Picnic spotlights bygone summers

Tommy Alley, a member of the museum’s board of directors, gave rides in this 1912 Crane. The vehicle is one of 57 antique cars and 17 motorcycles in the museum’s collection.

The Seal Cove Auto Museum found a novel way to put the fun back in fundraising with their recent Rusticator’s Picnic on the museum grounds. More than 100 people attended the Aug. 10 event, many dressed in period costumes.

“For the first time out, it was a great success,” said the museum’s Executive Director Raney Bench.

The picnic raised about $9,000 for the Tremont nonprofit organization. More importantly, it drew attention to the museum and what it has to offer: More than 70 antique cars and motorcycles on grounds overlooking Seal Cove Pond and Western Mountain.

Deciding on a theme for what is to become an annual event wasn’t that difficult, Bench said.

“We wanted a theme that complimented the island and resonated with the people here,” she explained.

As it turns out, the theme also fits in with the museum’s collection of antique cars and motorcycles, vehicles ranging from the late 1890s through 1930 or so.

For those not familiar with the term “rusticator,” that was the name given to early summer residents of Mount Desert Island. Entire families would escape the heat of the city and come to the island to hike, sail and take part in other outdoor activities.

Some of these rusticators were more adamant about retaining the island’s unspoiled character than others, a difference of opinion that led to what Bench described as the “auto wars” of the early 20th century. The divide of whether to allow motor vehicles on Mount Desert Island was settled in 1916, with, obviously, those in favor winning out.

Many of the modern-day “rusticators” attending the museum picnic would not have looked out of place driving up to a church picnic in their Pierce Arrow back in 1918. Women wore long skirts and feathery hats. Men and boys were in knickers. Here and there, a flapper shimmied and shook. This came as a surprise to the museum’s board of directors.

“Costumes were suggested, but we wanted to make it costume-optional,” Ms. Bench said.

Period clothing also was on display inside the museum. Mannequins wearing the collection of Southwest Harbor resident Norman Spurling were posed next to some of the most impressive cars at the museum. The clothing is on display through the month.

The museum’s displays aren’t just static. Two of the vehicles – a 1908 Alco and a 1912 Crane – gave picnickers a chance to experience what it was like to take a drive in the days of the rusticators. Chauffeurs for the day were Tommy Alley, Cordell Snow and Andy Oldham.

Organizers are already planning for next year’s picnic. Expect more activities, including a demonstration on riding a high-wheel bicycle, Ms. Raney said. For those who can’t wait, the museum is open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. through October.

Mark Good

Mark Good

Reporter at Mount Desert Islander
Mark Good

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