Franklin Countys First News

Storytelling program in Farmington to feature the 1947 Brownfield Fire

Brownfield Fire, 1947. (Photo courtesy of Jo Radner)

Brownfield Fire, 1947. (Photo courtesy of Jo Radner)

Storyteller Jo Radner of Lovell will conduct a Storytelling Workshop in Farmington on June 11th. (Photo by Heather Kelley-Lanser)

Storyteller Jo Radner of Lovell will conduct a Storytelling Workshop in Farmington on June 11. (Photo by Heather Kelley-Lanser)

FARMINGTON - Lovell resident Jo Radner will perform “Burnt Into Memory: Stories of the Brownfield Fire” on Saturday, June 11 at 7 p.m. in the Old North Church, at High and Court streets in Farmington. This is a benefit for Western Maine Storytelling that brings storytellers to Farmington. The program’s admission will be $15.

Some Mainers still remember—and, in fact, cannot forget—October of 1947, when, after a season of terrible drought, wildfires burned all over the state. Brownfield was one of the worst-hit areas: 80 percent of the town, including all churches, schools, post offices, and other public buildings, was completely destroyed in the space of a few hours.

In the face of the fire, Brownfield residents responded with courage, care, and even—in a few cases—obstinacy, like that of retired schoolteacher Mabel Stone: “She had her little dog Woofie with her, and she had a plan: she was going to stay at her house and fight the fire with a broom, a bucket of water, and a snow rake.” Facing the devastation after the fire, neighbors ingeniously made do, shared what they had, and rebuilt what they could.

Jo Radner spent a year interviewing people who experienced the Brownfield fire—residents who did and did not lose their homes, as well as others who aided in the rescue and rebuilding effort. From those interviews as well as from letters and historical photographs and newspaper reports, she has created for Brownfield a powerful story of terror, courage, neighborly responsibility, recovery, and—yes—even humor. Maine storyteller and author Michael Parent has called “Burnt Into Memory” “a tremendous story for our time, a story of hope and connectedness between humans at a time when hopelessness and disconnectedness are the rampant order of the day.”

Doors will open at 5:30 p.m. Pie will be served by the Farmington Historical Society, for a donation, at 6 p.m. After the storytelling program, Radner will answer questions and talk with visitors about her historical objects related to the Brownfield fire that will be on display during this evening only. Pie will again be served after the hour and a half program.

From 10 a.m. to noon, also June 11 in Farmington, Radner will present a workshop “Seed to Tree: How to Grow Memories into Full Stories” in Kalikow Education Center, Room 113, 186 High Street, the University of Maine at Farmington. The fee is $30. To pre-register, call Myrna, 778-4387.

Folklorist, storyteller, writer, and oral historian, Radner creates personal tales and stories about the people of northern New England. She delights in eccentrics, believes that humor and gravity are good bedfellows, and favors characters whose lives defy simple explanations. In recent years she has helped various immigrant, refugee, and community groups find and collect their stories and fashion them into public presentations. A Harvard Ph.D., former professor at American University, and a leader in the contemporary storytelling movement in the United States, she has been studying, teaching, telling, and collecting stories most of her life. She can be reached at jradner@american.edu and at her website: www.joradner.com. See the website http://westernmainestorytelling.org for more information on the local events.

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