July 17, 1939: Twelve-year-old Donn Fendler (1926-2016), of Rye, New York, becomes separated from his family during a storm near the summit of Maine’s Mount Katahdin.

Putting his Boy Scout skills to use, he survives nine days without food or proper clothing, then finds his way back to civilization in the town of Stacyville, having shed 16 pounds.

Donn Fendler chats with a young reader at a book signing in Bangor in 2011. Associated Press/Michael C. York

The search for the missing boy generates nationwide attention. Fendler later writes a book about the experience, “Lost on a Mountain in Maine,” which becomes a classic children’s book.

Fendler serves in the military during World War II and the Vietnam War, retiring as an Army lieutenant colonel and settling in Clarksville, Tennessee.

July 17, 1977: Lightning strikes a cluster of dead trees – detritus left over from a 1974 storm – near Katahdin Stream Campground in Baxter State Park and ignites a forest fire that eventually consumes 4,400 acres in the park and nearly 2,000 acres outside it.

July 17, 1991: After 16 days of intense negotiations, the Legislature approves a $3.2 billion state budget for the 1992 and 1993 fiscal years, breaking a deadlock that caused a state government shutdown and sidelined about 10,000 state workers for more than two weeks.

When the previous fiscal year ended without a budget deal, Republican Gov. John McKernan ordered the closure of most state offices and the layoff of state workers except those in emergency services. Sticking points in the budget impasse were spending, taxes and proposed revisions to workers’ compensation laws. McKernan and other Republicans had insisted on reforms to the compensation laws because Maine workers’ compensation insurance rates were among the nation’s highest.

When the tumult about the budget reached its peak, crowds of outraged state workers using whistles, drums and bullhorns gathered in the State House to protest McKernan’s layoffs, shouting repeatedly, “We want his head!”

The shutdown, which included state parks, occurred in the middle of Maine’s tourist season, which is critically important to the state’s economy.

The budget approved by the Legislature cuts $500 million from workers’ compensation costs. McKernan signs the bill around 3 a.m. The shutdown ends.

Demolition work continues on the Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook River after it was breached early July 17, 2008. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

July 17, 2008: FPL Energy Maine Hydro breaches the Fort Halifax Dam in Winslow, allowing sea-run fish species access to upper reaches of the Sebasticook River for the first time in a century.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]


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