Nov. 29, 1882: Calais native James Shepherd Pike dies at 71 after a journalism career that brought him fame first for his ardent anti-slavery, anti-Confederacy views, and later for his sensationalistic criticism of corruption that thrived under Ulysses Grant’s administration as well as what Pike portrayed as the abominable misrule by freed Blacks in the South during the Reconstruction period.

Pike’s 1874 book, “The Prostrate State: South Carolina under Negro Government,” was read widely and regarded by many as unbiased history at the time, but later scholars’ research on Pike’s writing and habit of reporting only details that support his own preconceived conclusions show his writing on South Carolina to have been infected from a personal racism that spanned and undermined his entire career.

“Pike was hardly a model of objectivity – he had long held racist views, … and had incorporated essentially the same critique in articles written before ever visiting the state,” writes Eric Foner, a professor emeritus of American history at Columbia University in New York, in a book about the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. “Moreover, he acquired much of his information from interviews with white Democratic leaders and seems to have spoken with only one black Carolinian.”

Pike first gained a large readership when, in 1850, he became a Washington correspondent and editorial writer for the New York Tribune. He took a hiatus from journalism in 1861 when President Abraham Lincoln appointed him U.S. ambassador to the Netherlands, a post in which he served a few years.

Afterward, he returned to the town of Robbinston, next to Calais, where he resided for the rest of his life.

Pike later was an active supporter of New York Tribune founder and editor Horace Greeley’s campaign for president as the Democratic Party nominee in 1872. After Greeley lost the election and died, Greeley’s newspaper sent Pike to South Carolina in 1873 to describe the political situation there.

His death occurs unexpectedly in Maine as he and his wife are preparing to leave for Philadelphia by train to spend the winter in a place warmer than eastern Maine, as they usually did.

Nov. 29, 1944: Erich Gimpel and William Colepaugh, two spies for Germany’s Nazi government, disembark from a German submarine during World War II and land on Maine’s coast at Hancock Point, southeast of Ellsworth. Their mission is to steal military and industrial secrets, including information about nuclear weapons research.

Erich Gimpel, right, of Germany, who was convicted together with William Colepaugh as a Nazi spy, sits with his guard during a recess at his trial at Fort Jay, Governors Island, New York on March 14, 1945. Associated Press

Gimpel, 34, was a radio engineer in Germany, then worked in Peru before German military intelligence recruited him. Colepaugh, 26, was a Connecticut native with a German mother. He defected to Germany after he failed to get a Navy commission and the U.S. Navy Reserve discharged him. Gimpel met Colebaugh in The Hague, Netherlands. They both underwent training in Germany, then boarded the submarine in Kiel, Germany.

Once at the north end of Frenchman’s Bay in Maine, the submarine, U-1230, dispatches an inflatable rubber boat to take the spies to shore. They land at 11:02 p.m. carrying two satchels containing $60,000 in cash, $100,000 worth of diamonds, some radio parts, automatic pistols, photographic apparatus and invisible ink, all hidden in secret compartments under their clothes. They claw their way through the underbrush in a light snowstorm and begin walking along a road that leads to U.S. Route 1.

A teenage boy on a bicycle sees them near Hancock Point. A local woman notices them later. Both witnesses report their observation of the strangers, who look out of place, and the FBI takes notice.

An off-duty taxi driver picks up the men on the road and takes them to Bangor, where they board a train for Portland. They eventually make their way to Boston, and then New York, where Colepaugh disappears, parties his way through some of the money, then gets picked up by the FBI after a drunken night on the town. He tells the agents all about Gimpel. Gimpel is arrested on Dec. 31.

The Army puts both men on trial by court-martial in February at Fort Jay, in New York City. They are convicted of conspiracy and sentenced to hang. A few days before the date scheduled for their executions, however, President Franklin Roosevelt dies, and all executions are suspended.

In September, President Harry Truman commutes the men’s sentences to life imprisonment. The sentences are reduced later. Gimpel is released on parole in 1955 and returns to Germany; Colepaugh is freed in 1960.

Gimpel’s autobiography, “Spion für Deutschland” (Spy for Germany), is published in 1956 in Germany.

“There is not, there was not, and there never will be any glamour in the métier of spy,” he writes in closing his memoir. “The silent battle the secret agent fights is a dirty battle, merciless and cold. It is the dirtiest side of war.”

A German-language movie about Gimpel’s wartime exploits is released that year. An English-language translation of the book is released in 1957 in the United Kingdom, and in 2003 in the United States.

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]

Note: This story was updated Dec. 2 to correct historian Eric Foner’s professional background. 

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