WEST ATHENS — About 40 years ago, the first West Athens Fourth of July parade featured painted faces, kazoo bands and flowers in hair.

This year, the celebration founded for peace, love and understanding turned ugly and violent with public intoxication and bloody fighting.

Now organizers say Monday’s parade could be the town’s last.

“The parade was chaos, and too many bad things happened with the folk who drank too much and disrespected our town and what our event is all about,” said West Athens resident Anna Freeman, one of the original organizers of the parade and the counter-culture play by In Spite of Life Players that follows.

“We’re contemplating this one being our last. It got out of hand. I’d like — as the representative of In Spite of Life Players — to publicly apologize to West Athens for what was wrought on them. It was really shocking.”

Marring the parade were fistfights, signs asking women to take off their tops, sales of drug paraphernalia, requests for drug “doses” and spinning of truck wheels that sent tire shards and dirty smoke into the air.

Lt. Donald Pomelow, of the Maine State Police barracks in Skowhegan, said a fight involving as many as 20 people prompted a large police response to Valley Road, the traditional route of the parade begun by back-to-the-land hippies in the early 1970s.

He said three state troopers, three game wardens, two Somerset County sheriff’s deputies and an ambulance from Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan went to the Valley Road area around 2:30 p.m.

Pomelow said no one was arrested, but police are tracking a license plate number for possible charges later.

“There was some altercation, and it may have started partly because of somebody trying to peel out tires and apparently did some damage to another vehicle,” Pomelow said, adding that one person — reportedly in the damaged car — suffered several injuries in the melee.

At least one person was hospitalized, according to the Somerset County communications log. No further details were available.

Sylvia Judd, a longtime Valley Road resident, said police and the ambulance were unable to drive through the crowds of people and cars to get to three fights happening across from her home.

“I think it ought to stop,” Judd said of the parade, which she and her neighbors have enjoyed for years. “All it’s doing is bringing in drunks. Drugs, drinking and fighting — that’s what it all boils down to. Somebody pulled a knife, I guess; somebody had a shovel; somebody broke somebody’s jaw.”

Judd’s neighbor, David Avery, said there were as many as 15 fights in the area — one of them involved the shattering of a car’s windows.

Peter Freeman, 34, said he and his brother Ezra, 38, have grown up with the West Athens parade and the play in the local gravel pit. This year, he said, he saw the bloody fighting and was repulsed.

“This was not what we created; this was not what we started,” he said. “It’s very far away from what the original intention was — so far away that it’s unrecognizable. The agreement that the In Spite of Lifers had with the West Athenian residents was based on a far different event.”

Peter Freeman said there was always an unspoken truce with police that allowed parade-oers and visitors to “do their thing” as long as the parade didn’t get out of hand.

This year, they got out of hand.

“As actors, this is an artistic expression; it’s not a chance to get (messed) up. This has always been about the art and about the theater and about the show. Getting drunk and fighting, it’s crazy,” he said. “It has to be stopped. I’m going to contact the police. It’s now like an assault on West Athens.”

Doug Harlow — 474-9534

[email protected]


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