The literature on Katahdin is enormous, diverse and usually obscure. Readers who live far from the libraries of Maine may have trouble finding these sources; many were unearthed in the Special Collections Room at the library of the University of Maine at Orono.
Below I’ve listed several rare books and articles that have interesting or amusing stories to tell about Mount Katahdin and Baxter State Park. These sources and others helped inspire the book North to Katahdin. Much was written in the now-defunct periodical The Northern, published in the first half of the twentieth century by the Great Northern Paper Company (also now defunct).
Baxter, Percival P. Addresses 1921-1925. N.p.: n.p., n.d.
Speeches by the Governor on a number of topics, from prohibition (which he supported) to peace-time conscription (which he opposed), water rights, the state budget, the Ku Klux Klan, and lastly his 1925 farewell address, in which he laments his failure to establish Mount Katahdin State Park while in office.
Conniff, Richard. “Revolution in the Woods.” (Sept 1992): 66-76, 124-128.
First in a three-part series about the development of recreation and industry in the North Maine Woods, and their uncertain future. Resentment of Baxter State Park is growing in Maine. Regulations, designed to protect the woods from the ever-growing crowds of tourists, have come under fire. “I’ll tell you how people feel around Souderhunk Lake,” Conniff quotes a local man. “They sit around at midnight saying, ‘What a place for a nuclear dump. They ought to put it right down there in the middle of Katahdin.’“
Hakola, Dr. John W. Legacy of a Lifetime: The Story of Baxter State Park. Woolwich, Maine: TBW Books, 1981.
Leavitt, H. Walter. Katahdin Skylines. Orono: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1981.
First published in 1942. A history of trails and trailblazing in Baxter State Park, with details of slope and elevation, flora and fauna, illustrations, Abenaki folktales, Roy Dudley and Pamola.
Smith, Joseph Coburn. “Maine and Her Trees.” The Maine Naturalist. (March 1927): [n.p.]
The use of trees in the Pine Tree State, from colonial times to the building of sawmills for lumber and paper.
Abenaki History and Folklore
Anastas, Peter. Glooskap’s Children. Boston: Beacon Press, 1973.
Donato, Robert M. The Long Search: Abnaki of the Katahdin Area. Old Town, Maine: The Penobscot Times, 1979.
Eckstorm, Fannie. “The Katahdin Legends.” Appalachia (December 1924): 39-52.
After twenty years of difficult conversations with Molly Mollases, the oldest surviving Penobscot, the historian Eckstorm decided that “what an Indian is thinking and what a white man thinks the Indian is thinking are often two quite different things.”
Eckstorm, Fannie. Indian Place Names of the Penobscot Valley and the Maine Coast. Orono: University of Maine at Orono Press, 1978.
Smith, Marion Whitney. Katahdin Fantasies. Augusta: K. J. Printing, 1953.
Possibly the most entertaining yet least authentic retelling of Abenaki myths and legends. A boy named Little Red Fox lives deep underground with his people. One day, following a mischievous blue bird, he emerges through a crack between two boulders onto the surface of the Earth. Thus do the Abenakis enter the world.
Vetromile, Eugene. The Abnakis and Their History. New York: James B. Kirker, 1866.
Reverend Vetromile, like most missionaries, was blind to the disapproval of his congregation. Apparently he interfered in tribal affairs once too often; when the Penobscot Indians learned he was writing a book, they deliberately fed him disinformation. Vetromile just smiled, nodded eagerly and wrote it all down, happy that his people were being so cooperative.
Bradshaw, Marion J. The Nature of Maine: As Seen by a Teacher of Philosophy. Alliance, Ohio: Bradshaw Printing Service, 1944.
A book of essays accompanied by 177 artful black & white photographs, 14 of them of the Katahdin region. The author was a Professor of the Philosophy of Religion at the Bangor Theological Seminary, and he offers chapter titles as diverse as “A Night on Katahdin” and “The Sword of Christ.” The Katahdin chapter ends with an image of the mountain towering like a pillar of knowledge over the newly built Stearns High School in Millinocket.
Villani, Robert. Forever Wild. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 1991.
A collection of color photographs from every region of the park, accompanied by a fairly substantial text summarizing the park’s history, geology, and botany. Fortunately I never saw this beautiful book until after I finished my own; I might have given up in envious despair.
Antevs, Ernst. Alpine Zone of Mt. Washington Range. Maine: Merrill & Webber Company, 1932
The glacial history of the White Mountains, with comparisons to Mount Katahdin.
Caldwell, Dabney. The Geology of Baxter State Park and Mount Katahdin. Augusta: Department of Forestry, 1972.
Also published with Walter Leavitt’s Katahdin Skylines in 1981, by the University at Orono Press.
Ewer, S. Judson. “Botanical Explorations at Katahdin.” The Maine Naturalist. (1930): 87-98.
Ferris, Lloyd. Secrets of a Mountain. Portland: Guy Gannett Publishing, 1982.
A general geologic history of the mountains of New England.
Jackson, C.T. Second Annual Report on the Geology of the Public Lands of Maine and Massachusetts. Augusta: Luther Severance, 1838.
Jackson’s data helped justify American settlement of lands in Maine claimed by British Canada, though his British counterpart, Colin Campbell, argued otherwise. Campbell climbed Katahdin twice, in 1819 and 1820, and was accused of fudging his data to support the British in the boundary dispute, which became known as the Aroostook War. “His observations concerning heights of lands and the separation of watersheds as seen from Katahdin show that his primary task was to work toward a solution favorable to Britain in the boundary dispute,” writes John Hakola in Legacy of a Lifetime.
From Katahdin’s summit it is possible to see, or claim to see, landmarks hundreds of miles away and to calculate the distances between them. The exact elevation of Katahdin affected the surveyors’ calculations, and therefore was disputed. As Katahdin’s “official” height—and the Maine/New Brunswick border—fluctuated wildly, two nations were poised on the brink of war.
For his part, Campbell leveled the charge that the Americans were cheating too. This “Second Annual Report” also includes Jackson’s account of climbing Katahdin in a blizzard, following Louis Neptune’s cairns back to safety, as well as his estimate of 5300 feet, close enough to the 5267 we know today to be true.
Jackson, C.T. “Miscellaneous Remarks on Certain Portions of the Geology of Maine.” American Journal of Science and Arts. (Jul 1838): 69-73.
No mention of Katahdin, but includes an account of the methods used in Jackson’s role as Geologist for Maine and Massachusetts.
Kendall, David L. Glaciers and Granite: A Guide to Maine’s Landscape and Geology. Camden, Maine: Down East Books, 1987
A geological primer for the lay reader, with much about Baxter State Park. Also, the infamous Laski quote reappears, again misattributed to Thoreau: “...large lakes, described by Thoreau as ‘glittering in the dark forest like pieces of broken mirror scattered across a lawn.’“
Pollard, J. A. “Extinct Again” Appalachia (Jul-Aug 1993):18-22.
A report on the 1989 and 1990 attempts to reintroduce caribou to the Katahdin region. The experiments showed that small numbers of caribou released to the wild are unlikely to survive.
Roy, David C. and Richard S. Naylor, eds. Boston: Boston College Press, 1980.
Papers from the 72nd annual meeting of the New England Intercollegiate Geological Conference, held in Presque Isle from October 10-13, 1980. The book includes a humorous “Trail Log” by Dabney Caldwell, detailing his party’s trek to Katahdin. Upon reaching the Saddle Slide, he writes: “Here we will separate the men (who will go down the mountain) from the boys (who may want to climb to the summit). The summit is a hard mile from here, our cars somewhat over 5 miles away.” Most of the papers, however, are technical and assume a working knowledge of the terminology on the part of the reader.
Sprugel, Douglas G. and F.H. Bormann. “Natural Disturbance and the Steady State in High-Altitude Balsam Fir Forests.” Science (Jan 1981): 390-393.
Dabney Caldwell ends his book confessing ignorance as to the cause of the “waves” of dead spruces and firs on Katahdin’s slopes. This article explains them.
“Sandy Stream and Mt. Katahdin.” The Northern (May 1923): 5-10.
A brief hiking trip to the area in winter, including some Pamola anecdotes and pictures of Katahdin at the height of the lumbering operations. Most of the lowlands are empty or filled with a thin tree growth. Two pictures show South Turner Mountain stripped bare like a plucked goose.
Avery, Myron. “The Dead-Water Mountains.” The Maine Naturalist (Apr 1930): 3-19.
Myron Avery, who for many years was chairman of the Appalachian Trail Conference, was a very vocal proponent of the National Park Service in Maine. As such, he became one of Percival Baxter’s chief adversaries. The two men may never have met, but they shared an awareness of each other and an appreciation for the land. Both struggled toward the similar goals in different, conflicting ways.
— — — Mount Katahdin in Maine. N.p.: Maine Development Commission, 1935.
Again, the Laski quote appears, this time attributed to “one climber”—”It is as if a mirror had been broken and scattered over the mantle of the dark green of the spruce and fir forest cover, for so do myriad lakes heliograph to the summit.” (An excerpt has been reprinted in the Baxter State Park trail guide, by Stephen Clark.)
Baxter, Percival Proctor. My Irish Setter Dogs. N.p.: n.p., 1921, and James Phinney Baxter: Historian, Portland, Maine 1831-1921. N.p.: n.p., 1921.
Two small vanity books published by Baxter while he was governor. The Irish setter volume features a Pattenesque “explanation and apology” for Baxter’s lowering of the flags at the Capitol Building in honor of his dog. The other is a biography of his father, who added a clause to his will disinheriting anyone who practiced animal vivisection or experimentation.
Beveridge, Norwood P. “The Vanishing Mainer.” Down East (Feb 1979): 108-110.
The influx of tourists and people from away threatens to make a minority out of Down Easters. “Every year Vacationland ‘welcomes’ 12 million enthusiastic, free-spending (they’d better be!) visitors from out of state. The Turnpike shudders under their rubber hooves, and the citizens grumble quietly to each other—as they oil their cash registers.”
Corliss, Carlton J. “A Mid-Westerner’s Impressions of Katahdin.” In the Maine Woods (1927): 11-19.
Davenport, F.S. “Ascent of Mt. Ktaadn” The Northern (Nov 1922): n.p.
Part eight of a twelve-part serial titled “Some Pioneers of Moosehead, Chesuncook, and Millinocket.” This episode: the ascent.
Doyle, Cheryl. “The Orient Express reaches destination.” The Katahdin Times 27 Nov. 1990: 1,7.
Bill Irwin and his seeing-eye dog, Orient, completed the 2,167 mile Appalachian Trail on October 23.
Eckstorm, Fannie Hardy. “Thoreau’s Maine Woods.” The Atlantic Monthly (August 1908): 242-250.
Essentially a book review, but also a critique of Thoreau’s abilities as a writer and naturalist. Eckstorm quips, “Woodcraft is not a profession which can be picked up by browsing in Massachusetts pastures.” It was said that she delighted in criticizing others who wrote of Maine.
“Elderly Woman rescued from Knife’s Edge.” The Katahdin Times. 18 Sept. 1990: 1.
The story of a 75-year-old woman from Owl’s Head, Maine, long before her story had passed into the realm of folklore, distorted by rangers and writers. “Yes, she said...she’d be back to climb Knife’s Edge.”
Fendler, Donn and Joseph B. Egan. Lost on a Mountain in Maine. Wells, Massachusetts: The Wells Publishing Company, 1939.
On July 17, 1939, twelve-year-old Donn Fendler walked into a thick fog and disappeared. While his father and brothers struggled up the boulder-strewn Hunt Trail, Donn and a friend climbed to the summit of Katahdin, where freezing winds gusted over a ridge and a bank of clouds covered the mountain-top. The cold drove Donn away; he ignored his friend’s warnings and set off alone to rejoin his family. Somewhere along the way he stepped off the trail and was not seen again for nine days.
“I couldn’t see far on any side of me and I had a feeling I was right on the edge of a great cliff,” he said. “The way the clouds swirled scared me. The rocks looked more like ghosts than rocks, until I tried to climb over them.” By the time he was rescued, his plight had attracted the attention of local and national papers, and also of Joseph Egan, who invited the boy to his Cape Cod cottage and wrote his story.
Hall, Clayton and Jane Thomas with Elizabeth Harmon. Chimney Pond Tales. Cumberland Center, Maine: The Pamola Press, 1991.
Stories about Pamola and Chimney Pond, as told by Roy Dudley to Clayton Hall in the 1930s. Hall toted an Edison office dictating machine to Chimney Pond and recorded Dudley’s stories on wax cylinders. His plans for publication fell through, but the transcriptions were rediscovered decades later by Elizabeth Harmon and Jane Thomas.
Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “Going to Mount Katahdin.” Appalachia (Jun 1925): 101-129.
Originally written in 1855, in an era when gentlemen wore suits and ties for trips to mountains, and ladies wore dresses. Higginson went to Katahdin with a party of six men and five women. To fool his companions, he published anonymously and wrote from a woman’s point of view, noting that “the gentlemen began to shed civilization at Greenbush.”
Jaques, John Frederick. The Discovery of “Ktaadn”: A Study of Thoreau’s The Maine Woods. Ann Arbor: Columbia University, 1971.
A Ph.D. thesis. Jaques suggests that after Thoreau’s scare on Katahdin, he stopped using mountains as a dominant image in his journal.
Larrabee, William. Rosabower: a collection of essays and miscellanies. Cincinnati: R.P. Thompson, 1855.
Larrabee joined the “Backwoods Expedition”—Charles Jackson’s surveying team—in 1837, as a poet. Their journey on the Penobscot River to Katahdin, where Larrabee faced a blizzard and dislocated his shoulder, fills the last chapter of this book of essays. Like most writers, he was willing to lie for the sake of a good sentence—several descriptions are unrealistically dramatic.
Laski, J. K. “Dr Young’s Botanical Expedition to Mount Katahdin.” The Maine Naturalist (Jun 1927): 38-62.
See here for more about this unusual writer and his overlooked connection with Thoreau.
Lawrence, Rosewell B. “Ktaadn Basin.” Appalachia (Dec 1887): 26-28.
Transcript of a speech read to members of the Appalachian Trail Club on May 20, 1886, giving details of a trip to Chimney Pond. The speech is too brief to be of much interest, but it is accompanied by a photograph of the Great Basin from Chimney Pond—a very familiar scene—featuring two very prominent trees that no longer exist; nor is there any sign of the camp or trails that will cover the area in only fifty years. Photo by Rose Hollingsworth.
Lemke, Karen. “Recounting a Walk on the Wild Side.” Bangor Daily News? 27 July. 1989: 1,4.
Fifty years later, an elderly Donn Fendler returns to the mountain where he got lost—and nearly died—as a boy. At one point, when he sits down on a boulder to rest, a young boy and his father stop to talk. The boy announces that he hopes to see Donn Fendler at the summit. “You’re looking at him,” replies Mr. Fendler.
“Naw, you’re not him,” says the boy.
“All the kids think I’m still twelve years old....Instead, they see this grey-haired guy.” This time, there was no need for a search party.
Smith, Edward S.C. “Larrabee and the ‘Backwoods Expedition.” Appalachia (Feb 1926): 284-290.
A glowing review of Larrabee, with ample quotations from Rosabower.
— — — “An Early Winter Trip to Mount Katahdin.” Appalachia (Dec 1926): 493-496.
Smith, Edward S.C. and Myron Avery. “A Bibliography for Mt. Ktaadn, Revised.” Appalachia (Dec 1924): 59-70.
Smith, Marion Whitney. Thoreau’s West Branch Guides. Millinocket: Ye Olde Print Shop, 1971.
The lives of Louis Neptune (who also guided Charles Jackson) and the rest of the Neptune clan, including Clara Neptune (who provided Fannie Eckstorm’s with a number of Katahdin stories). Also, Joe Polis and other guides, Indian and white.
— — — Strange Tales of Abenaki Shamanism. Lewiston: Central Maine Press, 1963.
Thurber, George. “Notes of an Excursion to Mount Katahdin.” The Maine Naturalist (Dec 1926): 134-151.
Walker, Elinor Stevens. Our Great Northern Wilderness. Lewsiton, Maine: Central Maine Press, 1966.
A brief autobiography by a native Mainer, featuring yet another adaptation of Laski’s “broken mirror” quote, though Walker probably thought she was stealing from Thoreau: “One would never realize so much water could be viewed from one spot. It looked as if a huge mirror had fallen from heaven and its broken parts had picked up the sun’s reflection.”
Whitney, Emmie B. “Katahdin’s Big Storm.” Appalachia (Jun 1952): 21-30
An account of the September 16, 1932 storm that destroyed the “letters” on Mount O-J-I. Whitney and her party tried to climb Katahdin the next day, but found much of the trail flooded and obliterated.
Whitten, Jeanne Patten. Fannie Hardy Eckstorm: a descriptive bibliography. Orono, Maine: The University Press, 1976.
A nearly complete bibliography of all letters, magazine articles, and books by Eckstorm known to exist as of 1975. The list includes a number of unpublished manuscripts, now available in dusty corners of the Fogler library at the University of Maine at Orono. It is accompanied by short biography.