Snapshots in Time – June 13, 1896 – Lost pages from my sketchbook


The following fairy tale appeared in the first column of the front page of the June 13, 1896 edition of the RANGELEY LAKES newspaper. Not that it’s strange to find a fantasy story in such a prominent position in ANY publication past OR present, but it wasn’t a “creative take” on an actual event. This “whopper” was intentional.

Considering the endless stream of bad news these days, how wonderful it must have been to live in a time when “news” could be overshadowed by an entertaining thread. I particularly appreciated all the geographical references which added local color to the story. As a “professional grandpa” I highly recommend you cut this one and save it as a bedtime story for the young Rangeley Lakers in your life or for the young at heart when a necessary escape from modern realities becomes necessary. Unfortunately, the piece remained untitled and the author’s name was not revealed. However, the line; “Stray Pages from My Sketchbook” printed in place of the title line strongly indicates that the author was most likely the journal’s editor, Harry P. Dill. The “Fishtail” begins with the chimney of the newly built Rangeley Lake House…

Our story begins around the fire in the living room of the ‘new’ Rangeley Lake House Courtesy of Rangeley Lakes Historical Society

He had been fishing all day, but luck had been against him, and now he was taking it out, blowing the fishing sky high, to the group around the hotel fire. “There are no fish in the lake,” he said. “Not even a minnow?” asks one of his listeners. “No, not even a minnow,” he replied. “I’ve fished the whole length, breadth and depth of the damn lake, and there’s not a fish in it. “I don’t…” (in the middle of his diatribe, he was interrupted by a bellhop. “A gentleman in the square wants to see you, sir,” said the bellhop. Who is he?” Wondering who it could be, the man put on his hat and followed the bellhop out into the square.There, standing so that the moonlight fell on him as the spotlights followed the leading lady onto the stage, was The figure of a slightly above average man. Raising his hand and slowly turning it in front of the astonished fisherman, he said, “Come on.” Helpless to resist, the man followed him across the street, across the Mr. Marble’s new cottage, until at last he stopped on the very edge of the quay where the Irene’s wooden barge is moored. Then he stared intently at his companion for a moment and said : “Change.” In the blink of an eye, our friend found himself transformed into a trout, sliding in the water next to another trout who spoke in the same voice as the strange m an had used when he said “Come” and “Change”.

They swam some distance in silence. “Now we’re going down a bit,” the guide said, leading the way almost vertically downward for several feet. Soon they passed through a narrow, rocky gorge. After a while, they came across a huge chub, who was blocking the way, asking in a fat, chubby voice: “Who are you?” “Friends,” replied the guide. “Give the password.” “There’s a hook in it.” “Okay. Pass,” said the chub, stepping aside.

The gorge now widens into a vast semi-circular enclosure with a sandy bottom. The guide swam to a piece of rock in the center and gave three resounding thumps with his tail. There was a pause for a moment, then with a mighty rustle, many fish began to stream in from all sides. They were arranged by size, the largest in front and the smallest on the periphery. After the last

On arrival the largest fish, a trout that weighed not an ounce under twelve pounds, spoke in a clear, resounding voice: “Well, sir guide, what report do you bring?” “I have with me,” replied the guide, “one of those men who say there are no more fish in the lake. “Good,” said the big trout. Then, turning to the fisherman, he continued, “It has been decided in a solemn conclave of the fishes that you will have revealed to yourself what had never before been seen by a mortal. By magical power you will be shown through this great system of waters. You have been given the shape of a fish, but your human senses have remained unchanged, and everything you see tonight you will remember when you return to the land of men. You can ask all the questions you want, and only truthful answers will be returned to you. And now, guide, get rid of your load and see that no harm comes to him.

Together the two started. “I believe,” said the guide, “that you were up to Greenvale today, weren’t you?” “Yes, and that was also a bad catch,” replied the fisherman. The guide fish stopped in front of a rock and gave three resounding blows. In the moment of pause that followed, he explained that the whole of Lake Rangeley was divided into water states, each under a commander with lieutenants to assist him. “When I give the signal shots,” every fish within earshot must repeat them instantly, and so, in a remarkably short time, the whole division rushes to the meeting place. At that time the fish would come in groups of twos, threes and half dozens. Among the first was a huge landlocked salmon, about thirteen pounds, who was the commander of Greenvale’s division. The guide explains his visit and asks the fisherman if he has any questions for the salmon. “Well,” he began, “how old are you?” “Twelve pounds on the day of the last estimate.” “What do you mean?” asked the puzzled fisherman. “Why, you see, we don’t fish by years but by weight. Once every twelve moons we meet, and the Conclave of Pisces estimates our weight. We rank by weight; all the officers being chosen from among the fish the heaviest. “Thank you, this is something entirely new to me. “And now we have to go,” said the Guide. In quick succession, the duo visited the City Cove Division, the Island Division , the South Cove Division, the Hunter Cove and South Bog Divisions.At each halt the guide’s three strokes brought a thousand or more fish to the rendezvous.They were of all sizes, none less than a pound, for, as one of the fish explained, trout and salmon were not subject to the laws of the Conclave until they reached the weight of a pound. “Now for the Great Lake,” said the guide. , as they finished their visit to South Bog, and in a flash they found themselves in the e to the darkest of Mooselookmeguntic. Three strokes away, the guide brought out an immense number of fish; many of them were bigger than it seemed possible for trout and salmon to grow. At this time, the fisherman freely asked questions. “How is it going,” he asked a 10-pounder. salmon, “that we hardly ever catch trout or salmon as big as you? “It’s this way,” replied the salmon. “After exceeding the weight of a pound, all trout can distinguish the real from the artificial, and are not in the slightest danger of being caught. Our laws, however, are very strict, and the penalty for all offenses is death. Now the fish will not kill each other after exceeding the pound limit, so death is self-inflicted. The doomed fish is doomed to bite at the first artificial bait offered, and, escaping from this — as you know they often do — he gets a thirty-day reprieve and then has to start over. As the fish grow, they settle down and rarely break the law, so they are rarely forced to die . Am I making my thought clear?” “Very,” said the fisherman, “but may I ask what crime is the most common?” “The killing of young trout,” replied the salmon. After that, the guide took the fisherman to Bemis and beyond Frye’s Camp to Toothaker Cove and Pleasant Islands, showing him thousands and thousands of trout, and among them many that would weigh well into the double digits.

“Now we’re going to Kennebago and Seven Ponds,” the guide said. “No, no, begged the fisherman, I admit that I was completely wrong and I take back everything I said. There are enough fish in these lakes to supply the sport for many years. “You are right, my friend,” replied the Guide. “Remember what you saw.” Then he continued, “In three seconds you’ll be back in your room at Marble’s, and, by the way, you’d better rescind that order to call you at six o’clock, because it’s nearly three o’clock now.” Slowly fixing his glazed eye on the fisherman, he spoke the magic word: “Change!”

And now you have a new (old) Fishtail, locally spawned about 127 years ago about a magical place known as Rangeley… which you can save and read at bedtime to young people specials in your life. Have a great week and we’ll see you next time with more insight into Rangeley’s iconic past.

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