We are struggling to get cleared out of the two-day snowstorm at this writing. It’s a lovely dream to envision a time when we can go camping again. A visit to the Maine Historical Society’s new exhibit, “Umbazooksus and Beyond: The Maine Woods Remembered” can help you get your spirits ready. This interesting exhibit runs through June 5 at the Portland museum.

“Umbazooksus and Beyond” features five very different adventures into the Maine woods in the early 1900s. All these adventurers abhor the insects; yes, the black fly was around even then. There also is a consensus in the feeling of wonder at the beauty of nature, and an appreciation of their own presence in the wilderness.

Through carefully detailed journals and diary entries, one even written out on a daily calendar, and many photographs taken as trip keepsakes, you follow the journeys. The photographs show us the clothing that folks wore on their adventures into the wilderness, clothing that included dresses and sport coats. Although such formal dress seems out of place to us now, I have memories of my own grandfather always in a suit. I have a treasured family photo of him sitting on a beach, dressed as always in a fine suit and tie and wearing a jaunty cap.

I’ve had the pleasure of many outings over the years in Maine, but must admit to learning something new; one of those reasons I guess, why no matter how long you live here, only if you’re born here, are you a Mainer. I always thought sporting camps referred to the sports folks enjoyed there – hunting, fishing or canoeing. But apparently the term “sports” was given to the people who went into the wilderness to learn about those activities. They must have been good sports to survive all those challenges with good humor to boot.

Climbing Katahdin

The trips take you from canoeing the Allagash, to fishing in the Lobster Lake area, hiking up Katahdin and hunting in the Ragged Lake area.

Henry L. Withee, of Rockland, canoed the Allagash in 1911, on an adventure with his friend Horace A. Bailey. His humorous account describes pine logs chasing the canoe over the falls and, after a strenuous day of canoeing, finally cooking soup only to have a stand holding the pot collapse.

Margaret and Neal Allen spent their honeymoon in the Lobster Lake area in 1909. The adventure was a journey of personal growth for the couple, especially for Margaret.

Elizabeth Oakes Smith was the first woman to climb Katahdin. Charlotte Millet of Gorham, and friends Emmie and G. Herbert Whitney of Lewiston, spent much time camping in the Katahdin area. Emmie was an early editor of a Sun Journal magazine, Herbert was a photographer.

John W.G. Dunn went hunting and fishing in the Moosehead-Ragged Lake area for extended periods between 1890 and 1904. He took a large camera similar to one on display in the museum.

Displays include a re-created early 20th century campsite, a replica Old Town canvas canoe, cameras, fishing and camping equipment, even historic insects! Compare the packing list at the campsite with one you might bring along today. Imagine carrying the large squeeze-box style camera with a 12-by-12 case on a hiking adventure or in a canoe. Check out the 1900 insect-repellent bottle.

Activities for children: You can pick out a word search to give the kids something extra to look for. One of them is a bit more challenging because it asks children to find answers to a list of questions before they can look for the word. Questions like “A name for a visitor to the Maine woods?” or “Another name for the spirit of Katahdin?”

Edith Churchill is a freelance writer living in Auburn who frequently takes day trips with her family.
Programs and events

Registration: These events are held at the Maine Historical Society. For more information or to register call (207) 774-1822, or e-mail to [email protected]

Daily (except April 11 to 15): Films from the Maine woods, including: “Trout Fishing, Rangeley Lakes” (1905), “Canoeing in Maine” (1906), “Logging in Maine” (1906), “Into Katahdin” (around 1930); “From Stump to Ship: A 1930 Logging Film” and “Maine Biographies with Jack Perkins: L.L. Bean.” Screening times vary. Call ahead if you’d like a screening of a particular title to be a part of your visit. The museum will try to accommodate you.

March 2, April 6, and May 4: “A Gallery Walk with the Curator” is held on the first Wednesday of the month at noon. Allow one hour. There is no additional fee, the walk is included with admission.

March 8, April 12, and May 10: Maine Woods Book Discussion Group will meet at 6:30 p.m.

March 22: A lecture, “Bill Green on the Maine Woods Today” begins at noon. Free and open to the public.

April 5: A lecture by Charlene Donahue, “Bzzzz!!! Infamous Insects of the Maine Woods” begins at noon. Free and open to the public.

April 9: A screening of “Wilderness and Spirit, A Mountain Called Katahdin” with the filmmaker begins at 2 p.m.

April 26: A lecture by Jym St. Pierre, “Saving the Maine Woods: A Century and a Half of Schemes and Dreams” begins at noon. Free and open to the public.

Location: The Maine Historical Society Museum is at 489 Congress St., Portland. Its complex includes a museum, museum store, lecture hall, the Wadsworth-Longfellow House, a garden and a research library. Tours of the Wadsworth-Longfellow House begin in May. Parking is not available on site; suggested parking is metered parking along Brown Street or in the Public Market Garage on Preble Street. For more information, call (207) 774-1822 or go to www.mainehistory.org

Getting there: From Interstate 295, take the Franklin Street exit toward the waterfront; follow Franklin Street to the fourth traffic light and turn right on Congress Street. Continue for five blocks to the Portland Public Library on the right, and past Preble Street. The Maine Historical Society at 489 Congress St., on the corner of Congress and Brown streets. A note of caution: Some of the streets are one-way but if you’ve located the museum, you can make a circle to park, then walk.

Winter hours and admission: The Maine Historical Society Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday. Admission is $4 for adults and $2 for children ages 5 to 17.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.