MaineLobsterman6

The Maine Lobsterman

If you go for a bike ride along D.C.’s Southwest Waterfront, you are likely to happen upon one of the most obscure, unusual and seemingly out of place memorials in D.C.  Located adjacent to the Cantina Marina and near Water Street and Maine Avenue (MAP) sits a statue entitled “The Maine Lobsterman.”   The statue serves as a memorial and was dedicated as “a tribute to all Maine lobstermen who have devoted their lives to the sea.”

The original Maine Lobsterman sculpture was cast by Victor A. Kahill, who was commissioned by the state of Maine to create a monument epitomizing the fierce independent spirit of Maine’s people and their contribution to the national economy.  The statue was commissioned to serve as the centerpiece of the Maine exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair in New York.  The sculptor decided a lobsterman at work pegging the claw of a newly caught lobster would be an ideal subject, and selected H. Elroy Johnson to pose for the piece.  Johnson lived in Harpswell, Maine, and earned a living as a lobsterman.  He also frequently visited the State House, where he was known to participate in discussions regarding fishing policies, and was well-known throughout the state as a spokesman for lobstermen’s interests.

“The Maine Lobsterman” was supposed to be cast in bronze, but the state failed to raise enough money for its completion.  So the artist just put a coat of bronze paint over the plaster model and shipped it to New York.  After the Fair ended, the fake bronze statue returned to Maine and was placed on display in Portland, where the painted plaster statue eventually fell into disrepair.  No one seemed to want the man and his lobster, so it ended up being put in storage.  It spent the next several decades in a warehouse, where it was gnawed on by rats.

Shortly after Johnson’s death in 1974, renewed interest in the statue resulted in the Maine Legislature appropriating money to cast three bronze copies of the statue. One stood in the entryway of the building housing the State library, museum and archives in Augusta.  Another was on Casco Square in Portland.  And the remaining statue was located at Land’s End, the southern tip of Bailey Island, where Johnson spent his entire life.  Inspired by their leader, Ruth Heiser, the Cundy’s Harbor Camp Fire Girls later raised enough money by selling cookies and soliciting contributions to move the Harpswell statue to D.C.  According to the Senate Congressional Record, U.S. Senators Edmund Muskie and William Cohen subsequently sponsored a joint resolution to authorize the erection of the Maine Lobsterman statue on Maine Avenue, where it has been located ever since.

However, if you haven’t seen The Maine Lobsterman Memorial yet, you may want to do it soon.  Recent approval for the development of the Southwest Waterfront and soon-to-begin construction will result in the removal of the memorial, at least temporarily.  Wording to protect the statue was included in the statute authorizing the waterfront’s redevelopment.  But the memorial will be back in storage again, where it will remain until the multi-billion dollar construction project wraps up in a decade or so.

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