So I bought a book at the Harmon Museum — yes, yes: you’re shocked. The title is: The Great Steel Pier: An Illustrated History of the Old Orchard Ocean Pier, by Peter Dow Bachelder (1998, Breakwater Press, Ellsworth, Maine).
Items of note so far: the first carousel — the nameless “German made” carousel — that burned down in 1923, it says here — is claimed to have been “the oldest of its kind in existence,” having been at Old Orchard Beach since 1892. I’m pretty sure there were other carousels around in 1892 (Just as a for instance, Gustav Dentzel’s dates of production (note: Gustav Dentzel was a German native) proceed from 1870) so I’m not sure what this “of its kind” business is all about. O, Good; more research…
The first carousel was, just to clear up my error, replaced by a Dentzel merry-go-round, which subsequently burned in 1969, due to that fuse-box problem we discussed.
Leaving carousels, it seems that Old Orchard has always had trouble pulling together for its own best interest. The pier idea was first floated by prominent businessman Henry Staples in 1879, but the cost of building such a thing — the first of its kind — was more than the rest of the local business people wanted to commit to, and so the idea was put on hold until 1898. This allowed other ocean resorts — notably Coney Island and Atlantic City — to construct their steel piers first.
There were also a couple of false starts. One guy wanted to build a stone pier — get this — over Googins Rocks — but that got killed by the very business people who didn’t want to spend the money on a steel pier, because the stone pier would have been blocks away from their business interests at the core of downtown.
So, anyhow, squabbling and scheming and pearl-clutching aside, the pier did finally get built, and it was a monster — stretching 1800 feet out into the ocean. The term at that time was “ocean-going pier.”
Cruise ships came down from Portland, docked at the far end of the pier and unloaded 800 passengers at a go. There was a little steam train that ran the whole length from the Velvet Hotel, at landside, to the Casino, just short of the cruise ship docking.
And then there’s the schooner Grecian Bend, out of Nova Scotia, bearing a load of plaster rocks (no, I don’t know why) and headed for Boston (maybe there was no plaster in Boston?) Coming down coast, the schooner developed a leak and the skipper decided to lay over in Portland for repairs. But the sight of the newly-constructed casino glimpsed through thick fog convinced him he was further south than he actually was, and – long story short, he came aground at Grand Beach, about three-quarters of a mile north of the pier. Very near, in fact, Temp Headquarters.
Now, here’s the thing about the Grecian Bend: Her crew had jettisoned cargo in order to try to float her, but she was grounded but good. The rescue out of Biddeford Pool were able to deploy their surf boat and bring the crew out, but the schooner. . .just sat there.
She was purchased by a junk dealer out of Portland, who determined to refloat her, but that didn’t work out, so. . .
. . .he just left her there – a derelict schooner. On the beach. Three-quarters of a mile out from the newest Wonder of the Eastern Seaboard.
Grecian Bend grounded in mid-June. Over the next few months, just, yanno, sitting there in the sand, with the tide coming in and going out every six hours or so, every day, the schooner “hogged badly” (that means that it bent convexly along its length), and, one would imagine, became buried even deeper in the sand.
Along about Thanksgiving, though, there was a storm. A very, very bad storm. A killer storm. Shipwreck buffs will know it as “The Portland Gale,” which not only killed the steamer Portland, and all of its 191 passengers and crew, but 200 other ships.
The Grecian Bend broke to bits during this storm. Pieces of it were flung by the furious waves into the yards of the ocean-facing cottages; and a large section of the hull lodged directly alongside the brand new pretty pier, right at the high tide line.
Before the town could do anything about it, on December 4, there was another storm — not as bad; “just” a nor’easter. The wreck rose on the storm tide and ripped the back (or front-most, depending on how you count) section of the pier, where the casino and the cruise ship dock was located.
The casino was smashed clean off the pier, plunged into the ocean and was delivered onto the beach in a state described by one eyewitness as “…more completely demolished than if it had been blown up with dynamite.”
And this, children, is why we ought not to leave derelict ships sitting for months on our beach.