2018-11-30 / Community

A Window on the Past

Book signing and the tragic story of Billy Laird
South Portland Historical Society

This Sunday, Dec. 2, it will be Civil War day in the museum at Bug Light Park. While our museum volunteers will take part in training on Civil War-related material, we will also have noted local author Jean Flahive at the museum to visit with the public.

Jean is a tremendous researcher and historian. When she uncovered the sad story of Private William Laird, she was moved to do something with the information so that it wouldn’t be lost. While there are many parts of Billy Laird’s life that were never recorded, Jean decided to write a novel about him, using all of the facts that were available and using her insight to fill the gaps. What she ended up with is a novel that is an interesting read and which inspires a lot of thought and reflection. The book has been a popular choice for group book discussions.

The tragic part of Private Laird’s story is that he was executed for desertion during the Civil War, and the execution took place at Fort Preble, even though no one here wanted it to happen. Downed telegraph wires in New York City prevented the communication that Laird had actually received a stay of execution. You can learn much more about it in Jean’s book, “Billy Boy.” We also have a story about Laird in the Civil War exhibit at the museum, as well as an editorial letter from Pastor Edwin Bolles of First Universalist Church, in which he gives his first-hand account of the tragic story.

Jean will be on hand from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. to talk with visitors and sign copies of her books. Three of her books are available for sale in the museum gift shop: “Billy Boy,” “Railroad to the Moon” (a spin-off from “Billy Boy”), and a children’s book, “The Old Mainer and the Sea.” “The Old Mainer and the Sea” is a delightful story about a real person, a dory fisherman, Eben York, from Chebeague Island, who rowed almost daily into Portland Harbor to sell his catch.

We hope to see you at the museum on Sunday, Dec. 2 to learn more about local history related to the Civil War.

Fundraiser ornaments

A reminder that our 2018 fundraiser ornament is now on sale. The 2018 edition is called “Portland Harbor” and shows an image of Spring Point Ledge Light and Fort Gorges. Ornaments cost $20 and include a special card that lets a gift recipient know that proceeds support the South Portland Historical Society and its museum. You can find the ornaments for sale in the museum gift shop on weekends, or at Drillen Hardware, Broadway Variety or Embers Stove Shop during the week. For more information, call 767-7299 or email sphistory04106@gmail.com.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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