This wintry week, while researching  my family’s adventures in the old West and tracking the trail of my Great-uncle John, who served with the famous 7th Calvary in the dusty old West, and the other old Irishmen who got off the boat and into trouble from the streets of Chicago to the unpaved mud lanes of the old West, I learned, to my amazement, that there were a few similarities to Waterville’s current problems.

While scanning these pages for ads that featured discounts on wine, my eyes fell upon the fine work of reporter Rachel Ohm and her startling coverage of the trials and tribulations of the colorful characters that make our tiny city such a fun place to live in. Rachel may soon be Waterville’s Pete Hamill.

Ohm’s writing is so cinematic that I could actually see the clutter of various chiefs and braves sitting around in that big glass tepee we call the Chace Community Forum, eyeing one another with suspicion while fingering their prayer beads and muttering into their cupped hands about bringing guns into the new tribal lodge.

My new reading glasses revealed that was all about a “debate over whether local officials should be allowed to regulate more tightly the presence of guns at public meeting in town or city spaces.” But our city fathers went and moved the action to Colby College’s Bill and Joe Alfond’s brand-new, bright and sparkling storefront on Main Street. Hurrah!

Then I was startled by the dropping of another shoe. It turns out that a Waterville resident came up with the names of several other residents who are known to be packing pistols in their parkas, and who “frequently carry them everywhere.” Egad! Here I’ve been wandering through the local agora unaware that I’ve been rubbing elbows in the wine aisle with a tiny armed militia.

Breaking News. Colby College wisely prohibits firearms on college property. This opened a large can of beans.

Other voices from other rooms joined in.

“ Public meetings,” one voice proclaimed, “are not immune from violent events.” Remember the old Bob-In?

Yet another voice was concerned about attending meetings in the Chace Forum, where the big, open, glass windows expose the participants to danger from the street.

Aha, a flashback is called for. I can back that fear up with some old family tale from my mother’s uncle “Big Bill” Egan, who lived in Chicago in the prohibition era.

It was about fellow Irishman Dion O’Banion, a notorious gangster, ward boss and Chicago assassin, who owned a flower shop on the North Side, a fancy place with big, open glass windows displaying a full view of the flowers and proprietor O’Banion. 

O’Banion, who rarely let himself be seen in public, and who was cautioned by friends about spending too much with his flower hobby on this day, slipped up. Probably a passing “soldier” from O’Banion’s rival Angelo Genna spotted him and tipped his bosses off. Later that day, O’Banion was tending to roses in the back room when Genna and partner Scalise walked in and put five bullets into him. 

Still, some residents resist the packing of guns in town.

The laws of Tombstone in 1880 required visitors  upon entering town to disarm. Residents of many famed cattle towns, such as Dodge City, Abilene and Deadwood, had similar restrictions.

The only real difference between those towns and Waterville is that we have no cattle, dance halls or brothels.

But change is on its way. With college kids downtown, we’re getting a big-city glamour face.

Five or six more buildings like that, add a couple of four-star restaurants, a world-class  zoo, a couple of fountains, Sunday band concerts in the park, plus the new “boutique” hotel with valet parking and Saturday night dime-a-dance dance events, and we’ll be up to date.

Bring in two-way traffic on Main Street, and we’ll soon be on our way to my previous dream of a subway, running from Bangor to Portland, with a shopping stop right here in beautiful downtown Waterville.

Total up all those jobs, why don’t you? Hurrah! Get those hats ready: “Make Waterville Great Again.”

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer. 


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