The new Androscoggin County flag. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Few people have seen the actual seal of Androscoggin County. The animal on the seal may be an even bigger surprise.

Earlier this year, Androscoggin County unveiled its new county flag — green background with the seal in gold. The centerpiece of the seal is a cougar— one with three legs.

Is the cougar historically accurate? Depends who you ask.

Image supplied by Patricia Fournier

Auburn resident Michael Lord approached the county commission late last year with the idea that the county should create a flag to coincide with Auburn’s 150th birthday and this year’s Maine bicentennial celebration.

Lord did the legwork and found an embossed stamp that the county treasurer used in 1854 that shows a non-descript creature standing next to water. The new version of the seal showing a cat-like animal is imprinted on a bronze plaque that is located near the entrance of the county building celebrating the 1922 expansion. Over the years the animal has been described as a panther, lioness and bobcat before the cougar was accepted. When that happened is unclear.

In fact, the commissioners accepted Lord’s description of a cougar. When Lord brought the project to a flag store, the seal was changed to look like a real cougar.

But in a guest column to the Sun Journal last month, David Martucci of Washington, Maine, a vexillologist, a person who studies flags, called the cougar story a “myth.” He said the original drawing is actually a horse.

In 2010, while studying Maine flags and symbols, he visited the Androscoggin County Courthouse and was given a 1¾-inch image of the original embossed stamp.

“No one really knew what it was,” Martucci said. “The image was fairly small, but when I scanned it and blew it up, I knew exactly what it was.”

He believed he was looking at a crudely-drawn picture of a draft horse with a mane and hooves.

He checked with several other vexillologists around the country and each one agreed with him, Martucci said.

One county commissioner, Matt Roy, questioned Martucci’s description of hooves on the original picture, but Martucci said the hooves are obvious when you blow up the image. The existence of a mane on the animal, however, is compelling.

Martucci said designers of logos in the 1800s were careful to select images that correctly reflected the culture and geography of the area. When Androscoggin County was formed in 1854, it was known for its fertile farmland, he said. The image of a draft horse makes sense in that context, he added.

One other thing bothers Martucci — the absence of water on the seal. The original embossed stamp looks like the “horse” is standing next to water — the Androscoggin River. For a county named after its river, he says it is inconceivable for the seal to not include that river. The water feature was removed from the 1922 bronze plaque, which the new flag is based on.

Martucci gave county commissioners a copy of his report in 2010 with his findings. Instead of acknowledging the horse instead of the cougar, commissioners instead changed the seal to include a picture of the courthouse in Auburn.

The current commissioners, unfamiliar with even the building seal, agreed to put the cougar back on the seal and the new flag. At the meeting, Commissioner Roy described himself as “pro cougar and anti building.”

Martucci has not reached out to the commissioners since discovering the new cougar flag. He had to chuckle when the topic of the cougar having only three legs was discussed. A fourth leg is visible on the bronze plaque and on the embossed stamp.

While refusing to get into the debate of cougar versus horse, County Administrator Larry Post said no one on the commission saw the actual final three-legged design before the flag was made.

“We may want to make an adjustment to that,” Post conceded.

 

Seal of Androscoggin County from a 1922 plaque. Daryn Slover/Sun Journal


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