War news was extremely frightening in the summer of 1942. Lewiston-Auburn residents were struggling to adjust to many shortages and the complications of living with rationing.
Ever since the traumatic national horror of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor just seven months earlier, the lives of American families had been turned upside down. There were reminders everywhere that enemy attack on American soil was always possible, and East Coast communities were especially mindful of that.
The Lewiston Evening Journal of July 3, 1942, carried a half-page advertisement with a bold headline that read “ARE YOU A SABOTEUR?” It was a plea to be careful with fire and was “Published in the Interest of Forest Fire Prevention by The Spruce Wood Department of The Great Northern Paper Co.”
The ad said, “To this question every red-blooded American will answer with an indignant 'No,' — but those Americans who are careless with fire can cause damage as great as the enemy-planted saboteur.” It added, “Let’s not impede our chances of success by fires resulting from our own carelessness.”
It implored the public to take special care with campfires and cigarettes, and it said, in large type, “Don’t Light Fireworks in Wooded Areas.”
That advertisement illustrated the dreadful grip that war had placed on everyday life. Page 1 stories told of a ferocious tank battle in Russia and there were reports that German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, “the Desert Fox,” was advancing in North Africa and the battle for Egypt was in doubt.
Other stories in that day’s paper said gas stations would be closed on the Fourth of July. Gas dealers said their stocks were low, and one gas station owner said his latest delivery had lasted only four days.
Some unusual situations were experienced in L-A because of the war effort. It was reported that more than 90 shipyard workers of the Bath and Portland shipyards were taking courses in reading blueprints at Edward Little High School in Auburn. They were taught four nights a week by Daniel W. Lowe.
It was not an atmosphere for celebration, and there was no plan for a parade. Blackout requirements were in effect, and fireworks at night were banned because military officials feared that the colorful blasts in the air might serve as a beacon to off-shore enemy ships and bombers.
Nevertheless, daily life held plenty of opportunities for entertainment. The newspaper’s movie page had announcements that the Ray McKinley Orchestra was at the Old Orchard Pier, and many popular local dance bands were playing at halls throughout the area. The Glenn Miller Orchestra was scheduled to appear at the Lewiston Armory on Aug. 15.
As it turned out on that Fourth of July 70 years ago, it was Mother Nature that provided the fireworks.
“One of the most damaging hailstorms in years struck the Twin Cities Saturday evening, July 4,” the news story said. “The storm swept across the southern end of Perkins Ridge and becoming most violent in the Mt. Auburn section. It left a pathway of tree and crop destruction in its wake.”
Glass damage was high at the William E. Whiting greenhouses on Summer Street. Oat, potato and tomato crops were beaten to the earth at several farms in that same area. Windows were smashed in many Taylor Pond cottages, and the brick chimney at the upper Maine Central railroad yard was hit by lightning.
“Other than the storm, Saturday evening was the quietest Independence Day in many years,” the newspaper said.
Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by email at email@example.com.