“They are there,” he said, sadly, “but,” and he brightened perceptibly, “the survivors are given daily lessons by the Mt. Desert Kindergarten association, in running motors.”

“It’s time for me to begin my lecture,” exclaimed Foley, adjusting his megaphone as we passed the ruins of the Kimball House.

“Any of you folks who wants to go to Jordan’s Pond can git a transfer on the trolley that leaves here every fifteen minutes.”

Foley continued his retrospective of the island’s recent history. “We have now,” he said, “railroads runnin’ to the tops of all the mountains. You can get a round trip ticket for a dollar that will take you up Green Mountain in a regular Pullman car. They coast down to Eagle lake and shoot half way up Sergeant again’, a sort of ‘shoot the chutes.’ it is great. There aren’t such an awful lot of accidents, either.

“They also have fresh water bathin’ in all the reservoirs. You see they’re not needed any more because there ain’t no people to drink the water.”

We thundered through the abandoned towns of Asticou and Seal Harbor. Foley turned to his auditors.

“This here used to be quite a place in the old days,” said he. “But all the college professors and musical folks has dropped. Even the seals has gone! It is now the junction of the ‘Jordan Pond Electric Tramway and Gas Heating Company,’ ‘The Pemetic Escalator & Steam Navigation company,’ ‘The Cooksy Subway and Aerial Transportation company,’ and ‘The Kennedy-Dorr-Amory Utilities Corporation.’ ”

We passed Otter Creek and swerved into Ocean Drive. A bunch of excursionists sat eating lunch on the cliffs and the road was lined with cars of every variety of cheap make. Everywhere could be seen clouds of dust and the air was filled with fumes of gas and the honk of horns.

“This, ladies and gents,” shouted Foley through his trumpet, “Is known as Dead Man’s Cove. It is a fact which can be supported by statistics that more folks, innocent and guilty, have been killed here than anywhere else in the United States … .”

During our progress along the drive we forced two or three motors upon the rocks and, as a result of meeting two touring cars at a narrow turn, were compelled to push them backwards ahead of us as far as Sand Beach.

This beautiful strip of shore is now a camp-ground for the “Holy Ghosters” and a spur of the Maine Central runs direct to the gospel tent. Newport Mountain, however, remains nearly the same, although the enormous white advertisement of the Auto somewhat disfigures the cliffs upon the ocean side.

“You ought to auto!”

“Try our motors and die happy!”

Schooner Head has also been turned into a pleasure park … .

As we started down the hill at Mr. Dorr’s gate a scene of devastation came to my saddened eyes. The beautiful trees which once lined the road are most of them broken short off, owning to the careless driving of inexperienced chauffeurs and a cloud of poisonous smoke ever hovering overhead has killed every green thing for twenty feet on each side of the driveway … .

“Well, most of the fine places on the Shore Path was turned into a cemetery about 1912. A few of them has been brought up by Bangor people who come down here in their bubbles for the week ends.”

“You are like the rest,” he sighed. “When they first let in the wiz chariots, folks thought that it would whoop up business to beat the band. The hotels all built additions and every stable was turned in to a garage. The storekeepers laid in new stock and every restaurant in town hired a corps of extra waiters. Then everyone got ready for the boom to come.

“It was a farmer from Trenton that had mortgaged his house and bought an old second hand buz buggy for $375. He came popping down from the bridge while the selectmen lined up and cheered. They thought he was Harriman or Rockefeller. Well, the farmer he run over four dogs, knocked down the village clock, upset the S.P.C.A. horse trough, ran his machine into the post office and frightened thirty-nine horses on Main street, all of which ran way. Then he said, ‘Wall, I swan!’ and he was fellin’ pretty good he went over to the corner and bought a bottle of root beer for five cents.

“Then he went whoop-back to Trenton carryin’ the root beer bottle with him. that was how the boom came to Bar Harbor.”

“That afternoon there was no cutunders to be had, so next day six hundred and ninety-seven old ladies who boarded at the hotels called for their time and left town. They took with them one thousand three hundred and twenty-nine maids and nieces who was stayin’ with ’em. The hotel men began to look sorrowful. The follerin’ Monday most of the waiters left cause the maids had gone and all the young sports about town moved out on account of the nieces.

“Well, pretty soon the automobilists began to come – shoals of ’em. But they was all farmers from Lamoine, Hancock, Franklin Roads, Cherryfield and Machias. The town looked in vain for the champagne drinkers and money tossers that had been expected. The tourists that did come brought sandwiches with ’em and after running round the island went home again. It was a regular sell. No one bought anything at all; the hotels all went bust; the old ladies refused to come back; and the cottagers moved away.”

And I saw that what Foley said was only too true. Yellow grass grew between the cinders in the street. The shops were closed and stared out upon us with glassless windows. The fences were broken down; the village green had been turned into a rubbish heap for old motor wreckage; the hotels were boarded up and the roofs of the straggling verandas had fallen in.

“The wharves had rotted away; the Temple of the Arts had been turned into a garage, and the only shops still open sold ten cent lunches and soft drinks.

“Clean busted!” repeated Foley, “and served ’em right! It’s hardly worth while bein’ mayor of a place like this. The only business man left is Bee, and he sells gasolene and undertaking supplies.”

And the car with a shriek swept onward towards Hulls Cove.

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