C-SPAN was in town last month to film for spots featuring Augusta on two of its channels, BookTV and C-SPAN3, set to air this weekend.
“We want a national audience to get a flavor of what makes up Augusta,” Debbie Lamb, coordinating producer of C-SPAN’s “LCV Cities Tour,” said in a Kennebec Journal article a few weeks ago. “The idea is to give our viewing audience a look at communities that they might not otherwise see” on television.
Some who don’t know the city well may have thought, “Augusta? City of the sagging, weather-worn clapboards, lumpy pavement, sand in the streets and reputation for sad-sack crime? Whatever flavor that is, I don’t want it in my coffee.”
But C-SPAN assured the public there’s a lot more to the city.
It just looks as though it will take the shows a while to get there.
First there’s the books part — BooksTV, remember? A Kennebec Journal story last month reported the literary-angle program will feature an interview with Winthrop author Barbara Walsh; will “see where Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin’ in Brunswick; interview Colby College professor Raffael Scheck, author of ‘Hitler’s African Victims’; and speak with Colby professor Elizabeth Leonard, author of ‘Lincoln’s Forgotten Ally.'” Oh yeah, the show also will feature special collections at Colby and Bowdoin colleges.
Winthrop? Brunswick? Where’s Colby? Not in Augusta. Bowdoin? Not Augusta.
Maybe after C-SPAN picked Augusta, the producers started to panic, thinking, “We better throw in some Waterville and Brunswick to beef the flavor up a little.”
True, Augusta isn’t a heavy hitter in the literary area. Name a famous writer from Augusta. Stop trying — you can’t.
The history part sounds like it’s going to be more Augusta-focused. A series of short programs over two hours will feature the old standbys, including the state museum and archives, Fort Western (come on, does anyone really call it OLD Fort Western?) and the Blaine House.
And for blazing star power — put on those shades! — it includes Augusta’s two greatest celebrities, Melville Fuller and James G. Blaine.
Right, right, those guys have been done to death. Blaine this, Fuller that. They’re to Augusta what Stephen King is to Bangor — cars driving slowly by their homes, people hanging out at Tim Horton’s to get a glimpse of their relatives.
OK, that’s not true. No one knows who those guys are.
For the record, both were pretty impressive. Blaine was never governor, despite getting the house named after him, but he was a congressman, senator and secretary of state who packed some political clout in the late 1800s. He ran for president, but lost to Grover Cleveland. His nickname was the Magnetic Man, so he must have something going on.
Melville Fuller was born in Augusta, but left early for greener pastures. He became chief justice of the Supreme Court, nominated by Blaine’s old sparring partner Cleveland. Fuller was notable for being on the side of the bad guys in Plessy vs. Ferguson, the case that upheld “separate but equal” and was the basis for Southern Jim Crow laws and a lot of other ugly stuff until it was overturned by Brown vs. Board of Education in 1954. (A nod here to one of Augusta’s unsung celebrities, Mrs. Massey, who put that information into a generation of Cony students’ memory banks).
While it doesn’t mention it on the schedule, we’re guessing C-SPAN will also mention Augusta’s other claim to historical fame, Benedict Arnold. Before he changed sides, the colonial general made a stop at Fort Western on his ill-fated trip to Quebec. Remember? They took a bunch of wooden boats up the Kennebec River and suffered through horrible weather and disease, only to get their butts handed to them by the British in Quebec City.
So yes, there is some Augusta in the show. Although that flavor may be a little stale by 2012. I mean, what has Augusta done lately? Like, in the past 100-plus years?
Producers said the show will include people talking about the Edwards dam, which was removed to national fanfare in 1999 after more than 160 years of dominating the Kennebec. There will undoubtedly be some mention of the mills that fueled the city’s economy for so long and bookmarked both ends of the dam.
Mill talk usually ends up being a downer, and it’s hard to consider the last 100 years of the city without feeling a little bummed about things.
But anyone who lives here knows Augusta is so much more than lumpy streets, demolition derby rotaries and the police log, and it looks like C-SPAN might be on to that, too. Reports when the crew was filming in town were that the programs would also feature the struggle to bring downtown back. While it’s not on the schedule, that would say more about Augusta than what’s scheduled combined.
It’s fashionable to dismiss the city’s downtown, but anyone who does it isn’t looking at it. It’s got architectural bones, a stunning setting and, most important, an army of people determined to make it come to life again.
The heart of any city is its downtown, and the heart of Augusta is clear by the fight to get its beautiful downtown vibrant again, despite the recession, the box stores, the mill closings and the sneers.
C-SPAN promises a “special weekend focusing on Augusta.”
The fight to bring downtown back is not Colby or Bowdoin or centuries-old history — it’s Augusta here and now. It’s ours. And it’s pretty cool.
I’m looking forward to seeing that Augusta on national TV.
Maureen Milliken is news editor of the Kennebec Journal and Morning Sentinel and grew up in Augusta. Email her at [email protected]. Kennebec Tales appears the first and third Thursday of the month.