Cassandra is forever remembered with a sigh, for she was the saddest and most pitiful of all. Gifted with absolute prophecy, she foretold only what came to pass, but it was fated that nobody would believe her. She foretold the sack of Troy, but they brought the horse through the gate.
Chesley Pinkham may be the second most pitiful, and I offer him for your consideration. His story begins in the late l700s, when the folks on Martha's Vineyard, Mass., decided to leave their island and move to Maine. Thus begins the history of the town of New Vineyard, up in the woods of Maine.
You will perhaps not hear of this town otherwise, or of Mr. Pinkham. Mr. Pinkham! His ghost is said to flit up and down the Carrabassett River now, seeking, seeking, seeking what he cannot find, pitiful with the frustrations of Cassandra.
These folks on the island of Martha's Vineyard amounted to seven families.
They had come in the beginnings of America, before the Pilgrims, to share in the prosperity of the newly established fisheries, to cut and cure cod and cheat the Indians. But they had found life out on the island less fun than they had expected, and after a time they began thinking about moving along.
Massachusetts came to own Maine, land was cheap, and arrangements were made. The seven families set out with ox teams to make the long trip, and they came at last to the place they were to name New Vineyard, Maine.
They were glad to be far from the sea, and set to work clearing land, planting crops, building, and starting a new life.
The seven families took up seven farms one mile apart on the new road that ran east to west over New Vineyard Mountain into the wilderness that reaches beyond Lewis & Clark into forsooth.
The mountain was far from good tillage, but they succeeded and made things work out.
Then there came a day when the little community needed a miller and went looking to find out what could be done. In this endeavor, they did business with Chesley Pinkham.
Mr. Pinkham was not a member of the original company, but had established himself down-country as a miller and had prospered. He was of a mind to better himself and in a mood to dicker. Certainly he could come to New Vineyard and be resident miller for the community; what were the terms?
The New Vineyard folks guaranteed him an income, agreed to settle him on his own land, would build him a mill, and would permit him to do general milling for the public. Mr. Pinkham readily agreed and moved at once to New Vineyard, where he was the miller the rest of his days.
The small stream that operated the Pinkham Mill rises from springs in the mountainside and flows to the dam site. It then cascades from granite pool to granite pool and drops abruptly into the valley.
Then it meanders a few miles through woodland and meadow, and reaches the Carrabassett River.
The cascade is most beautiful today, if you know where to look, but nothing else remains to indicate where the mill was.
Mr. Pinkham's home was the last home on the mountain to fall and disappear into the forest turf. Mr. Pinkham outlived all his New Vineyard neighbors.
In his later years Mr. Pinkham became a recluse, a woods-queer character who avoided people and kept to himself. He did continue to grind grains, and was said to be wealthy and miserly.
It was well known, for instance, that every time he accumulated the equivalent of $20 he would go down to the shire town and swap for a $20 gold piece, which was then termed a "double eagle," an eagle being the $10 gold coin.
It was believed that Mr. Pinkham had a secret treasure somewhere that ran to a big collection of double-eagles. Nobody really knew.
In 1910, a mischievous freak spring freshet swept down the New Vineyard stream and washed away the Pinkham dam and mill, removing every trace, and scattering the boards and timbers down the valley. That next morning, there wasn't a trace; no more than there is there today, if you go and look.
It would be many years later that Chesley Pinkham shared his secret and anyone else knew where his treasure had been hidden. Meantime he kept that to himself and maintained a constant search up and down the river below, looking and looking and looking and looking.
He never found what he was looking for.
Each time he'd gotten a new $20 gold piece, he would go down under his mill and push it into an auger-hole in a timber of his mill. When a hole was full, he put in a plug and started a new hole.
Chesley Pinkham never found one of his timbers.
After he confided in others, everybody began looking for Chesley's timbers, but nobody ever admitted to finding one. Somewhere along the Carrabassett River, someday, someone may strike a Mother Lode!
But remember frustrated Cassandra as well.
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor