Review by Nan Lincoln
BAR HARBOR — Most folks who have lived on Mount Desert Island for more than 70 years have a tale to tell of the Great Fire of ’47. Even those who came on the scene 10 or 20 years later often recall seeing the devastation it wreaked; how roads leading to and from Bar Harbor — now in glorious gold, orange and scarlet foliage — were once wastelands of charred tree stumps and blackened foundation stones.
Now, thanks to local filmmaker Peter Logue, the Bar Harbor Historical Society and executive producer Kim Swan of Sotheby’s International Realty, many of those bits and pieces of memories and fire-related anecdotes have been gathered together in the fascinating and informative documentary film “The Fire of ’47.”
The film premiered at The Criterion Theatre Oct. 1 and was shown there again Oct. 19. That the theater was close to sold out on both occasions is eloquent testimony for how interested people are to hear those stories on a subject that still looms large in the collective consciousness here.
In the film, more than 20 folks of a certain age, relate their fire-borne tales for Logue’s camera.
Some were hair-raising, such as Bruce Cameron talking about being one of a group of young men standing in the back of a pickup. Their firefighting efforts ended and their lives almost did when they were pitched out onto a rocky embankment as the truck hurtled around a curve on the way to a new fire outbreak.
Patricia Curtis remembers the trees along the road exploding into flame as her family drove away.
Some of the stories are even funny, such as Dottie Cooke’s recollection of being deeply disappointed when, as a youngster, she didn’t get to drive her family to safety in the family Ford when her dad returned in the nick of time. John Stewart recollected his father’s remark when he heard his wife was changing her clothes before going down to the harbor to be evacuated.
“Where the hell does she think she’s going? To a party!”
And some of the stories are heartbreaking. Though the scars on the landscape have been transformed into a lush growth of trees over the past seven decades, the emotional scars linger.
Cooke still tears up when she remembers her schoolmate Helen Cormier, who died in a car accident on her way to safety.
Logue must have a very good behind-the-lens manner, as each of these storytellers seems completely at ease in front of the camera and relates their tale with a minimum of nervous fidgeting and a maximum of clear diction.
Speaking of good diction, the stories are woven together with a well-crafted narrative apparently gleaned from news stories and journal accounts by the familiar, authoritative voice of Seal Harbor resident and professional voice actor Steve Zirnkilton.
While many of us may have heard stories like these before and have probably seen some of the black-and-white photos of the fire and its aftermath in anniversary newspaper articles, few have seen the terrible images of the actual fire sweeping across the crest of McFarland Hill on its way to Somes Sound.
Logue has managed to find these moving picture clips and others, including some taken from the Trenton side of the bridge, showing the whole northern end of MDI lying under a pall of billowing smoke. He also enlisted Mike Perlman to shoot current day aerial footage of the fire’s path and Andrew Lynch for a pleasing original guitar score.
It all adds up to an excellent piece of documentary filmmaking and an important addition to the archive of local history.
Those who missed The Criterion’s showings or want to see it again can catch it at the American Legion Hall in Southwest Harbor on Saturday, Oct. 28, at 4 p.m., at The Grand on Thursday, Nov. 2, at 7 p.m. and at the Northeast Harbor Library on Thursday, Nov. 9, at 5:30 p.m. Another screening also may be scheduled at The Criterion in the near future.
Call 288-0000 or visit the Fire of ’47 page on Facebook.