PARIS — Has it been 200 years already?

As the 31st annual Founder’s Day celebration approaches, the Hamlin Memorial Library and Museum’s feature exhibit will be on the bicentennial of the birth of its namesake, Hannibal Hamlin. Abraham Lincoln’s first vice president, Hamlin was born on Paris Hill on Aug. 27, 1809.

On Saturday, information and artifacts related to Hamlin will be on display in the museum, which is located in the former county jail next to the house where Hamlin was born. In addition, the museum will hold a celebration on Paris Hill on Aug. 22.

According to a family story, Hamlin had an encounter with another well-known Oxford County figure when he was an infant. As the story goes, the Hamlin family welcomed in Indian woman Molly Ockett during her travels, and she was able to heal a sickly Hamlin. She is also said to have foretold that he would be successful in his life.

That may not have been apparent right away, though.

“He was quite a prankster,” says Ann McDonald, curator of the museum.

In one incident, attendees at a nearby baptism were surprised that the bell of the Baptist Church was ringing a funeral toll as each person was being lowered into the creek. Hamlin was found to be the culprit after someone noticed two of his friends giving signals to the bell tower with bandannas. Perhaps as an apologetic gesture, Hamlin donated a clock to go on the church tower in 1883.

Despite his mischievousness, Hamlin was influenced by the proximity of the courthouse and judges on the hill, which formerly served as the county seat. While attending Hebron Academy, Hamlin took up the defense of a few classmates who got into a fight with a drunken man and was successful in getting them out of trouble.

According to the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress, Hamlin worked as a teacher, surveyor, and compositor in a printing office after school. McDonald says he apprenticed himself to a law firm in Portland before he started practicing in Lincoln and Bangor.

Hamlin first entered politics as a state legislator, serving there for six years, including three as speaker. He spent four years in the U.S. House of Representatives and eight and a half years in the Senate, resigning in 1857 to become governor of Maine. Originally a Democrat, he left the party in 1856.

McDonald says Hamlin had to resign as governor when he was chosen by the Republican convention to be Abraham Lincoln’s vice president in the 1860 presidential race.

“I guess he was actually at the convention, but he wasn’t there when they nominated him,” McDonald said. “And he was equally surprised the next time, when they didn’t choose him.”

McDonald said Hamlin worked as a “behind-the-scenes adviser” in the Lincoln White House, and helped put together the Cabinet.

“He was a very strong abolitionist,” McDonald said. “He encouraged Lincoln to announce the Emancipation Proclamation.” She said those views may have led to his replacement with Andrew Johnson, a Democrat from Tennessee, on the Republican ticket in the 1864 election.

Following his departure, Hamlin briefly served as collector of the port of Boston, spent another 12 years in the U.S. Senate and served as U.S. Minister to Spain for a year. Retiring to Bangor, he died on July 4, 1891.

This is not the first year a celebration has been planned for a major anniversary of Hamlin’s birth. In 1909, a centennial celebration included the dedication of a memorial on the Paris Hill common and a speech by Joshua Chamberlain, who led a Maine division at the Battle of Gettysburg. At the sesquicentennial in 1959, U.S. Sen. Margaret Chase Smith spoke, and events included music and a historic house tour.

McDonald believes Hamlin’s time on Paris Hill helped shape his work ethic, career and political opinions.

“He had a unique childhood here,” she said.

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