History is a collection of snapshots. Often, the interpretations depend on how we sort the snapshots, what we look for and what importance we place on the happenings.

As more and more economic burdens face Americans today, we look back at the Great Depression for comparisons and possible lessons.

That’s why I looked at the pages of the Lewiston Daily Sun for some perspective. I picked March 10, 1936, and looked for clues about how the people of the Twin Cities were weathering several years of bleak economic news.

In the decade following the Oct. 24, 1929, stock market crash, Maine residents battled the consequences of unemployment and lost dreams. Did the newspaper reflect despair? Were people overwhelmed and defeated?

You wouldn’t know it. After all, it’s Maine, where people know how to “make do.” The ads featured washing machines and furniture. Peck’s sold imported handmade linens for $1, and Kresge’s advertised house dresses for $1.

The Sun-Journal was heralding its annual four-day Cooking School headlined by national lecturer Edna Riggs Crabtree, and almost every ad had a tie-in testimonial from Mrs. Crabtree. She praised the quality of milk from Auburn’s Merrillhaven Farm on Court Street, and she lauded the Plee-zing Products sold by Central Maine Grocery Co.

The Cooking School, with free admission and prizes from local merchants, was gearing up for another successful presentation.

Meanwhile, L-A residents were flocking to the Shrine Circus at the Lewiston Armory. The popular orchestra of Lloyd Rafnell was to play at Auburn Hall admission 10 cents.

The Empire theater was showing a documentary on the Dionne Quintuplets.

Those five baby girls born almost two years earlier were the subject of tremendous national curiosity, just as octuplets have captured the country’s attention in recent weeks.

Mainers were coping with the Great Depression, but it was the eve of an event that would turn their world upside down again.

Temperatures were warm and it was raining that week 73 years ago. It was raining a lot.

On March 9, a warm, moisture-laden front moved into and stalled over New England, resulting in unseasonably warm temperatures as well as heavy rainfall. Totals topped 15 inches of rain in a 14-day period. A deep snowpack melted rapidly and rivers that were choked with ice overflowed their banks.

On the day the Cooking School was to begin at Music Hall on Lewiston’s Lisbon Street, the Lewiston Daily Sun headlined “Floods Grip All Western Maine.”

The Androscoggin River was among the waterways where damage was most severe, and many riverside areas of L-A were impacted. At Gulf Island Dam, the river roared over at 212,000 cubic feet per second, topping the previous record of 60,000 cfs.

More than a dozen railroad cars filled with gravel were pulled onto the trestle spanning Great Falls. The extra weight was meant to keep the bridge from washing away.

Part of South Bridge, now the Lown Peace Bridge, was washed away, and massive blocks of ice and debris battered North Bridge (Longley Memorial Bridge), but it stood solid.

In New Auburn, the raging Little Androscoggin toppled houses on Newbury Street. In Lewiston, water isolated large sections around Oxford Street known as Little Canada, and a stream at Crowley’s Junction flooded a large area.

Rumford and nearby towns also experienced devastation from the flooding.

A newspaper story said “Lewiston Sends Special Train with Dynamite for Rumford Ice Jams.” Many men risked their lives to set explosives and push the floating ice and debris along. Some threatening pieces of ice were said to be larger than a football field.

All motor routes into the Twin Cities were cut off by the high water and a North Jay man was killed when an avalanche swept a shed into a brook.

The aftermath of that 1936 flood was felt for years, and its devastation was unequaled, although another major flood in 1987 came close.

The Great Depression hit Maine people hard, but they managed to get through it. As often happens when things seem to be going better, something unexpected comes along to upset it all. Years of economic struggle can test the resolve of the population, but Mother Nature likes to remind us from time to time that she also can throw us some complications.


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