When Bun Bartley's obituary appeared in the Bangor Daily News last Christmastime, I was obliged to smile at the sentence that said he had an interest in theatricals. We'd known Bun, whose front name was really Hastings, and his wife, Jayne, for many years and knew very well that Bun considered all the world a stage and he had played many parts. Bun even played me on one merry occasion.
If anybody "from away" plans to visit Maine, one of the things to see is the memorial shaft to the "river driver." Not too many folks visit it, as it's in the wilderness on the shore of vast Chesunook Lake, well away from a numbered highway. It stands by the old Chesunook Dam boomhouse, which in river-driving days was a base depot near the beginning of the west branch of the Penobscot River. Today it'd be near Ripogenus Dam and the south entrance to Baxter State Park.
Baxter State Park, which should be on your schedule, runs to some 200,000 acres given to the people of Maine by Percival P. Baxter, governor in the 1920s. He bought the land, parcel by parcel, as it became available, and in 1931 began his donations.
The river drivers of Maine were daredevil woodsmen who herded the winter's harvest of logs downstream on the spring freshet. Those who survived are legend, and those who lost their lives were buried along the river, close to their last mistakes. You can tell where by hand-forged crosses made by the lumber-camp blacksmith. The "Bangor Tigers" were the varsity team of this trade, and the Tigers rode many a rapid on churning, twisting logs, balancing with their long pick-poles, and thought nothing of it.
One year, in fact, there were problems on the Connecticut River, and the crack river men of that region refused to start the drive. If the drive didn't go on the vernal high water, there was small profit in stranded logs upriver. Facing ruin, the timberland owners sent a panicked message, and overnight the Bangor Tigers were in New Hampshire ready to go. With beautiful precision that was their talent, the Tigers brought a few million feet of timber down from the Connecticut Lakes and boomed the drive in Long Island Sound. Never lost a twig. We're told they took the drive through Springfield, Mass., in 28 minutes, and boys running along the bank to watch were left behind.
So there's a memorial shaft at Chesunook Dam boomhouse, and you should see it. The granite is hung with the tools of lumbering, with the river-driving tools prominent, and on top is a cast-iron bean pot such as drive-cooks used in a bean-hole to feed the crew the delicious "logging berries."
The day this monument was dedicated, the Great Northern Paper Company put on a big lumber-camp feed, and Bun Bartley, who was a forester for that company, planned the affair. Bill Pelletier, the best of the old-time woods cooks, handled the "beans and with-its," and nobody went away hungry. Speeches were to the point, and maybe half the crowd were old-time river-hogs who'd long since retired.
It was a memorable day. Among the guests was former-governor Percival P. Baxter, who chanced to be in the area to inspect the park he'd given to the people of Maine. He did this every year. He'd leave his home on Baxter Boulevard in Portland in a luxury-model Caddy, chauffeur-driven, and with several dignitaries of his age would tour into the woods, look his park over, make a few courtesy calls, and after a week or so would return to Portland. Invited to the monument dedication, he had come to lend dignity, and one of his chums that year was a justice of Maine's Law, or supreme court, named, I think, Merrill.
Anyway, the monument party was over, the banquet had been itself monumental, and now everybody was driving off to go home.
My tenting-out wife and I had set up to one side, and in the late-afternoon sun we were on folding chairs by our tent. Bun's party had gone well, and Bun and Jayne had come over to sit with us before they took off for home. Bun had his feet up and was catchin' a breath, and along came Baxter's Caddy. But instead of passing along the road, it pulled up by our tent, and out stepped Mr. Baxter and Justice Merrill.
Justice Merrill (long a bosom crony of Baxter) stuck out his hand and said, "Mr. Gould, I heard you were here, and I've long wanted to shake your hand! I read you every week, and this is an extreme pleasure."
And before I could respond in any way, Bun Bartley, who dabbled in theatrics, stood up, grasped Justice Merrill's hand and said, "The pleasure is mine, I assure you, your honor, and I'd like you to meet Mr. Hastings Bartley of Millinocket and our ladies." Justice Merrill said, "How do you do? "
Then Justice Merrill turned and said, "And have you folks met my friend, Gov. Percival P. Baxter?"
Bun and I had met Baxter many times, but he didn't remember either of us. Shortly our distinguished guests returned to the Caddy and it purred off down the road. Mr. Gould and I returned to sit on our folding chairs with our ladies, who were now calling Bun "John" and me "Bun."
To all of which, I suppose, there is nothing in particular except that I did know Bun could playact.