New England on a Pedestal

103. The Maine Lobsterman

September 09, 2021 Doug Season 1 Episode 3
New England on a Pedestal
103. The Maine Lobsterman
Show Notes Transcript

We visit The Pine Tree State and go to Portland, Maine and explore a true Maine tradition, lobstering and the people who make their living along the coastline.

Hello and welcome to Season 1 Episode 3 of New England on a Pedestal. I am your host, Doug Farquharson. We purposefully design each episode of our podcast to be a stand-alone chapter in the story of New England as told through its many and varied statues, monuments, and sculptures. And we hope that once you have heard one of our podcasts that you’ll be inspired to take a listen to our other episodes. If you like what you hear, please subscribe to us through your favorite podcast platform and consider leaving a review for us. It will help us reach more listeners and expand our audience. Thank you!

Speaking of listeners, we’d love to hear from you! Like and follow our Facebook page. Subscribe to us over on Instagram. We put up photos, links, and other interesting tidbits over there on our social media pages. You can contact us through those platforms or email us at, that’s New England on a Pedestal all one word at F A R Q I E dot com. Reach out to us if you have a favorite statue that you think we should know about. We are always looking to add to our ever-growing database.

We started off two episodes ago in Hopkinton, MA discussing a local legend known around town as The First Citizen of Sport. From there, we journeyed roughly 85 miles to the NH coastal city of Portsmouth where we met a few bronze fire fighters, one vintage, one modern, and one, well, a bit rusty you might say. Since it was a beautiful day and the jeep was all opened up, we decided to keep driving up the New England coastline for a bit and head to another favorite city of ours, Portland Maine.

The State of Maine is known for several things: a long and beautiful coastline with hundreds of islands, harbors, and inlets; gorgeous inland waterways, lakes, ponds, and rivers; majestic mountains; great fishing, hunting, hiking, skiing, and so much more. But virtually synonymous with Maine is the lobster and the industry that has made the Maine lobster world renowned. So, it makes sense that we find ourselves in Portland searching out The Maine Lobsterman. And along the way, we discovered an interesting little story.

The Maine Lobsterman in Portland, ME

When I was working on the beginnings of this podcast idea, I recalled a day several years ago when I was walking around Portland Maine, ice coffee in hand while members of my family were off doing some shopping after we had enjoyed lunch in Old Port along the waterfront. We said we would meet up by a movie theater where there was a small park. I found myself sitting under a shade tree and looking at a statue. At the time, I thought it was interesting in an offhand way and didn’t really pay much attention to it. I was more interested in enjoying the talent of a local street musician. One by one, the fam arrived, I dropped a couple bucks into the open guitar case, and we ambled off. That was the last time I saw The Maine Lobsterman. Of course, in the preparation for this episode, I stopped by what I now know to be Lobsterman Park again.

It was a warm August day, around lunch time when I drove up Middle St towards Temple St and luckily found a parking spot just feet away from my destination. Unfortunately, it was a drop off/pick up location with a fifteen-minute time limit and a member of the Portland Parking Enforcement was issuing tickets across the street from me. So, I’d have to be quick about this!

Lobsterman Park sits at the intersection of Middle, Spring, Temple, and Union Streets. The movie theater I remembered was still there. I think Suicide Squad was playing. I didn’t really have any interest in seeing it. Seems to me they just made that movie not so long ago. Why remake it so soon? Wait! Sorry! Sorry. Got distracted there for a moment. That’s an entirely different podcast done by entirely different people. Okay, back on track here and back to my quick visit to Lobsterman Park. The park, like the surrounding streetscape is a mix of red brick and concrete paths. I’d say it covers perhaps a quarter of an acre, maybe a little less. Nonetheless, it is big enough for some large trees to provide some much-appreciated shade for the several benches that form sort of an arc around the slightly off centered statue. It’s a nice spot to sit and rest a bit or enjoy a takeout meal from one of the many shops nearby. I find Portland to be a friendly city. An example of this is the half dozen parking spots at the corner that are specifically for motorcycles and scooters.

The statue faces the intersection. It sits in the center of a large cobblestone circle, raised up on a circular slab of concrete. It’s not quite the same height as the benches in the park, but it does make for a nice place to sit and have lunch. In the center of this slab is a rectangular granite block on which the bronze figure sits. The statue depicts a working lobsterman kneeling on one knee. His shirt sleeves are rolled up and he’s wearing boots that come up to his knees. At his feet is a lobster that he is pegging, which is how their claws were kept shut before today’s rubber bands came into use. This is the Maine Lobsterman. The plaque attached to it says it is him. The park is named after him. So, this must be him. Right? However, I came to learn while researching this episode, this particular statue is only one of the Maine Lobstermen. There are a couple others! And one isn’t even in the state of Maine. This, then is the story of how that came to be.

We must travel back to the 1939 New York World’s Fair. Leading up to it, the State of Maine had commissioned a prominent Portland sculptor, Victor Kahill to design and produce a centerpiece for the Maine exhibit at the upcoming fair. Kahill went to work and had H. Elroy Johnson from Bailey Island pose for him. We will focus more on Johnson later. Kahill had gotten as far as making a full-sized plaster model of his sculpture when a big problem reared its ugly head. It was estimated that approximately $10,000 was needed for a large bronze statue. That would come out to around $200,000 in today’s economy. Unfortunately, only about $1500 had been raised. So, Kahill simply painted his plaster model bronze and that is what was displayed at the New York World’s Fair. Eventually, the statue was returned to Maine and was displayed for a time at the old Columbia Hotel on Congress Street and in the rotunda of Portland City Hall. However, starting sometime in 1943 and several times after that, vandals damaged it. I guess even in “the good old days” there were dinks, malcontents, and ne’er-do-wells. Anyway, it was repaired each time and in 1958 it was put on display in the Department of Sea and Shore Fisheries Marine Museum and Aquarium in Boothbay Harbor to better preserve it. Eventually, it was moved into a warehouse and there it sat for quite some time. It has been taken out of mothballs a few times. More recently to be displayed in Augusta at the Maine State Museum. I believe it is currently in storage at the museum.

Victor Kahill immigrated to the United Stated from his native Lebanon in 1909 and was raised and educated in Portland. He studied art here and then made his living as an artist, doing well enough to bring his brother, Joseph over some years later. Victor was a veteran of WW I, having fought for his new country. He died in 1965 in San Francisco. Joseph, his brother would be tapped years later to make the repairs to the plaster model after the vandals damaged it.

So, who was H. Elroy Johnson anyway, and why was he used as Kahill’s model? Johnson, also known as “Snoody” was born in Harpswell, Maine on Bailey Island in 1894. A story has been related about him that at just ten years old he put out 15 lobster traps one summer all on his own without help from his fisherman father. When he opened his cigar box savings bank that Fall, he had earned an astounding $45 and asked his parents for permission to buy his own winter clothing. At 71, Snoody was still running 400 traps. He died in 1973 at 79 years of age and had fished for most of those. He even built his own wooden traps. Not only did he go after lobster, but he was also into sardining and swordfishing and worked both large and small vessels. Johnson has been described by many to be the typical working lobsterman in his appearance and in his practice. He was also an eloquent and colorful speaker with a thick Maine accent. It’s said he had a dry sense of humor and a quick wit. All of which lent itself to his becoming a frequent visitor to the Maine State House in Augusta where he was a steadfast advocate for Maine’s working fishermen and lobstermen. Johnson spent his entire life working the sea one way or another. He was a pioneer in commercial harvesting of sea moss. He worked for and with various state marine departments and development commissions. Johnson was a natural choice to be the model for The Maine Lobsterman.

Kahill did take some artistic license when having Snoody pose for him. Even though it is far more typical for a lobsterman to be standing while pegging his catch, Kahill insisted he kneel, saying it was more statuesque. Still, lobstermen in general are okay with it. They feel it depicts the hard work of the industry in a positive manner. Many lobstermen, however, were very upset that his dog, Bruin wasn’t included in the later renditions of the statue. At the unveiling in Portland, Bruin received an actual lobstering license from the state.

So far, we have pretty much only discussed a painted plaster statue and New England on a Pedestal is all about the bronze and granite and metal statues, aren’t we? And earlier, I mentioned something about there being more than one Lobsterman. So how do we get there? Well, we move from the 30’s and 40’s to the 1970s. After Johnson died, the state legislature came up with funding to cast three bronze versions of Kahill’s sculpture. In 1975, Norman Therrien used the original plaster cast at the Boothbay Foundry to cast the three new versions of The Lobsterman. One of these is the one in Portland. One is on display at the end of Bailey Island, Snoody’s birthplace. And one, thanks to funds raised by the Camp Fire Girls of Cundys Harbor is on display in Washington D.C. on Maine Avenue.

Historian and Professor Herb Adams of the Southern Maine Community College said, “In essence, one lobsterman became four lobstermen and now represents all lobstermen, which I think he would like.” The Public Art Portland website is quoted as saying, “The Maine Lobsterman epitomizes the spirit of the Pine Tree State, embodying its fierce independence and its historic ties to the sea. The figure is a combination of physical power and well-seasoned finesse.  His strength towers not above but among us.  The sculpture is a standout work – handsome and well composed.  Moreover, the subject perfectly underscores Portland’s role as Maine’s leading city and helps this well-sited work deliver a fantastic sense of place.”

And thus concludes The Maine Lobsterman, Season 1 Episode 3 of New England on a Pedestal. We came to Portland to find one statue and came away with four, albeit versions of the same one. I found a few more sites I need to visit, too. We learned about one real life lobsterman and in the process memorialized all Maine lobstermen, fishermen, and people who make their living from the sea. I came across several other statues and memorials in Portland that will have to go into the database and be researched for later episodes.

And all this lobster talk has made me hungry! Once considered nothing more than prisoner food, lobster sure has come a long way! If you’re in Portland and want some, but don’t feel like ripping into one and getting all messy, may I suggest Highrollers on Exchange St? Our usual disclaimer goes here stating we are not sponsored by Highrollers but we sure do love them! Great selection of Maine brewed beers and a personal menu favorite is the Surf and Turf burger. For something fun, go for a fried lobby pop.

As we mentioned before, the concept behind New England on a Pedestal is rather simple. Travel around our six-state area, find some interesting statues, and discuss them. We have a growing database of statues, monuments, and sculptures that we will be covering over time, but we certainly do not know all of them. That is where you can assist us. Shoot us an email at and tell us about a favorite or unique or odd statue you know. If you have additional information or maybe a correction about something we have already shared, please send it our way and perhaps, we will add an addendum to a later episode.

We would love to hear from you. Let us know what you think. What we are doing right? What we can do better? Let us know of a statue with a story near and dear to you. We can be reached via email at That’s New England on a Pedestal all one word at F A R Q I E dot com.  Go to Facebook and like the New England on a Pedestal page. Follow us on Instagram. We will be posting photos and links on those social media platforms and on the New England on a Pedestal page at as well.

It takes a lot of effort and a lot of people to produce something like these podcasts. I want to acknowledge the equipment help from Alec of Hello Generic video fame and the social media savvy and marketing help from Bekka over at the Happy Pixie Dust podcast. The New England on a Pedestal logo was designed by Natick artist Jason Cheeseman-Meyer. The theme music is by local musician Sam Checkoway and was recorded, mixed, and mastered by Jake Checkoway of Honest Face Records. I want to thank my wife Gail, Ethan, Steffani, and Max for their help and support in getting this podcast up and running.

Join us next episode when we venture south to another New England coastal town and discover some fun and whimsical pieces in Newport, Rhode Island. Until next time, be safe, be well, and keep discovering. Thanks for Joining us!