It was February of 1917, and once again, the momentous question of the tipping chimneys in the Perryville section of Auburn was being addressed at length and with great glee in the columns of the Lewiston Evening Journal.

“Yes, It All Happened at Friday’s Session of the Chimney Straighteners,” exclaimed the headline. “At Least, So the Reporter Says, and as He Was There He Ought To Know,” said the subhead.

Activities of the Perryville Chimney Straighteners had become a source of local satire each February about a hundred years ago.

It was based on purely imaginary observations that the chimneys on houses in the Turner Street, Winter Street and nearby neighborhoods of Auburn were tipping toward the north. The subject was an opportunity to poke fun at scientific inquiry of a hundred years ago. The pompous pronouncements by well-known local residents were reported in good-humored fashion.

The newspaper account of the meeting on February 9, 1917, said members fought back attempts to bring “an infusion of outside blood” to the Perryville neighborhood assembly. Certainly, no resident of Lewiston would be admitted, they declared.

After a lot of verbal jousting among members and guests, the meeting settled down to some serious examination of the causes of the Perryville chimney-tipping phenomenon. President Harry Bumpus allowed a letter from former Lewiston Mayor W.H. Judkins to be read. This lengthy communication (undoubtedly prepared for its entertainment value) said the greatest minds around the world had learned of Auburn’s strange chimneys, and he said, “Too often, alas, has this community permitted other centers of learning to win the honor and applause which ought to glorify and adorn the brows of our local confreres.” With that in mind, Judkins advised the chimney straighteners to keep a local lock on the matter.

Judkins went on to say that “the causes which make chimneys tip are partly political and partly moral.” He took a political dig at the County Building and offices of the sheriff there. Accompanying the story was a cartoon showing a halo above the courthouse clock. He suggested that a recent change in the office of the sheriff might have a favorable effect on the chimney tilting.

The meeting’s scientific details were presented to mixed reactions. A new theory was offered by Willard A. Noyes. He said his findings come from his “long and persistent experiments with the gloxtometre,” a large telescope-like contraption shown in another cartoon illustration with steam puffing from vents.

Noyes said, “In the first place I fixed this delicate instrument on the east side of my garden and supported it with jack screws. I had learned that the soil carried a goodly amount of iron pyrites with now and then a trace of fossil marsupialia.” He explained that he believes a connection was formed underground with the chimney at a neighbor’s house and in a short time it began to tip to the southeast.

“Here was a discovery,” Noyes exclaimed. “The iron in the ground was forming an affinity with the mortar in the chimney and thus pulling it in the direction of the gloxtometre. This showed that the attraction was more powerful than that from the north pole. If I removed the instrument, the chimney again commenced to swerve to the north.”

Noyes told the association’s members that he had made a model of a house set on jack screws.

“The house can be carried up as fast as the attraction from the underground current draws the chimney and thus counteract the influence and attraction from the north,” he claimed. “I am thoroughly convinced that the true solution of this mighty problem has at last been found and only ask that the matter be placed in the hands of the scientific section for careful examination.”

President Bumpus urged the members to avoid jumping to conclusions.

“The entire question now seems to be more or less complicated as between the theory advanced by Mr. Judkins and the observations and experiments of Mr. Noyes there would seem to be a wide gulf,” he said.

The Lewiston Evening Journal’s reporting on the meetings of the Perryville Chimney Straighteners don’t mention a meeting location. It’s up to the reader to decide whether such gatherings actually took place or were totally imaginary works of satire.

In any case, it’s either a blessing or a misfortune that there were no television cameras at that time in our history to record these entertaining ventures into “fake news” of a century ago.

Dave Sargent is a freelance writer and a native of Auburn. He can be reached by sending email to [email protected]

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